86. Fredo

In the news this week were reports of the television journalist and personality Chris Cuomo caught on tape reacting in anger to a right-wing provocateur calling him “Fredo.” Fredo, of course, is the simple and hapless older son of Don Corleone in The Godfather, brilliantly played by John Cazale, who is so craving respect that he betrays the family and is ordered executed by his little brother Michael, the true inheritor of the role of Capo. Cuomo reacted to both the characterization of himself as the “weak brother,” and calling an Italian “Fredo,” which he likened to using the n-word for African-Americans.Fredo has been prominent in the nation’s consciousness lately as a comparison to Donald Trump, Jr., the dumb son of the president who arranged the infamous Trump Tower meeting with the Russians and other boneheaded moves in what appears to be a desperate attempt to be a player and impress his father. When the news came out that he had said “I love it!” to an offer to get dirt on Hillary Clinton, all across America, the response was “Ah, Fredo.” Suddenly, we “got” him.

While I was not aware of Fredo as an Italian-specific slur, I can certainly understand Cuomo’s sensitivity to it. I grew up in the 1950s in a Massachusetts town with very little Italian presence. There was one Asian family who owned the only Asian restaurant, and a total of one black male, a young man who came up from the islands to work on a farm and, to my eternal mortification, was universally known as “Blackie.” People were too busy denigrating the majority Portuguese population with slurs like “Portagee” and “greenhorn” — never mind that these folks made up the valedictorians, star athletes and pillars of the community — to worry about insulting the few Italians in their midst. Cuomo, on the other hand, earned the right to be touchy, having had to deal with not just generalized prejudice, but the close-to-home rumors that his father, the erudite and upstanding governor of New York, decided not to run for president for fear that his mob connections would be revealed. He’s Italian, right? He must be connected somehow.I have not seen The Godfather in 45 years. While brilliant, the violence is just too upsetting for me to watch more than once or twice. I always had a different view of Fredo. Yes, simple; yes, dumb; yes, pathetic — but also a sort of purity in that simplicity, a Holy Innocent, as ridiculous as that sounds for a gangster. I feel that Coppola is trying to signal that to us in that Lake Tahoe scene at the end of Godfather II — where just before Fredo is shot, he prays the Hail Mary to catch a fish. Fredo’s faith in that last Hail Mary signals penance, absolution, and a straight shot into Heaven. Maybe it’s not so bad to be Fredo after all.

The house that Fredo built. Palazzo Margherita, Francis Ford Coppola’s luxurious hotel in his ancestral village of Bernalda.
In the courtyard of Palazzo Margherita.

3 thoughts on “86. Fredo

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