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How Sylvester Stallone Almost Made The Godfather: Part III

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Getty

To hear Sylvester Stallone tell it, failing to get a job as an extra in 1972’s The Godfather may have been the best thing to ever happen to him.

When casting directors passed him up for even a bit part—“Not even in the wedding scene,” he told the Herald-Journal in 1997—his “world came crashing down” and the onetime zoo employee turned to writing. After several screenplays, Stallone churned out a story about a palooka that would become 1976's Best Picture winner Rocky. Six sequels and 40 years later, Stallone remains one of the most recognizable faces in the world.

But there was a time when the Godfather series came back around, and for much more than a fleeting appearance. In 1983, Paramount wanted the bankable actor to write, direct, and star in The Godfather: Part III.

Buena Vista

The Godfather films had been a saving grace for the studio—two sprawling gangster epics engineered by novelist Mario Puzo and director Francis Ford Coppola to be both crowd-pleasers and critical successes. Both won Best Picture Oscars; the second, 1974’s The Godfather: Part II, inserted Robert De Niro as the young Vito Corleone and became one of the few sequels to garner favorable comparisons to the original.

Continuing the story was, to the studio’s thinking, inevitable: They had approached director Richard Brooks (In Cold Blood) with a 53-page treatment for a second sequel in 1977.  

Brooks turned them down, just as Coppola had. The director felt the Corleone family saga had been well-covered in both films—he had, in fact, even resisted doing the second. He was on to other projects, and no script the studio commissioned proved interesting enough for him to reconsider.

Around this time, Stallone had been hired—for a fee of $1 million—to direct Staying Alive, the 1983 sequel to 1977’s Saturday Night Fever. Though the actor hadn’t directed the original Rocky, he took on those duties for its first two sequels, which helped his perception as a hyphenated talent. It was possible his name on a poster could help overcome any audience apprehension that Coppola’s absence might produce.

“I think so,” Stallone said when asked by press about the project near the release of Staying Alive. “As brilliant as the other two Godfather films were, this one must be different. It must deal with a different era.” Stallone envisioned a contemporary crime story, one set “20 years” away from the original films that explored "the crime syndicate as it exists today." (At various points, Paramount had considered narratives involving the Kennedys, Cuban relations, and political assassinations involving both the mafia and the CIA—it’s unknown whether any of it would have worked their way into Stallone’s project.)

Stallone wasn’t sure he’d be the lead, but Paramount seemed interested in having him appear alongside Staying Alive star John Travolta, who was being courted for the role of Anthony, Michael Corleone’s son.

The idea may have gained more momentum when Staying Alive became a commercial success, earning enough to become one of the 10 highest-grossing movies of 1983. According to a 1985 Los Angeles Times article on the sequel’s development history, a deal for Stallone was “almost signed” before falling through. He joined Warren Beatty, Martin Scorsese, and Michael Mann as castaways in the studio’s revolving door of directors who could make a sequel that would stand up to the original.

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Paramount eventually weaned Coppola back on the project. The 1990 release of The Godfather: Part III ended more than 15 years of development efforts. Though Al Pacino returned as Michael Corleone, the film’s legacy proved insurmountable: it’s almost unanimously considered the weakest of the three films.

While doing promotion for 2010’s The Expendables, Stallone reflected on his flirtation with the project, downplaying his interest and relating his embarrassment when a studio executive presented him with a mock-up Godfather movie poster with his face on it.

“If I weren't wearing a hat, my skull would’ve split in two,” he recalled. “Red-faced, I said to the headman, ‘This is the worst idea since my conception.’”

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Peter Elliott
Authorities Have Cracked a Bizarre Cold Case That Could Have Ties to the Zodiac Killer
Peter Elliott
Peter Elliott

One of the strangest cold cases in Ohio, if not the United States, has now been solved—but pieces of the puzzle remain.

In 2002, a man known as Joseph Newton Chandler III fatally shot himself in the bathroom of his tiny apartment in Eastlake, Ohio. His body wasn't found for a week, by which point it was badly decomposed, and police were unable to obtain fingerprints. He hadn't left a note, and police found more than $80,000 in his bank account. A private investigator, hired by a probate judge to find surviving family members, soon discovered that the man known as Chandler wasn't Chandler at all—he'd stolen the identity of an 8-year-old boy from Tulsa, Oklahoma, who died in a car crash in Texas in 1945.

Since then, rumors have been building. Police felt the man was most likely a fugitive on the run—who else leaves $80,000 in a bank account and hides behind a stolen identity? Some said he might have been a Nazi war criminal. Others thought that he could be the Zodiac Killer, based on his likeness to a police sketch of the infamous murderer who left a trail of terror through Northern California in the 1960s and 1970s. (And, in fact, Chandler was in California at the time of the crimes.) But after the initial round of research following the suicide, the case went cold.

Today, U.S. Marshal Peter Elliott announced that his office and a team of forensic genealogists had cracked the case. Yet they've only solved the first part of the mystery‚ and are appealing to the public for help connecting the rest of the dots.

Their research shows that the man known as Chandler was actually Robert Ivan Nichols of New Albany, Indiana. A Purple Heart Navy veteran who served in World War II, Nichols had disappeared from his family in 1965. He had left his wife and sons the year prior, telling her, "In due time, you'll know why," according to Elliott. In March 1965, he wrote to his parents, saying he was "well and happy" and asking them not to worry about him. The same month, he mailed an envelope to his son Phillip, which contained only a penny. There was no note. It was the last his family would ever hear of him.

According to family lore, the war had taken a heavy toll on Nichols, and he burned his uniforms in the backyard after returning from service. He had no criminal history. Associates who worked with him as "Chandler" described him as a loner, someone who refused to let others get close. Co-workers said he would frequently disappear for days, and even weeks, at a time. He kept a bag packed and ready in his apartment at all times.

After disappearing from his family, he traveled to Dearborn, Michigan, and then to the San Francisco and Richmond, California areas. He assumed the Chandler identity in Rapid City, South Dakota, in 1978, when he applied for a Social Security card using personal information (including the birthdate) of the boy who died in 1945. At the time, such frauds were easier to pull off, since Social Security cards were rarely given to children, and so the real Joseph Newton Chandler III had never been given a Social Security number.

Robert Ivan Nichols circa 1992
Robert Ivan Nichols circa 1992
Peter Elliott

The break in the case came only after painstaking detective work that involved both sophisticated DNA techniques and pounding the pavement. When Elliott took on the case in 2014 at the request of the Eastlake police, he discovered Chandler had had colon cancer surgery in 2000. He sent tissue samples taken at that time to the local medical examiner, who obtained a DNA profile. Unfortunately, there were no matches between the profile and various national criminal databases.

Stumped, in 2016 Elliott turned to forensic genealogists Dr. Colleen Fitzpatrick and Dr. Margaret Press of California-based IdentiFinders and the DNA Doe Project, a non-profit humanitarian initiative created to help identify Jane and John Does and return them to their families. (Fitzpatrick also helped crack the case of identity thief Lori Erica Ruff in 2016.) Despite a badly degraded sample, they used Y chromosome genealogy to trace a family line that indicated the dead man's last name was likely Nichols or some variation. In March 2018, authorities tracked down a Phillip Nichols in Ohio, who provided a DNA sample. The sample matched with that of the dead man, indicating the pair were father and son. Phillip said at a news conference today that he instantly recognized photos of "Chandler" as his father.

Although the cold case has been solved, mystery remains. Why did Nichols abandon his family? Why did he end his life? What accounts for the rest of his odd behavior? Although it's clear he wasn't a Nazi war criminal, there's still a chance—however slight—that he could be connected to crimes in California, given his residence at the time of the Zodiac Killer's activities. "There has to be a reason he assumed the name of a deceased 8-year-old boy and went into hiding for so many years," Elliott says. When asked about the potential Zodiac Killer connection, Elliott responded, "I can't say for sure that he is, and I cannot say for sure that he's not [the killer]. We have been working with San Francisco, [and the] Department of Justice, but that's a question for them, that's their investigation."

Elliott says he is appealing for the public's help in tracing the rest of Nichols' life and mystery. Tips can be sent to the U.S. Marshals at 216-522-4482.

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iStock
What’s the Difference Between Prison and Jail?
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iStock

Many people use the terms jail and prison interchangeably, and while both terms refer to areas where people are held, there's a substantial difference between the two methods of incarceration. Where a person who is accused of a crime is held, and for how long, is a factor in determining the difference between the two—and whether a person is held in a jail or a prison is largely determined by the severity of the crime they have committed.

A jail (or, for our British friends, a gaol) refers to a small, temporary holding facility—run by local governments and supervised by county sheriff departments—that is designed to detain recently arrested people who have committed a minor offense or misdemeanor. A person can also be held in jail for an extended period of time if the sentence for their offense is less than a year. There are currently 3163 local jail facilities in the United States.

A jail is different from the similarly temporary “lockup”—sort of like “pre-jail”—which is located in local police departments and holds offenders unable to post bail, people arrested for public drunkenness who are kept until they are sober, or, most importantly, offenders waiting to be processed into the jail system.

A prison, on the other hand, is usually a large state- or federal-run facility meant to house people convicted of a serious crime or felony, and whose sentences for those crimes surpass 365 days. A prison could also be called a “penitentiary,” among other names.

To be put in a state prison, a person must be convicted of breaking a state law. To be put in a federal prison, a person must be convicted of breaking federal law. Basic amenities in a prison are more extensive than in a jail because, obviously, an inmate is likely to spend more than a year of his or her life confined inside a prison. As of 2012, there were 4575 operating prisons in the U.S.—the most in the world. The country with the second highest number of operating prisons is Russia, which has just 1029 facilities.

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