Marlon Brando Once Mooned 500 Extras On The Set Of The Godfather

The making of Francis Ford Coppola's "The Godfather" was a notoriously fraught affair. Books have been written about it. Paramount+ recently released a miniseries about it. Jobs and entire careers were on the line. Coppola had yet to hit the bullseye on a studio film, Marlon Brando was a mercurial handful known for derailing productions and the rest of the young cast was largely unproven. The conditions were right for a one-of-a-kind cinematic fiasco. To put it indelicately, people's butts were clenched tight as a Fort Knox vault. So, in the dear, departed wisdom of the great James Caan, it only made sense to lighten the mood via the unexpected flashing of his bare backside.

Ah, mooning. The joy of surprising unsuspecting individuals via a carefully timed rump exposure is rare and everlasting (though it must be noted that you really need to read the room before going for it). It is an endearingly juvenile tradition. It is also not the kind of prank you expect to encounter on the set of a major motion picture. But according to folks involved in the filming of "The Godfather," it was precisely what was needed.

This is the business we've chosen

In Peter Biskind's engrossingly anecdotal "The Godfather Companion," we learn that the mooning epidemic that gripped the production got off to an awkward start. "Jesus, at first everybody was so uptight," said Caan. "Francis was a wreck and Pacino looked like he was going to die. But I gotta have fun, so Bobby Duvall and I started cutting up."

Caan's first victims were Coppola and Brando during rehearsal for a scene with Salvatore Corsitto's undertaker Bonasera, and neither man got a kick out of it. Eventually, everyone loosened up. Caan was especially proud of pulling up next to Brando's car on Second Avenue in Manhattan, and mashing his derrière out of the window. "Brando fell down in the car with laughter," he said.

The mooning quickly got out of hand. Richard Bright, who played hitman extraordinaire Al Neri, recalls everyone being a state of heightened alarm.

"It got to be every time you opened a door, you expected to see someone in a closet mooning you. Or you opened the refrigerator, and there's a moon. Once, Bobby [Duvall] came in the studio, looking everywhere to see he wasn't gonna get caught off guard. He knew Al was off the set. Everything was fine. He was there about ten minutes, all of a sudden this noise comes from above his head. Bobby looks up, and there was Al, hanging off the lamps up there, with his ass hanging down, yelling, "Gotcha!"

And then there's the time Duvall and Pacino had an awkward moon-off. "Both of 'em knew each one was coming down the hall," said Bright. "Both of 'em dropped their drawers and ran backwards, and their asses kissed. It was wonderful."

An offer no one could refuse

The many moons of "The Godfather" were never more aglow than the shooting of the opening wedding scene. While shooting the opening wedding scene, Brando and Duvall spied the perfect opportunity to moon 500 extras from an advantageous perch. Per Bright, Duvall got held up, allowing arguably the greatest actor of the 20th century to unleash his glutenous glory. "[B]rando won, spread his cheeks, hemorrhoids and all! Old Italian ladies in the back said, 'I didn't see what I saw, did I?'"

For this above-and-beyond exhibition, Brando received a hand-tooled leather belt declaring him the "Mighty Moon King" of "The Godfather." Though the actor went on to win his second Best Actor Oscar for his transformative work in one of the greatest films ever made, I believe that this, truly, was his finest achievement. As for runner-up Duvall, he brought his mooning expertise to the set of Sidney Lumet's "Network."