When longtime Beverly Hills resident Al Martino died in his hometown of South Philadelphia this week, he left a rich legacy that included more than fifty years of entertainment, memorable songs like Spanish Eyes and Here In My Heart and a crucial role in one of the of the greatest motion pictures of all time.
Al Martino’s life story was far richer than even that, as revealed in a screenplay that survives him.
The film was written in 1991. Famed television reporter Rafael Abramovitz and Burt Kearns of Tabloid Baby and Frozen Pictures acclaim met Martino on a shoot for Hard Copy, and later spent weeks with the star going over every detail of his contentious life. They came away with the material that would become a biopic screenplay named for one of his greatest hits, Here In My Heart.
The script tells the story of Martino’s life from his childhood in his South Philly and his idol Mario Lanza through all many dramatic and harrowing events that led to his triumph as Johnny Fontane in The Godfather. It's a story as compelling as the Godfather saga itself, full of great depth and conflict, full of violence, mobsters, war, show business, celebrity, addiction, abortion, love, redemption-- and music. The story also shows that Martino may very well have been right when he claimed his own life—not Frank Sinatra’s-- was the inspiration for the character. He had to fight for the role- and Marlon Brando, with the aid of some whiskey, helped him inhabit it.
Al Martino would certainly have been a bigger star had he not “crossed the Mob” early in his career and was forced to flee the USA to England, where he made history, scoring the UK’s first #1 single (when the song Here in My Heart topped the very first NME chart in 1952). But Here In My Heart reveals that his years in England, before he returned to Atlantic City, received a commutation and blessing from a real "Godfather” and resumed his career in the States, were not easy.
When Here In My Heart was first shopped, many of the characters depicted were still alive, and though some names had been changed to protect the guilty, the property was deemed "too hot" to handle. Close to twenty years later, it is a real tribute to a man who triumphed in the end, and what may be its most poignant chapter, died in the place where it all began.