How a Big Ten Connection Created The Godfather Cast

Trooper’s travel tale trots through Hollywood’s Beverly Hills Hotel

Trooper’s travel tale trots through Hollywood’s Beverly Hills Hotel

The late, Oscar-nominated actor James Caan failed to make the football team when he attended Michigan State University. But Caan did then make the cut to play Sonny Corleone in the movie “The Godfather,” thanks to an Ohio State University alum named Andrea Eastman who had become a casting director at Hollywood’s Paramount Pictures.

“I think I learned more about football than anything at OSU,” Eastman joked, admitting that no one goes to college to learn how to cast a hit movie.

“Jimmy Caan was amazing in his original screen test for ‘Michael,’ but he was out of the movie since Al Pacino got the part. Francis Ford Coppola, the director, had initially promised the part to a big guy named Carmine Caridi that he’d met at a party,” Eastman explained. But it turned out that Caridi wasn’t quite right for the part. And he’d never formally signed a deal. “Coppola trusted me. He was leaving for Sicily so he told me, ‘Just cast my movie!’”

Eastman said she ran up to her office to make Caan’s deal before anyone changed their mind. “Everybody in the world wanted to be in The Godfather, but we then had our dream cast: Marlon Brando, James Caan, Robert Duvall, Diane Keaton and Al Pacino.”

“The ultimate lineup was iconic,” read a display at Hollywood’s Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, which celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Best Picture-winning Godfather movie. Eastman’s name and legacy, including casting Pacino (whom one of her studio bosses referred to as a ‘little pip squeak’), were prominently displayed in the elaborate Godfather exhibit’s “Casting and Performance” section.

The day after meeting Eastman, I happened upon Pacino lunching with a friend of his in the Tower Bar of the historic Sunset Tower Hotel, which opened in 1929. There were younger, unbothered celebrities in the old Hollywood-style room with a panoramic view of Los Angeles, but Pacino is an actor with his own orbit—an orbit I dared to enter. I broke the ice by physically forcing myself to approach his table against the wall. 

“Excuse me,” I offered, then quickly explained to Pacino that I’d dined with Andrea Eastman the previous night and stated, “I know she’d want me to send her best.”

Only then did Pacino look up with sincere warmth and an audible gasp. “Andrea and I go way back. She’s in town? I should call her. How can she be reached?”  

I told him how to find her and then asked the legendary Oscar-winner if he’d visited The Godfather exhibit at the Academy Museum? That’s when Pacino’s lunch pal joked, “If people saw Al walking around in that museum, they’d think one of the statues came to life!”            

Eastman was back in residence at the Beverly Hills Hotel, the classic castle where, about a decade earlier, she’d bumped into Pacino—a sweet story he confirmed. “Al Pacino happened to be in the hotel’s Polo Lounge when I was there. Noticing us, Richard, the piano player, began tinkling the theme from “The Godfather,” so Al and I decided to dance together to that song,” Eastman recalled.

Her special memories of the iconic pink hotel include a previous extended stay to recover from her open-heart surgery during the pandemic with her devoted dog Trooper. That experience has been celebrated in a new book for travel types, children, and animal lovers entitled: “Trooper at the Beverly Hills Hotel.” The coffee table-pretty book by Susan McCauley features charming illustrations memorializing Eastman’s late golden retriever and the gilded hotel by Darlee Orcullo Urbiztondo.   

“Trooper would prance around the hotel and go behind the front desk each morning where the staff would greet him. Trooper loved the hotel and the affection I got from Trooper in that peaceful, elegant setting hastened my recovery. The book makes people cry because of Trooper’s loyalty and unconditional love for me and everyone,” Eastman revealed.

The Beverly Hills Hotel’s current general manager, John Scanlon, welcomed Eastman back with her new dog, a golden/dingo mix she rescued from Korea and named “Polo” in homage to the hotel’s famed Polo Lounge.    

Eastman is an animal lover, and though she has described making The Godfather as the best time of her life, there is one scene she lobbied against: the infamous “horses head in the Hollywood producer’s bed incident” (which was filmed at a mansion behind the Beverly Hills Hotel with a genuine, previously butchered equine skull.) 

Eastman has rescued horses at her home in Bozeman, Montana, near Big Sky Resort, owned by Michigan-based Boyne USA. She was also featured in the book “People We Know, Horses They Love,” written by NBC “Today Show” correspondent Jill Rapaport with images by her sister Linda Solomon, a celebrity photojournalist from Michigan.   

The lesson in all of this? Keep your friends close…and your pets closer!

Contact Michael Patrick Shiels at  His radio program may be found at or weekday mornings from 9-noon on WJIM AM 1240


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