While The Godfather film series has long been thought of as one of the biggest influences in onscreen portrayals of organized crime, it was the 1990 film, Goodfellas, that many have claimed had a much more accurate portrayal of the modern day mob. Based on the real-life experiences of Henry Hill, Goodfellas told the story of him and his associates that were based on the real-life criminals from his heyday when affiliated with the Lucchese crime family. Directed by Martin Scorsese, the film was one of his greatest achievements in film and solidified him as one of the best directors in Hollywood. Scorsese went on to direct a number of other films about organized crime and is the go-to director for actors looking to get their hands dirty on the big screen.
For mafia-lovers on the silver screen, Goodfellas is the Holy Grail for getting a peek into the world of the mafia. While it is a film based off of a book it is still a storyline that stems from the first-hand experience by someone who actually lived through it. On top of the storyline, the film featured some of the biggest names in the entertainment industry. It influenced a myriad of other films and TV shows and it has become iconic in American cinema. Whether you’ve seen the film more times than you’d like to admit or you’re just interested in little known trivia of this infamous film, check out the 15 things you never knew about the film, Goodfellas.
15. Added Profanity
Martin Scorsese is infamous for how he allows his characters to improvise during filming and many have attributed this trait to why so many of his films have been received so well. This occurred during The Departed in the scene where Jack Nicholson’s character discusses the possibility of a rat being in his crew with Leonardo DiCaprio and there was also some improvisation during the sushi scene in The Wolf of Wall Street. Yet, the improvisation was never more prominent than in Goodfellas. While the script called for a variety of expletives from the cast, Scorsese encouraged the actors to improvise in their dialogue. In the end, the f-word was used an astounding 296 times. Around half of them were spoken by Joe Pesci, which was a pretty great acting choice on his behalf. It definitely added to the dimension to his overall character and it helped to put Goodfellas in the record books for more reason than one.
14. Paul “Paulie” Cicero Based On Real-Life Mobster Paul Vario
In the film, Goodfellas, the main mob boss, Paul “Paulie” Cicero is played by the actor, Paul Sorvino. Yet, Paulie Cicero is actually based off a real-life mobster by the name of Paul Vario. The onscreen character played the real-life mobster in a number of accurate ways since both became acquainted with a young Henry Hill and employed his services for running errands. Vario was affiliated with the Lucchese crime family and ran his own crew just like in the film. It was estimated that at one point, Vario was making $25,000 per day based on his income from his hijacking ventures and illegal gambling. The actor, Paul Sorvino, had to familiarize himself with the real-life mobster and reportedly tried to quit the Goodfellas project a short time before filming was to commence. During the 25th anniversary celebration of the film at the Tribeca Film Festival, Sorvino claimed that he called his manager three days before filming to try and get him out of his most famous role to date. He claimed, “The real difficulty there was the inner life… that weird bifurcation of character. When they’re home, they’re family people. When they’re out, they’re shooting people.” In the end, Sorvino was able to go through with the role and is undoubtedly happy that he was able to push through it and became part of one of the most iconic films in cinematic history.
13. Jimmy Conway Based On Real-Life Mobster Jimmy Burke
Robert De Niro is known for his stellar acting ability and that was definitely evident when he starred in Goodfellas as Jimmy Conway. Yet, the majority of his affectations from the film were taken straight from the real-life mobster, Jimmy Burke. De Niro reportedly took great pains to ensure he portrayed the character true to life. He reportedly poured over the unused notes of Nicholas Pileggi who wrote the book that the film was based on and he even consulted with the real Henry Hill to get further details about what Burke was like during that time. Everything from the way he smoked to how he held a ketchup bottle, De Niro was able to implement all these subtle nuances into the character role in the film. The real Jimmy Burke was never in the ranks of the Italian mob because of his Irish background but he did work closely with a number of made men. The film accurately portrayed the way he was “The Gent” when it came to tipping drivers and how he became increasingly paranoid after pulling off the famed Lufthansa heist.
12. Tommy DeVito Based On Real-Life Mobster Tommy DeSimone
When an actor is chosen to portray a character based on a real-life person, it can be difficult to get all the right elements in order to convey what the actual person was like. While there are instances where an actor was able to completely transform to become the character, there are other times when the physical attributes aren’t as important as the overall message. In the case of Joe Pesci playing Tommy DeVito, he didn’t exactly look the same as the real-life 6’2” mobster that weighed over 200 pounds. While he may not have looked the part, he definitely got the psychotic personality down to a tee. From the casual attitude towards violence to the way he met his demise, the crimes committed by DeVito in the film were pulled straight from the actual accounts of Henry Hill during that time. The only other real difference in these characters was the fact that the real DeSimone was killed at the age of 28-years-old rather than the middle-aged Joe Pesci character in the film.
11. Karen Hill Wasn’t The Picture Perfect Wife In Reality
While the main storyline in Goodfellas surrounded around the criminal activity of Henry, Tommy, Jimmy and Paulie, there was also a sub-storyline that involved the romance between Henry and Karen. Their romance started off with fiery interaction and definitely kept that theme going when Karen pulled a gun on Henry after confronting him about his mistress. Yet, their biggest drama was left out of the film. The real-life story showed that Karen actually had a close relationship with Paul Vario, played by Paul Sorvino in the film. When Paul and Henry spent time together in jail, the film showed that Paul was released from prison sooner than Henry. While Henry was still incarcerated, Karen and Paul reportedly had an affair behind Henry’s back. There was actually a lot of interest over Karen and even Tommy tried to engage with her (which reportedly he tried to rape her). This was actually the reason why Paul ended up turning Tommy into the Gambino family. He informed them that Tommy was responsible for killing the Gambino’s men and that is what ultimately got Tommy killed. While the film left this storyline out completely, it definitely makes it more interesting to know that much of the drama in the film had to do with Henry’s wife.
10. Morrie Kessler Based On Real-Life Bookie Martin Krugman
The actor, Chuck Low, portrayed Morrie Kessler in Goodfellas and wasn’t exactly the most macho of all the characters in the film. Kessler was actually based on a real-life bookie that was acquainted with Jimmy Burke because he had to pay him to operate. Just like in the film, Henry Hill seemed to be more sympathetic towards Krugman and even helped to facilitate further business dealings between him and Burke. Both the real and fictional character specialized in men’s toupees and Krugman actually ran a men’s salon called, For Men Only. It was actually Krugman that initially schemed up the famed Lufthansa heist and it was accurate that he was killed in order to avoid having to give him his share of the heist. Krugman reportedly asked for an exorbitant amount of money for his part in the plan and Jimmy suggested that Krugman might be working with the FBI since he had the nerve to ask for so much money.
9. Stacks Edwards Was The Real-Life Heist Man Parnell Steven Edwards
Goodfellas is a film that was filled with a number of A-list actors and even Samuel L. Jackson was able to sneak in a scene in this Martin Scorsese iconic moment in cinematic history. However, his role was extremely small and seemed like an afterthought rather than a storyline based on a real character. However, there actually was a member of the Lufthansa heist that was in charge of getting rid of the getaway car but then failed to do so. Parnell Steven Edwards was involved with organized crime due to his background as a credit card thief. He was enlisted in the Lufthansa heist but just like in the film, the van he was in charge of getting rid of was discovered by the police and his fingerprints were lifted from the interior. Henry Hill reported that Stacks actually went to a gathering after the heist and commented on how Hill had money to flash around. Hill said that he knew Stacks would be killed the moment he made that comment.
8. Improvised Scenes
In a film that features seasoned actors and a director that embraces improvisation, it shouldn’t be surprising that many of the most iconic moments in the film were actually not directly from the Nicholas Pileggi book, Wiseguy, that was the basis for the script. Yet, it is surprising that so much of the improvisation helped to make the movie so much better than what it would have been without it. For example, the scene that showed Joe Pesci’s character accusing Henry Hill of calling him a clown was actually completely fabricated by Pesci. He reportedly drew inspiration from a similar incident he witnessed among real-life mobsters and used it in the scene. It’s hard to imagine the film without this ultra memorable scene. Another improvised moment was when Paulie confronted Henry Hill about quitting his dealings with drugs once he was released from prison. In the scene, the actor, Paul Sorvino, improvised by giving Ray Liotta a slap to the face to emphasize his point. The look of surprise on Liotta’s face is real shock since he had no idea Sorvino was going to do that. It is a testament to his acting prowess that he was able to stay in character and continue the scene.
7. Connection To The Sopranos
While people inevitably reference The Godfather series in regards to classic mafia films, Goodfellas has done its fair share in contributing to how mafia themes are portrayed as well. One of the biggest influences Goodfellas has had in television is how it contributed to the hit HBO series, The Sopranos. Two dozen actors have roles in both Goodfellas and The Sopranos series, with some being minor characters and others being main characters in the series. Lorraine Bracco portrayed Karen Hill and Dr. Jennifer Melfi, Michael Imperioli played the unfortunate “Spider” and Christopher Moltisanti, Frank Vincent played Billy Batts and Phil Leotardo, and the list just goes on and on. On top of the actors that they share, throughout the six seasons of The Sopranos there have been references to Goodfellas. The characters mentioned themes from Goodfellas and in one episode, Carmela is asked where Tony thinks Goodfellas ranks in regards to his taste in film. The creator of The Sopranos, David Chase, has made no secret that he was directly influenced by Goodfellas when conjuring up the notion of the series and even stated, “Goodfellas is the Quran for me.”
6. Real-Life Interaction With Tommy’s Mom
While the majority of the characters in Goodfellas weren’t exactly likable, there was one character that acted as both the comic relief and the most endearing character in the film. Tommy DeVito played by Joe Pesci didn’t seem to have any moral character in the film but his mother seemed like the warmest old lady that only wanted her beloved son to settle down and give her grandkids. The most interesting part of Tommy’s mother in the film was the scene where Tommy, Jimmy, and Henry head to Tommy’s mother’s house after killing Billy Batts. She is so happy to see her son that she goes all out in preparing a meal for them. In actuality, Pesci improvised a portion of the scene where he talks about needing a knife to cut off the “paw” of the deer. In real-life, Henry Hill actually talked about the interaction with Tommy’s mom and said that they truly did stop to get a knife, lime and shovel and even partook in some coffee. The film portrayed Tommy’s mom in a more heartwarming way but that might be because the actress that played her was the actual mother of Martin Scorsese.
5. Boston College Point Shaving Scandal
Goodfellas featured a number of crimes that were true to actual events but Martin Scorsese wasn’t able to fit in every single one of their real-life crimes in the film. One of the biggest ones that was omitted from the film was the Boston College’s 1978-1979 point-shaving scandal. Jimmy Burke, played by Robert De Niro in the film, collaborated with Henry Hill and recruited members of Boston College’s basketball team to manipulate the scores of the game to cover certain point spreads. Players, Rick Kuhn, Jim Sweeney, and Ernie Cobb were discovered to be working with the mob. There was even an ESPN documentary entitled, Playing for the Mob, to show just how this scenario came about and what it meant for those involved. Of all the heinous crimes Jimmy Burke committed, it’s ironic that his role in the Boston College point-shaving scandal is what inevitably got him his sentence of 20 years in prison.
4. Charmed Estee Lauder During Robbery
One of the real-life Henry Hill crimes that was left out of Goodfellas involved one of the beauty industry’s leading brands. Prior to Hill’s death in 2012, Daniel Simone wrote a book based on their extensive interviews and one of the stories involved the time when Hill and his goons robbed Estee Lauder. Reportedly, Hill and his men burst into Estee Lauder’s townhouse and bound and gagged her while they ransacked the place. To put this into perspective, the scenario sounds pretty darn close to what happened to Kim Kardashian during her robbery in France. Yet, Hill reportedly felt sorry for the cosmetics mogul and untied her to take her out of the townhouse until his men were finished robbing the place. Goodfellas showed that Hill was a major charmer when it came to the ladies and this was definitely true for the case involving Estee Lauder. They reportedly went out for drinks and she gave him her personal phone number. He asked her not to call the police until a half an hour after they left and she actually agreed.
3. Actor Sued The Simpsons For Stolen Character
Frank Sivero had already played the role of a gangster when he was featured in The Godfather Part II but when he was featured in Goodfellas as the Frankie Carbone character, he had to adopt a completely different type of mobster character. When cultivating the affectations of Frankie Carbone, including the look and demeanor, Sivero was actually living in the same apartment complex of the writers of The Simpsons series. When The Simpsons came out with a mobster character by the name of Louis, Sivero saw far too many similarities with his own Goodfellas character and it prompted him to file a lawsuit. Sivero sued Fox Television for $250 million stating that the writers stole his character for The Simpsons series and he also alleged that the producer, James Brooks, led him to believe that they would work together on an upcoming feature but really he was just using that as a way to steal his persona for the cartoon series. Ultimately, the court ruled in The Simpsons favor and the judge dismissed the case.
2. Would Have Been Completely Different If They Went With Their First Choice
Prior to the final casting of a film, there are sometimes a number of different actors that are considered for certain roles. It’s actually quite rare for a role to be written for a specific actor and there are usually auditions required for actors to finally be chosen. In the case of Goodfellas, it was reported that the film’s producer wasn’t completely convinced that Ray Liotta was the best choice to play Henry Hill. Producer Irwin Winkler gave an interview with GQ magazine to celebrate 20 years since the release of Goodfellas and said “Tom Cruise was discussed,” to play Hill’s role. For the role of Karen Hill, one of the producer’s, Barbara de Fina, reportedly indicated that Madonna was actually being considered to play the would-be wife of Henry Hill. Considering these two actors as the main characters in the film is completely mind-blowing since it would have been a completely different film.
1. Critical Acclaim And Lack Thereof
Oftentimes, audiences and critics don’t instantly recognize the effect a film will inevitably have on audiences and cinematic history. In fact, some films bombed at the box office and then went on to become iconic in the eyes of audiences. In the case of Goodfellas, it took a bit of time before the film was considered a classic and there weren’t many critics that could see what it would one day become. Roger Ebert was one of the only critics that could see that Goodfellas would be part of cinematic history and when it was released, Ebert stated, “No finer film has ever been made about organized crime – not even The Godfather.” At the 1991 Academy Awards, Goodfellas lost out in the major categories in all of its nominations except for one. The Oscar for the Best Supporting Actor trophy was awarded to Joe Pesci for his portrayal of Tommy DeVito but even Pesci was surprised that he won the Academy Award. In fact, he was so surprised that his acceptance speech was only five words long, “It’s my privilege. Thank you.”