- "Tell Mike it was only business. I always liked him."
- ―Salvatore Tessio[src]
Tessio began with his friends Peter Clemenza and Vito Corleone as low-level hoodlums in New York City's Little Italy. He was already known in the neighborhood as being both savvy and dangerous, and yet, he had connections from an early age, being good friends with gunsmith Augustino Coppola.
When the three owed money to Don Fanucci, Tessio was the first to concede with Vito's plan of giving the Don considerably less than they had agreed. Shortly after, both men understood that Fanucci had been murdered by Vito, but never mentioned it to him.
Position of Power
It was Tessio who played a major part in the Olive Oil War, personally executing enemy Don, Giuseppe Mariposa. As Vito rose to prominence in the Mafia underworld, Tessio and Clemenza rose with him, each eventually settling into the Caporegime roles. However, Vito informed the two men not to meet together socially, telling them it was a security precaution. Tessio understood immediately that it was merely to prevent the two from plotting against their boss and complied. He was present at Vito Corleone's surprise birthday party in 1941, having supplied the cake.
Tessio owned a social club in Brooklyn and made it his base of operations. From there, he managed his soldiers and was very well-connected throughout the borough. Most federal investigators considered Tessio the smarter and savvier of the two capos, though he had mellowed considerably in the decade of peace since the Olive Oil War. In fact, many groups believed that Tessio ran a completely separate organization. This was used to the family's advantage several times.
Regime and role in the war
His regime included soldiers Nick Geraci, Momo Barone and Eddie Paradise. Tessio was initially the more trusted of the two capos during the war with the Five Families, as the family had to figure out whether the traitor in the family who allowed Don Vito to get shot was Clemenza or Paulie Gatto. His regime was issued the task of assassinating Bruno Tattaglia and assisting Michael Corleone with the assassination of Virgil Sollozzo and Captain McCluskey.
Tessio thought more of Vito's younger son Michael than Clemenza or Tom Hagen did, but never believed he was powerful enough to keep the family going after he was named his father's heir. After the Barzinis began chipping away at their territories, Tessio and Clemenza asked for vengeance, but Michael ordered them to wait. Around this time, the aging capo developed symptoms of Parkinson's Disease.
Ultimately, Tessio began plotting against Michael. At Don Corleone's funeral, Tessio arranged for Michael's assassination at a peace summit set up by Emilio Barzini, who had become the strongest Don in New York. The summit was to be held on Tessio's territory in Brooklyn, where Michael would supposedly be safe. In return, Tessio would inherit the Corleone family. However, Michael had anticipated the plot by way of a warning from his father, who intimated that the person who approached him about the peace summit would be the family traitor. Tom initially thought the traitor would be Clemenza, but Michael was not surprised, since Tessio was always the smarter one.
As Tessio and Hagen were preparing to attend the summit, Willie Cicci told him that Michael was coming in a separate car. Tessio was visibly upset, saying that it threw off his "arrangements". Hagen says he can't come along either, while Cicci and several of Clemenza's men surround Tessio. Realizing that Michael has found out about his treachery, Tessio asked Tom to tell Michael that it was "only business" and he always liked him. Tessio then asked Tom if he could get him off the hook for "the old times' sake". Tom rejected his appeal.
Willie Cicci and a few other men drove Tessio to Two Toms, his social club, where his traitorous men were executed. Tessio, and his dead co-conspirators were then brought to an abandoned gas station on Staten Island where he was executed by his former protege Nick Geraci, while Al Neri looked on. His death was attributed to the Barzini family, since Staten Island was their territory, which explained the death of Don Barzini at the same time.
Tessio's wife Lucille and his children were provided for by the Corleones after his death.
Personality and traits
Tessio was a smooth and savvy enforcer, who many of the junior members of the family saw as a mentor. He was a ruthless killer in his youth, though as he mellowed over the years he was known for his warm character. He was intelligent and always one step ahead of his enemies, whilst rewarding those who did him service. He was known to keep his business and personal lives separate, a fact that was hammered home when he plotted against Michael despite his fondness for him.
Tessio was described as lean, saturnine, more reserved than Clemenza, sharper, more clever but with less force, described with having the air of a viper. He had been the best soldier in the Corleone family. The Don had relied on him more than any other man with the exception of Luca Brasi.
In the video game
In the video game, Tessio utilizes the skills of up and coming enforcer, Aldo Trapani, who has recently saved the Don's life and driven him to the hospital after an assassination attempt. Trapani carries out Tessio's hit contracts on Tattaglia family key members and the two men become good friends.
Death in the video game
The game picks up where the film leaves off: Willie Cicci drives Tessio to the Embassy Club, where Aldo Trapani is to execute him. However, upon arriving at the club, Tessio makes a last stand with the Barzini Assassins, who would have killed Michael Corleone at the planned sit-down between Don Barzini and himself. Trapani manages to kill the bodyguards and execute Tessio. Before his death, Tessio again reiterated that his betrayal was only business, he also pleads Aldo to spare his life and also says "Let me go, we were friends".
Behind the scenes
- Salvatore Tessio could be based on Gaspar DiGregorio, who was one of Joseph Bonanno's closest associates, but later sided against him during the "Banana War" in the 1960s.
- In Mario Puzo's original novel, Tessio, whose first name is never given, is sent to kill Salvatore Maranzano, while in The Family Corleone he kills Giuseppe Mariposa, who replaces Maranzano.