Kay Corleone

When she married into the Corleone family, she didn’t know what she was getting into. After all, her husband, Michael (Al Pacino), was a war hero. A gentleman. His family at the time seemed warm, friendly, and above all, close. Yet, the warning signs were there, the red flags a woman ought never to ignore. Women Who Wow Wednesday explores Kay Adams-Corleone of The Godfather I & II.

Kay Corleone
Kay Corleone

Being Italian, I grew up with the Francis Ford Coppola film Mario Puzo‘s The Godfather on TV. While my friends watched hockey, I delved in the world of the Corleones. Not surprising, the family dynamic of the main protagonists reminded me of my own family. We ate pasta on Sundays, had massive weddings to attend, and always had an envelop ready for a special occasion. Our music was fun, our food was filling, and our stories we told were always of the old country. How great the old country was and how we’d like to go back and live there someday.

Kay (Diane Keaton) first appears as Michael Corleone’s date at his sister (Talia ShireConnie’s wedding. There, she meets Michael’s brother Fredo (John Cazale), who seems wet behind the ears from all the booze flowing from the open bar. Sitting across the table from Michael, she wonders what a big man like Luca Brasi’s doing talking to himself. Michael calmly tells her how Luca helped his father (Marlon Brando) handle a family matter. A bandleader wouldn’t cut Johnny Fontane (Al Martino), Connie’s wedding singer and friend of the family, from his contract. Michael then adds, “Luca Brasi held a gun to his head, and my father assured him that either his brains or his signature would be on the contract.”

That was Kay’s introduction to Michael’s family. Michael attempts to comfort Kay’s concern with telling her, “That’s my family, Kay, that’s not me.”

They fell in love while they were students at Dartmouth College, New Hampshire, just after the war in 1945.

When a murder attempt on Michael’s father goes bad, Kay doesn’t reappear until a year after Michael returns from his exile in Italy. She meets him for the first time not knowing he’s changed. His heart has grown cold from witnessing the death of his first wife, Apollonia, who he’d met in Italy and had later died in a car bomb explosion meant for him. Kay agrees to marry her longtime love, Michael, after he promises her his family’s business will become legitimate within five years.

During the baptism of his sister’s first child, Connie’s husband disappears. Murdered. Kay approaches Michael about it. He refuses to answer her question of whether he had anything to do with it. She doesn’t back down. He explodes, “Enough!” Moments later, he cedes to her curiosity. Just this once. She asks again if he knows anything about Connie’s husband. No, is his flat reply.

Liar. And she knows it.

Kay (Photo Credit: Cinéfilos por Natureza)
Kay (Photo Credit: Cinéfilos por Natureza)

As the door closes on a chapter in the life of the new godfather, Kay realizes Michael has her trapped.

An associate’s plot to murder Michael brings out the worst in everyone. Kay has already been stewing about his part in the death of Connie’s husband, and to make matters worse, she’s pregnant with his third child. Her attitude toward him has been less than enthusiastic. His long absences and lies have also taken a toll on Kay. She appears older and stoic. However, she continues with loving her children in spite of Michael’s business dealings.

Throughout Michael’s ascent to power, Kay has watched him selfishly turn inward to a nub of the man he never wanted to become. She understands she made a mistake marrying him and wants out. But, how to tell him? He’s the head of one of the most ruthless crime families in all of the U.S., there’s no way he’d take the news of her wanting to leave without a fight. At the same time, she miscarries.

Yet, she gathers her belongings, packs the kids and approaches her soon-to-be former husband. In a heated argument guaranteed to get her killed, she stands up to the crime boss telling him of her intentions to leave, wanting to take the children with her.

He will not have it. She will not take the kids. Ever.

In a bold move to assert her own control, Kay reveals the child she said she’d miscarried she instead had aborted. She couldn’t see herself rearing another Corleone in Michael’s world. Yes, it was a boy.

Without warning, Michael unleashes a slap that Kay absorbs in horror.

Kay Corleone (Photo credit: Cinéfilos por Natureza)
Kay Corleone (Photo credit: Cinéfilos por Natureza)

Soon after, she no longer is part of the family; even loosing her children to their father’s misshaped view of life. But as with anything that ever happens, something positive always comes from it. She no longer has to deal with the days of loneliness behind the confines of the four walls of her home. She’s also free from pretending anymore to love her husband who has been nothing but an overbearing, domineering man obsessed with control over every aspect of her life. And she can now live a life of freedom. Free from her husband’s lies. Free from her husband’s anger.

Years later, when Michael and Kay meet again, this conversation takes place:

Michael Corleone: I spent my life protecting my son. I spent my life protecting my family!
Kay Let’s be reasonable here, Michael. I mean, that’s your big thing, isn’t it? Reason backed up by murder.
Michael Corleone: Oh, God, you hate me. You hate me.
Kay: No, I don’t hate you, Michael. I dread you.
Michael Corleone: I did what I could, Kay, to protect all of you from the horrors of this world.
Kay: But you became my horror.

Was it worth it for Kay to have gone against the family in such a way? Do you think she initially lived a life naïve of her husband’s deceptive ways?

16 thoughts on “Kay Corleone

  1. a little late on this but so glad you added kay corleone! not easy to divorce out of the corleone family – and from the one that became the godfather, none-the-less! plus – i love diane keaton. she rocks!

    she definitely was naive at the very beginning but in time, was strong enough to pull out. even though it caused a lot of pain and fear for her. but she did it. and in the end, she was better for it. sadly, they lost their daughter.

    for both of them, it was a price no parent would want to go through.

    on a side note, i’m not sure if i would have had to guts to admit to michael corleone that i went ahead with an abortion behind his back.

    too scary!

  2. I suspect Kay is typical of a lot of people who think they can control something but don’t realise how ingrained attitudes are in the in-law family psyche. I felt a bit sorry for her but realistically I think she fell for Michael because of his inner strength, just not realising its origin. How many times do we see gang kingpins’ wives say ‘I knew nothing of all this’? I think these women have two choices, the first is to put blinkers on and continue their lives, knowing deep down but accepting the truth; the second is to realise they have to accept the truth and move elsewhere to regain their lives.
    I would never judge women like this, in a way it’s like battered wife syndrome, I have no understanding of why someone would accept abuse from someone that purports to love them, but it happens again and again.

    • “I have no understanding of why someone would accept abuse from someone that purports to love them, but it happens again and again.”

      I’d researched this very topic months ago and it’s dreadful what goes on behind closed doors of otherwise smiling couples. That’s why I find Kay a huge strength and example to women who are trapped by controlling, egocentric men.

      • You’re exactly right Jack. I find it upsetting that any woman can put up with abuse. It’s so much more widespread that you might think as well. Its almost like a normal ‘human condition’.
        I hope seeing strong woman on telly makes a difference.
        KR
        David

  3. You’re Italian? That’s awesome! (And explains the salad!)

    I love Kate. I have been thinking about her lately and so I’m glad you wrote this!

    Kate makes hard decisions as a mother. Yes, she abhors Michael and his world and “wants out”. But she has 2 children. Children she knows he’s not going to let her just up and walk away with. When the door slams in her face at that moment in Godfather II I feel it in like someone knocked the wind out of me every time. Even though I know it’s coming. Great film.

    What do you make of the couple’s reunion in the third movie?? For me I think it’s kind of fitting. Two peopl who’ve grown older. Who have 2 children and a most of a lifetime in common. They mend their fences and sort of come to terms with one another. The ending is tragic, of course… I often wonder if they are a couple after the final reel ends. Many couples with problems don’t survive the loss of a child.

    Anyway – yeah – thanks for writing about Kate. I think she is a good mother in a tight spot, and so I love her as a character.

  4. She was perhaps my favorite character in those movies. I think she was naive, but intentionally so – she didn’t want to know, didn’t want to believe what he did.

    I haven’t seen them in ages – it may be time for a Godfather Marathon!

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