Sweet Moments in Dental History: Ep 1

Welcome to a new series: Sweet Moments in Dental History! In these segments I will review an event involving dentistry that some people may find interesting. It may be from a movie, from a historical figure/event, or a dental invention that has an intriguing story.

For our first episode I will review how dentistry was involved with one of the greatest films in modern cinematic history: Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather.

Marlon Brando had a vision for his character Vito Corleone as having bulldog-type jowels. In his audition he shoved kleenex in between his lower lips and teeth (where chewing tobacco is often held) to create the puffed out appearance he had in his mind. Once he got the part, an oral appliance was designed by makeup artist Dick Smith made by New York dentist Dr. Henry Dwork. It consisted of a metal bar and hard plastic (acrylic) blobs, or “plumpers”, to push his lower lips out slightly to give him his distinctive look. Such an odd detail to consider, but the character would likely not be near as distinct as he is without Dwork’s device.

Dr. Dwork also modified other characters’ teeth for their respective roles. Al Lettieri, who played Virgil “The Turk” Sollozzo, had a tooth-colored front bridge re-made to be partially gold to give a more sinister appearance in keeping with his gangster character (more about what bridges are here). James Caan, who played hotheaded Sonny Corleone, was to have a more rugged, fierce look than he currently had. So the dentist made his upper canines longer because, as Dwork said, “well formed cuspids tend to give the impression of both strength and ferocity.” These subtle modifications are only briefly visible in the film, but added to the depth of the characters, which likely enhanced the performances.

The Godfather was the highest-grossing film of 1972 and for a time was the highest grossing film ever made. It won Oscars for Best Picture, Best Actor (for Brando), Best Adapted Screenplay, and received seven other nominations. It’s amazing to think about how a dentist helped refine and bring to life some of the most memorable characters in such a famous, influential film.

Check our blog page for more episodes of Sweet Moments in Dental History in the future!

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Marlon Brando with his jowels mouthpiece
Marlon Brando with his jowels mouthpiece
Brando before and after makeup and appliance
Brando before and after makeup and mouthpiece was applied


The Godfather, Produced by Albert S. Ruddy/Paramount Pictures/Alfran Productions, Distributed by Paramount Pictures, 1972, 177 minutes.

Story source: https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/marlon-brando-landed-his-godfather-role-some-shoe-polish-kleenex-990744

Story Source: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/85005511694616634/

Dr. Dwork article: https://people.com/archive/if-theres-ever-an-oscar-for-supporting-bridgework-dr-henry-dwork-is-a-shoo-in-vol-12-no-4/

The Godfather Book:

Lebo, H. (2005) The Godfather Legacy: The Untold Story of the Making of the Classic Godfather Trilogy Featuring Never-Before-Published Production StillsPaperback, New York, NY, Simons and Schuster, ISBN-13: 978-0-684-83647-8


Oral appliance pic retrieved from: https://www.flickr.com/photos/wallyg/6416492789/in/photostream/

Brando before and after makeup retrieved from: https://www.reddit.com/r/MakeupAddiction/comments/2c943b/pic_marlon_brando_before_and_after_his_makeup_was/

Brando on set adjusting appliance retrieved from:

Brando with appliance retrieved from: https://i.pinimg.com/originals/a5/bd/97/a5bd97904ed99b36a85b93cba65695c7.jpg