Goodfellas – Henry at Idlewild Airport, 1963

Ray Liotta as Henry Hill in Goodfellas (1990)

Ray Liotta as Henry Hill in Goodfellas (1990)

Vitals

Ray Liotta as Henry Hill, Lucchese family Mafia associate

New York City, Summer 1963

Film: Goodfellas
Release Date: September 19, 1990
Director: Martin Scorsese
Costume Designer: Richard Bruno

Background

The popularity of Nicholas Pileggi’s mob expose Wiseguy in 1985 and the subsequent film version, Goodfellas, five years later changed the pop culture view of Mafioso. For thirty years, they were a crew of fedora-wearing guys in loud suits and pinkie rings who would shove a .38 under your chin and hope the coppers weren’t onto them, get me? In 1972, The Godfather paved the way for mob films about honor and family. Great movies but still hardly closer to depicting the truth about the mob.

Finally, in 1990, a realistic depiction of the American Mafia was released in theaters. Made with the help of “advisors” such as mob associates Henry Hill and Jimmy Burke and even starring ex-mob associates such as Tony Sirico (later to become famous as Paulie on The Sopranos), people were seeing the mob for what it was: a business made up of criminally-inclined lowlifes who saw themselves as much more important than they were.

Many terrific suits (and many awful ones) are worn throughout the film. Although it takes place from 1955 to 1980, some of the most stylish attire, as one would expect, is seen during the sequences set in the early ’60s.

What’d He Wear?

After a series of scenes featuring the young Italian-Irish-American Henry Hill learning the ways of organized crime during the 1950s, we transition to his new status as a young adult and rising star in the Lucchese family branch of the New York Mafia. The subtitles are more specific: “Idlewild Airport. 1963.”

The introduction of adult Henry—played by Ray Liotta—is a callback to an earlier scene in which teenage Henry appears to his mother in new clothes, panning up from his pointy leather shoes to the wide lapels of his white silk suit. “My God,” bemoans his mother. “You look like a gangster!” Eight years later, Henry lives up to his image: a full-fledged gangster.

We begin with his feet. The shoes are a must-have for every gangster’s wardrobe: olive brown alligator loafers with dark brown leather piping and a double tassel on each shoe. The shoes are immaculate, which could be explained by the fact that he is standing next to “Shoeshine Tommy”. Henry wears them with thin charcoal socks that smoothly continue the leg line into the shoes.

Carl Perkins was offered $100,000 by mobster Albert Anastasia to change the lyrics of "Blue Suede Shoes" to "Brown Alligator Loafers" in 1957. Unfortunately, Anastasia was shot to death in a hotel barbershop before Perkins could collect. (This is not a true story.)

Carl Perkins was offered $100,000 by mobster Albert Anastasia to change the lyrics of “Blue Suede Shoes” to “Brown Alligator Loafers” in 1957. Unfortunately, Anastasia was shot to death in a hotel barbershop before Perkins could collect. (This is not a true story.)

Panning up Henry’s suit, the audience quickly realizes that this is the suit of a gangster and not a businessman or politician (in case the shoes didn’t give it away). Dark gray silk with this level of shine is not a suit often worn by “civilians”.

The trousers have single forward pleats, straight side pockets, jetted back pockets that fasten with a loop through a single button, and plain-hemmed bottoms. The untucked knit shirt covers his waistband, but we can assume that—like many of his other trousers from this time period—these have been tailored to fit Henry without the need for belt or braces.

GOODFELLAS

Finally dollying up to the top, we are re-introduced to Henry himself, cool and confident as he takes an easy drag on his cigarette and looking the best he ever will. While his life’s path is far from legitimate, it’s still early enough in the course that he hasn’t encountered the complications ensuing from drug dealing and murder. Little does he know, he’s less than twenty years away from a future as a “nobody” across various small American towns as he’s forced to hide from his criminal past.

We take in the two-button suit jacket, single-breasted with slim notch lapels and wide shoulders. The jacket also has a thin-welted breast pocket, jetted hip pockets, two-button cuffs, and short side vents.

Goodfellas afforded the cinematic Henry with epic moments like this that the real Henry likely never came close to living in reality.

Goodfellas afforded the cinematic Henry with epic moments like this that the real Henry likely never came close to living in reality.

Like many screen gangsters, Henry Hill also wears his share of gold jewelry, which accumulates over the movie to include a Star of David added to his gold Catholic cross necklace as well as his wedding ring.

For this early scene, Henry only wears a slim yellow gold watch with a gold dial and flat gold bracelet on his right wrist as well as a gold pinky ring with a ruby stone.

Interesting (and actually true) piece of trivia: Joe Pesci's character, Tommy, was actually born in 1950 and, thus, would've been 13 years old in this scene. Pesci was 46 when <em>Goodfellas</em> was filmed in mid-1989. The real Tommy died a few months before he would have turned 29 and was actually pretty tall and physically imposing. Although he didn't look the part, Joe Pesci's brilliant and frightening performance redefined the "psycho gangster".

Interesting (and actually true) piece of trivia: Joe Pesci’s character, Tommy, was actually born in 1950 and, thus, would’ve been 13 years old in this scene. Pesci was 46 when Goodfellas was filmed in mid-1989. The real Tommy died a few months before he would have turned 29 and was actually pretty tall and physically imposing. Although he didn’t look the part, Joe Pesci’s brilliant and frightening performance redefined the “psycho gangster”.

Henry wears a unique long-sleeved knit shirt, black throughout the body—collar, back, and sleeves—with the chest panels separated into four balanced stripes that gradiate from a light gray on the outside through a medium gray, charcoal, and finally black flanking the shirt’s seven-button placket. Each stripe section is separated by a thin light gray stripe, shadowed in black on each side.

The sweater-like shirt was likely knit from a light and luxurious merino wool. Meant to be worn untucked, the shirt has a straight hem and two black welted pocket openings at waist level.

Henry later wears the same knit shirt unbuttoned with brown trousers while holing up in his mistress Janice's gaudy apartment.

Henry later wears the same knit shirt unbuttoned with brown trousers while holing up in his mistress Janice’s gaudy apartment.

Shirts like this are admittedly difficult to find, despite waves of retro-minded revivals over the years.

  • One outfitter who specializes in premium knitwear is Scott Fraser Collection, which operates under the creed of “retrospective modernism”. SFC is currently rolling out its “icons” series, beautifully recreating knitwear from stylish movies like The Talented Mr. Ripley and it’s possible that Goodfellas may eventually be a candidate for the SFC icon treatment. Of their unique knit shirts from SFC’s standing lineup, there are two strong contenders for gents hoping to channel Henry’s black-and-gray look: the Black and grey Baggio knit shirt and the gray striped merino wool knit shirt. Both are 100% Italian merino wool and are offered for £225 – £245, depending on sleeve length and size preferences.
  • Working on a tighter budget? There are a few rayon knit “California rockabilly” short-sleeved shirts from SilverSilk in various colorways and patterns to evoke a Goodfellas effect if not the specific look seen on screen, including: Diamond Plate Design, Multi Stripes, Stripe Design, and Lined Design. For a similar price, Stacy Adams offers this black, gray, and white multi-striped knit shirt that is one of the closest I’ve seen to Henry’s screen-worn shirt.
  • Another company that specialized in knit shirts like this was the now-defunct menswear outfitter Brandini, which was sold at Macy’s in the early 2000s. Many Brandini shirts and knits can still be found on eBay and Poshmark among other places.

Go Big or Go Home

While I wouldn’t recommend going out and joining the Mafia (the application process is a bitch, I hear), Goodfellas makes me want to eat immense meals of rigatoni bolognese, veal parmesan, and proscuitto, washed down with Scotch and red Chianti. Put the Sinatra on (or, to especially emulate this scene, Billy Ward and the Dominoes’ 1957 recording of “Stardust”), lean back against the trunk of a classic Impala convertible, and take a long drag of that cigarette. While a lying, cheating gangster like Henry is certainly no one to emulate, you have to admit that this scene makes him look very cool.

OK, I made myself hungry. Luckily for me, the prison scene gives me a few tips on how to make a great meal in less-than-desirable circumstances. Here is how to make the delicious sauce from the prison scene:

  • Get your hands on a razor blade. Unbeknownst to most people, Mafioso prefer razor blades for slicing garlic rather than throats. Peel and slice ten cloves. Make sure to slice incredibly fine slices of the garlic. You don’t want Paulie upset with you.
  • Place a large pan on medium heat, with 50-100 grams (depending on just how Italian you are) of olive oil, five or six diced onions, and a teaspoon of salt on it. Keep stirring and cook on a lower heat for about a half hour until the onions are soft.
  • Place a large pan on high heat, with about 10 grams of olive oil. Fry enough minced beef for whoever you’ll be serving. Drain the meat over a bowl to catch any juices to be added later on. Then, put another 10 grams of olive oil in the pan. Fry the minced pork. Drain the meat, catch the juices. Finally, another 10 grams of olive oil and diced veal should be tossed in the pan. Fry it, drain it, and catch the juices. Now your meat is ready to go. Put the meats on a medium heat and add the sliced garlic.
  • After a few minutes of letting the garlic cook into the meat, pour about 1/8 of a bottle of white wine (100 mL) onto the meat and boil.
  • Once the white wine has reduced, add about 250-300 mL of beef stock to the meat and boil.
  • Hopefully, Vinnie hasn’t forgotten about those onions! If a half hour has passed (of stirring continuously), add some pureed tomatoes to the onions and stir them in for a few minutes. Next, add plenty of chopped tomatoes with the meat/garlic/wine/beef stock combination and stir it all together. This is when you’re really going to want to let things cook. Put a cover over the food and, for best results, put in the Goodfellas DVD right now and start watching. Once the movie is ended and your mouth has stopped watering, your food should be ready to go.

The guys in prison ate it with a fat steak—medium rare—and Italian bread. If you live in Pittsburgh, pick up some Mancini’s bread. Add wine, whiskey, and eat. Best enjoyed with “Beyond the Sea” by Bobby Darin playing.

For clearer and better instructions from someone who actually knows how to cook, see the link at the bottom of the page to master chef Dave Watts’ recipe. (Shortlist provides the full recipe by Watts, a chef who would know a lot more about cooking than I could ever hope to know. I didn’t want to copy Watts’ recipe, so I rewatched the scene a couple times and referenced what Dave had to say whenever I was in a quandary about exactly what they were doing.)

What to Imbibe

Henry’s drink of choice during the film is blended Scotch on the rocks. Although he is also seen with Cutty Sark (which most whisky drinkers wouldn’t give much credence to), Henry’s preferred drink is J&B Rare. Also the drink of Truman Capote, J&B Rare was introduced to the U.S. market to give the Brits an instant boost after the repeal of Prohibition in 1933.

Henry never seems to be without Scotch, even while behind bars.

(For anyone who hasn't seen <em>Goodfellas</em>, prison garb for these men involves robes or Adidas track suits. Also for anyone who hasn't seen <em>Goodfellas</em>, what the hell are you waiting for?)

(For anyone who hasn’t seen Goodfellas, prison garb for these men involves robes or Adidas track suits. Also for anyone who hasn’t seen Goodfellas, what the hell are you waiting for?)

Smoking is a bad habit to start and a harder one to kick, but—for the sake of being comprehensive—Henry’s cigarettes of choice were filtered “full-flavor” Winstons, lit with a brass Zippo.

Henry uses a Smith & Wesson Model 36 like this 2"-barreled example to pistol-whip Karen's harassing neighbor and the Tampa mob associate that lands them in the pen.

Henry used a Smith & Wesson Model 36 like this 2″-barreled example to pistol-whip Karen’s harassing neighbor and the Tampa mob associate that lands them in the pen.

The Gun

Henry’s most frequently seen sidearm is a “snubnose” Smith & Wesson Model 36, the .38 Special revolver marketed in its early years as the “Chiefs Special” after Smith & Wesson hosted a vote to name its new firearm at the 1950 International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) conference. What would be redesignated the Model 36 in 1957 quickly earned a following amongst gangsters looking for a small but deadly weapon for close quarters shooting. The Model 36’s five-round capacity, compared to the six rounds of the Colt Detective Special, allowed for easier concealment at the cost of one more round. Since mobsters rarely got into shooting scrapes as much as the movies portrayed, they often just needed something that they could whip out and use to intimidate or—as seen liberally in Goodfellas—to pistol-whip.

Also like the Detective Special, the Smith & Wesson Model 36 was seen in use by plainclothes detectives and high-ranking police officers (or chiefs, as the marketing name might imply). Short-barreled .38s fell out of favor with both police and mobsters in the 1980s as departments began outfitting their officers and detectives with semi-automatics. Henry, too, is seen making the conversion.

By 1980, he carries a .380-caliber Astra Constable, a Spanish replica of the popular Walther PPK carried by everyone from James Bond to Adolf Hitler. Coincidentally, both the S&W Model 36 Chief’s Special and the Astra Constable imply use by police officers in their names. Perhaps Henry missed his true calling?

How to Get the Look

Joe Pesci and Ray Liotta in Goodfellas (1990)

Joe Pesci and Ray Liotta in Goodfellas (1990)

A vintage gray silk suit would be a great find at a thrift store. However, to really get into the Goodfellas style, you’ll want one tailored to fit you perfectly.

  • Dark gray silk suit, consisting of:
    • Single-breasted 2-button jacket with slim notch lapels, welted breast pocket, jetted hip pockets, 2-button cuffs, and short double vents
    • Single-pleated trousers with fitted waistband, straight/on-seam side pockets, jetted button-loop back pockets, and plain-hemmed bottoms
  • Black (with balanced gray gradient stripe chest panels) merino wool knit 7-button long-sleeved shirt with black-welted hip pockets
  • Olive brown alligator skin Italian leather tassel loafers
  • Charcoal gray socks
  • White ribbed cotton sleeveless undershirt
  • Gold necklace with a Catholic cross
  • Gold pinky ring with a dark ruby red stone
  • Yellow gold wristwatch with gold dial and flat gold bracelet

Do Yourself a Favor and…

Check out the movie.

The Quote

Whenever we needed money, we’d rob the airport. To us, it was better than Citibank.

18 comments

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  10. James Kraus

    I have always been a bit intrigued and curious about the background of this scene.

    As you correctly state; the subtitle claims Idlewild Airport, 1963; but not only are Tommy and Henry leaning against a 1965 Chevrolet Impala, the billboard overhead is advertising a 1965 Cadillac.

    These are the kind of details that Scorsese and his crew usually get right, and a good deal of work obviously went into researching and recreating the billboard. I can only assume that the scene was originally conceived and shot to evoke a later period, but ended up inserted earlier in time during the final edit.

    Like

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  13. RTF372

    At the very end of the Scorsese documentary “Italian American”, during the credits, there’s a complete recipe and instructions for Catherine Scorsese’s meatballs. (Tommy’s mom on Goodfellas, Scorsese’s mom in real life). When she was discussing them in the film, it sounded very similar to Henry Hill’s description in Goodfellas when they’re making them in prison.

    Like

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