Steely Seamstress

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Sewing the Seventies: 1973 in Italy

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In March 1973, The Godfather, directed by Francis Ford Coppola was awarded best picture at the Oscars. The film was released the previous year and is based on the American author, Mario Puzo’s best-selling crime novel. The film details the story of a fictional Mafia family based in New York City headed by Vito Corleone (played by Marlon Brando). The film is set in the forties and fifties, but also provides the story of Vito’s childhood.

The Godfather was filmed on location primarily in New York, but also in Sicily. The town, Corleone, which the family is named after, does exist. It is where the real-life Corleonesi clan originated. However, it was considered too modern in the seventies for filming. Coppola therefore opted to film in other locations, namely Motta Camastra and Forza d’Agro. The scenes where Michael meets and proposes to Apollonia were filmed in Savoca [1].

The character of Vito Corleone was based on Carlo Gambino, who was born in Palermo and was initiated into the “cosca mafiosa” (mafia clan) at the age of eighteen. He emigrated to the United States in the 1920s where he participated in selling contraband alcohol. During the thirties he became involved in various illicit activities and became head of the “famiglia” by ordering the murder of many of his rivals.

It has been remarked in Italy that The Godfather has tended to glorify the mafia and its activities. However, an American may have a different perspective than an Italian about the mafia. The actions of the mafia in Sicily were once more like banditry and the clans ran a type of protection service that substituted for the rule of law in Sicily immediately after the unification of Italy. Perhaps, this romaticised view of the mafia, which was handed down to the Italian immigrants influences this film. In contrast, the mafia in Sicily became an organised crime syndicate involved in protection racketeering, smuggling, drug refining and distribution and the rigging of public contracts. In the seventies they had inflitrated politics at a national level and there are many more victims of the mafia’s crimes in Italy [2].

Bar Vitelli as shown in the film and today

Bar Vitelli as shown in the film and today

The Italian-American Civil Rights League wanted all uses of the words “mafia” and “Cosa Nostra” to be removed from the script, in addition to feeling that the film emphasized stereotypes about Italian-Americans. The two instances of the word “mafia” were removed from the screenplay and the league gave its support for the script.

Kidnappings were commonplace during the seventies and between the middle of the seventies and the middle of the eighties, as many as 489 people were kidnapped in Italy. The kidnappers demanding a ransom in each case [3].

On the 10th July 1973 John Paul Getty III, grandson of the millionaire oil baron John Paul Getty is kidnapped in Rome by the ‘ndrangheta calabrese, a criminal organisation. He was taken, blindfolded, and imprisoned in a cave. It took a while for the news of the kidnapping to filter through. His grandfather for a time was convinced that his grandson had orchestrated a “fake” kidnapping in order to ask for a ransom, hoping to receive the money himself. His immediate family though, immediately recognised that he was in real danger.

The police were able to establish that the perpetrators did not have any scruples and would kill the young Getty if their ransom demand was not met. The Getty patriarch, even through his money could have paid the debts of the entire Italian population for ten consecutive years, refused outright to pay the ransom. The kidnappers, at that point passed the hostage onto another group, who sent a slice of the boy’s ear to a newspaper, complaining that they were endangering John Paul’s life by taking so long (three months) over the negotiations.

A letter arrived for the family containing a few lines from John Paul. He wrote that he was only 17 years old, but he expected to die if they didn’t pay. The letter also included a photo of his severed ear. Finally a telephone call was received by “Il Tempo” newspaper from the kidnappers. The severed ear convinced the hitherto inflexible grandfather to pay the ransom. John Paul Getty III was released on 15th December, after five months in captivity. He was found at a service station on a road between Salerno and Reggio Calabria [4].

John Paul Getty III interviewed after his release

The story of the kidnapping has been told in the recent TV series, Trust. At the end of the series you get to find out how the ransom was used by the kidnappers. The money was invested into the industrialisatiion of the Gioa Tauro region. Today the economic activies of ‘Ndrangheta include international cocaine and weapons smuggling. An estimated 80% of Europe’s cocaine passes through the Calabrian port of Gioia Tauro [4].

In February, the dollar is devalued by 10%. The monetary exchanges are closed throughout Europe. The treasury minister decides to let the currency fluctuate. When the exchanges open again the lira has lost 10% of its value. A strategy of devaluation and prioritising large industrial exports, principally cars and tyres follows. This sees the prices of certain goods that Italy doesn’t produce, such as flour, rise steeply. The price of bread had been fixed at 160 lire per kilo, but in Naples, bakeries refused to bake because this didn’t cover the costs of production. For days shoppers couldn’t find any bread. In other cities it was also difficult to find bread.

An oil crisis began in October 1973 when the members of OPEC (the Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries) proclaimed an oil embargo. The embargo was targeted at nations perceived as supporting Israel during the Yom Kippur War. With a shortage of oil, the government set various austerity measures in place.


[1] Locations filmed in The Godfather (in Italian)

[2] The portrayal of the mafia in The Godfather (in Italian)

[3] Kidnappings in Italy (in italian)

[4] The ‘Ndrangheta (in English)


Author: steelyseamstress

Sewing a new wardrobe

One thought on “Sewing the Seventies: 1973 in Italy

  1. Pingback: Seventies Fashion: The Mafia Only Kills in Summer TV series Episodes 3 & 4 | Steely Seamstress

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