|March 17, 2022
The opportunity to visit the graves of multiple performers from iconic films without having to travel 3,000 miles to the west coast? It was an offer I couldn’t refuse. At the joint Cedar Park & Beth El Cemeteries in Paramus, New Jersey, I stopped at the cremation niche of Oscar-winner Martin Balsam and then tracked down John Marley from The Godfather in Block 12.
This button I found left as a token at Marley’s tombstone reads, “I’d rather be acting.” The Harlem-born performer has 172 acting credits on his IMDb page, ranging in time from an uncredited role in 1942’s Native Land to a posthumously-released appearance in On the Edge from 1986.
The “I’d rather be acting” memento was the only reference to Marley’s career I saw at his gravesite. His epitaph does not mention his Academy Award nomination for acting in the 1970 movie Love Story. It recalls him as a “beloved husband and father” and concludes with, “Your love shall forever live in our hearts.”
I was interested in visiting Marley’s grave because of his participation in one of the most-acclaimed movies of all-time: Francis Ford Coppola’s mafia drama, The Godfather. Marley appears in the minor role of Hollywood producer Jack Woltz. In the film, Woltz refuses to cast floundering actor Johnny Fontane in a war picture with the potential to revitalize his career. Woltz remains unmoved by negotiation attempts initiated on behalf of Fontane’s godfather, Vito Corleone, the mafia don of the Corleone crime family. The mob responds by using Woltz’s prize racehorse Khartoum to send the mogul a message in a gruesomely memorable way.
Born: October 17, 1907 in New York, New York
Spouses: Stanja Lowe (m. 1951-1971); Sandra L. Ulosevich (m. 1975-1984)
Died: May 22, 1984 in Los Angeles, California
Interment: Cedar Park & Beth El Cemeteries, Paramus, New Jersey
"You don't understand. Johnny Fontane never gets that movie. That part is perfect for him; it'll make him a big star. And I'm gonna run him out of the business, and let me tell you why."
- John Marley as Jack Woltz
to Corleone family consigliere Tom Hagen in the 1972 film, The Godfather