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‘Godfather’ resurrected

Karp looks to extend Puzo's Corleone legacy

Paramount will have first crack at screen rights to a new installment of Mario Puzo’s “The Godfather” franchise that is in the planning stages at Random House.

Whether the studio considers that an offer it cannot refuse remains to be seen.

“We hope Paramount or some other studio will want to buy the movie rights, and it is our intention to see that happen,” said Random House Trade Group vice president-senior editor Jonathan Karp. He was Puzo’s editor when the author died, and Karp has spent the last several months tying down a rights deal with Puzo’s estate to draft another writer to continue the Corleone saga. Puzo’s estate controlled the literary rights to the characters created by the author.

Word of the book plans began leaking late last week when Karp emailed select lit agents canvassing for a top author to concoct a new tale. The information was published in the New Yorker. It is potentially the largest sequel deal made for a work of a deceased author since “Scarlett,” the “Gone With the Wind” line extension that fetched $5 million. Karp would not comment on the deal Random House made with the Puzo estate, but acknowledged it was substantial. He was also braced for the inevitable skepticism on revisiting a book that was critically acclaimed and sold 22 million copies.

“These characters just keep pulling you back in,” Karp said. “There is enormous continuing interest in the Corleone family, and a great opportunity to tell a story that could take place before, during or after the original book. Mario once told me he wished he had done more with Sonny Corleone’s character, and there was certainly more opportunity to explore the singer Johnny Fontaine. And Michael Corleone did make an appearance at the beginning and end of ‘The Sicilian,’ because he had a relationship with the freedom fighter.”

Karp said that it was too early to know who would write the book, and a choice won’t be made until a final selection of story outlines are accumulated Nov. 4. He is aiming high, noting that even though a deal for Pat Conroy to scribble the “Gone With the Wind” sequel fell apart, Conroy had the pedigree of the writer he was hoping to hire. “We’re looking for a connected author, in the best sense of the word.”

Karp says the original was a classic, and the idea is not to compete with it, but rather to continue the story in an entertaining and artful way that will make his readers very happy.”

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