Peter Clemenza (1890 - 1958) is a fictional character appearing in Mario Puzo's novel The Godfather and two of the three films based on it.
In his young adulthood, in The Godfather Part II, Clemenza is portrayed by Bruno Kirby. In his later years, he is portrayed by Richard S. Castellano.
Peter Clemenza is one of two (later three) caporegimes in the Corleone Family (the other being Salvatore Tessio). He rules over the family's territory in The Bronx. Although he is less intelligent than his friend and counterpart Tessio, he is said to be more brutal and direct in the book. In the film, he may be perceived at first as a fat, dim witted thug, but later on he is shown to be a formidable assassin.
Clemenza became a friend of Vito Corleone after immigrating from Sicily, when Corleone held a package of guns for him to prevent their discovery by the police. Although he is a native of Italy, and in The Godfather II is shown speaking perfect colloquial Italian as a young man in his 20s, in The Godfather an older Clemenza speaks with a highly pronounced New York/Brooklyn accent. One of the few remaining hints of his Italian roots is that he pronounces "Corleone" as "Cor-yon-nay."
A friendly and jovial man, he was known as a storyteller among many of his acquaintances and family members - a trait that endeared him to Vito Corleone, whom Puzo described as "a listener to storytellers." Clemenza got his start selling stolen goods such as dresses and guns with Vito and Tessio as far back as 1917 and became a key figure in the growing Corleone family.
Vito kept him close through the years. For instance, Vito makes Clemenza godfather to his oldest son Sonny, and handled Sonny's training once Sonny decided to join his father's family. However, this was to control his brutal and more ambitious tendencies (even though he had mellowed somewhat in a decade of peace between the families).
Clemenza plays a key role in aiding Michael following the shooting of Vito. He retrains Michael how to fire a gun, walking him through the scenario for assassinating Virgil Sollozzo, and gets someone to plant the gun prior to the assassination. In the wave of killings that cements Michael's power, Clemenza garroted Carlo Rizzi for his role in setting up Sonny for assassination. During the murders of the heads of the Five Families in the film, Clemenza personally shot Don Stracci and his bodyguard. It is Clemenza's greeting of Michael as "Don Michael" at the end of the book (as "Don Corleone" at the end of the film) that convinces Kay Adams-Corleone that her husband has become as ruthless as his father.
Clemenza's forces include soldiers Paulie Gatto, Willi Cicci, Al Neri, Rocco Lampone and Aldo Trapani. He handled many of his men closely, proud of picking Lampone as a caporegime and locating Neri as a successor to Luca Brasi. He could also be cruel with them - when he found out that Gatto had been collaborating with Sollozo, he saw it as a personal betrayal and orchestrated the execution personally, with Rocco pulling the trigger.
Ironically, clemenza literally means "mercy" or "forgiveness" in Italian. The English cognate is clemency.
In Mark Winegardner's novel The Godfather Returns, Clemenza stands in as consigliere at Commission meetings during the course of the book (since Tom Hagen is no longer consigliere and he is also not Sicilian, so hecannot be involved in these meetings.) He died of a heart attack shortly before 1958, a consequence of his excessive lifestyle - an autopsy revealed his heart was "twice the size of a normal man's." In the film The Godfather: Part II, Willie Cicci, appears to deny this, stating "that was no heart attack" but no further info is given. Pete Clemenza was succeeded as caporegime by Frank Pentangeli.
In Puzo's novel The Sicilian, Clemenza is featured in Sicily, where he meets Michael Corleone in order to arrange his safe return to America and also to oversee the safe passage of the novel's lead character, Salvatore Guiliano. In this novel he has an older brother, Domenic Clemenza, who is an old-fashioned and well respected Mafia Don. Neither Clemenza nor Michael Corleone are featured in the film version of the novel, presumably because of copyright restrictions on the Godfather film franchise.
Clemenza was originally supposed to return in The Godfather Part II. However, Castellano demanded that he write all of Clemenza's lines himself, along with a large salary increase. Director Francis Ford Coppola refused and had Clemenza killed instead, replacing him with Frank Pentangeli.
Richard S. Castellano and Bruno Kirby appeared together in a television series entitled The Super, in which they played a father and son.