Ray Liotta as Henry Hill, ambitious New York mob associate
Brooklyn, New York, Summer 1963
Release Date: September 19, 1990
Director: Martin Scorsese
Costume Designer: Richard Bruno
For Mafia Monday, I’m taking a look at what was always one of the more memorable movie outfits for me growing up.
Goodfellas introduces us to the adult Henry Hill, aged 20, while casually taking part in a heist at Idlewild Airport. Presumably that evening, he and his mobbed-up cronies take their beehive-haired comares to The Bamboo Lounge, a tiki-themed actual former hangout for the gang located in Canarsie. (The location used in the film was actually the Polynesian bar Hawaii Kai, previously located at 1638 Broadway in Manhattan before it was closed the year before Goodfellas was released.)
The scene shows us the potential glamour of mob life, with silk-suited mobsters with names like “Fat Andy” and “Jimmy Two Times” sipping on anisette while seated next to women who are far out of their league. The hardworking Henry is able to enjoy these aspects of the night while also working, shuffling in racks of stolen mink coats and planning his next heist at the Air France terminal.
While the scene would have already been memorable for these reasons, it has become legendary for the mostly improvised “You think I’m funny?” banter between Tommy DeVito (Joe Pesci) and Henry. The scene emerged from Pesci recounting a very similar story to Martin Scorsese, who decided to include it in the film under Pesci’s direction.
What’d He Wear?
Henry stands out from the other guys in their gray silk suits with his slick mixing and matching of white and black, including an ivory jacket and a black shirt with a distinctively large contrast collar.
The off-white single-breasted jacket that Henry wears for his night out appears to be ivory silk and resplendent with sumptuously sporty details. Both buttons on the front are covered in the same ivory silk as the jacket as is each button on the cuff. The sleeves end with a narrow turnback cuff likely around ¾” long.
The breast pocket and both hip pockets are all patch pockets. Henry’s jacket has straight shoulders, roped sleeveheads, and a ventless back. The notch lapels have swelled edges.
Although we see his black trousers, not much else is seen of Henry’s lower half in the scene. I think we can safely assume that he changed out of his olive alligator shoes into a pair of black leather loafers with black silk socks, but these gangsters aren’t always so predictable when it comes to style.
In fact, Henry’s black shirt with its contrast collar and cuffs is anything but predictable. Only the shirt itself is black; the long-pointed collar, the button cuffs, and even the plastic buttons down the front placket are all white.
It incorporates the almost impossibly long-pointed “spearpoint” collar with its nearly non-existent spread. Though its now-popular “Goodfella collar” nomenclature is derived from this movie, it’s been seen on mobsters represented in other Scorsese flicks like Raging Bull and Casino. You can’t just walk into a Macy’s and ask for a shirt with this type of collar, though. (Maybe not outside of Brooklyn, at least.)
The shirt was custom made for the film by Geneva Custom Shirts, indeed located in New York City, which has confirmed via Instagram that it still has the pattern for the shirts made for Liotta and De Niro to wear on screen and that this one wielded massive 4″-long points.
Ray Liotta has recalled anecdotes of Scorsese stepping in to tie Liotta’s necktie for him to ensure that it would be totally accurate for the period and setting. The slim ivory silk tie that Henry wears in this scene is certainly reasonable for a sharp, ambitious mobster to wear for a night out in the summer of ’63, although most of the knot is totally hidden beneath that big collar.
Not yet totally swamped by the jewelry demands of being both a mobster and a married man, Henry keeps his accessories somewhat simple early on. In addition to the Standard Mafia Issue gold pinky ring on his right hand, he also wears an all-gold watch secured to his right wrist by a black alligator strap. Still fully Catholic, he wears only his gold cross on a gold necklace with no Star of David to be seen.
Go Big or Go Home
Although Scorsese is careful to avoid glamorizing the Mafia lifestyle, these early scenes of the guys kicking back in a nightclub with everything on the house can’t help but to make any reasonable guy wonder if he’s chosen the right occupation. Luckily, the opera of deaths, arrests, and living “like a schnook” during the film’s finale should reassure that reasonable guy that selling insurance is an a-okay life decision!
Of course, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t feel free to have a Goodfellas-themed night out on the town, especially if you’ve got a friendly bar owner in your list of contacts. Button up your silk suit, hide that little tie knot under a big shirt collar, and spend far too much on making your girlfriend’s hair look like a beehive. Put some classic Italian pop – in this case, it’s Mina’s 1960 hit “Il cielo in una stanza” – and line up your table with liquor. Safe bets are Leroux anisette and Crown Royal, which was indeed the real Tommy DeSimone’s preferred whiskey. (Interestingly, Crown Royal wasn’t legal to import into the U.S. until 1965, which makes many people think it’s an error to see it in this scene set in 1963. Um… would a silly think like a law really stop these guys from bringing their favorite booze into the country?)
Keep in mind that Manischewitz would look funny on Tommy’s table. And speaking of “funny”…
Tommy’s reputation as a violent hothead doesn’t do him any favors with his friends. Sure, they love to hear his stories, but you might be sacrificing your life just by showing your appreciation for them:
Henry: You’re a pistol, you’re really funny. You’re really funny.
Tommy: What do you mean I’m “funny”?
Henry: (laughs) It’s funny, you know. It’s a good story, it’s funny… you’re a funny guy.
Tommy: What do you mean? You mean the way I talk? What?
Henry: It’s just, you know, you’re just funny, it’s… funny, the way you tell the story and everything.
Tommy: Funny how? What’s funny about it?
Anthony Stabile: Tommy, naw, you got it all wrong.
Tommy: Oh, oh, Anthony. He’s a big boy, he knows what he said. What’d ja say? Funny how?
Henry: Just… ya know… you’re funny.
Tommy: You mean, let me understand this cause, ya know maybe it’s me, I’m a little fucked up maybe, but I’m funny how, I mean funny like I’m a clown, I amuse you? I make you laugh? I’m here to fuckin’ amuse you? What do you mean funny, funny how? How am I funny?
Henry: Just… you know, how you tell the story, what?
Tommy: No, no, I don’t know, you said it. How do I know? You said I’m funny. How the fuck am I funny, what the fuck is so funny about me? Tell me, tell me what’s funny!
Henry: (after a long pause) Get the fuck out of here… Tommy!
Tommy: (leading the laughter) Ya motherfucker! I almost had him, I almost had him. Ya stuttering prick ya. Frankie, was he shaking? I wonder about you sometimes, Henry… You may fold under questioning!
How to Get the Look
Although not everything (like morality) is black and white in Henry’s mob world, that’s no reason not to find a creative marriage of both colors for a night out with fellow gangsters.
- Ivory silk single-breasted sportcoat with notch lapels, 2 covered-button front, patch breast pocket, patch hip pockets, “turnback” cuffs with single decorative covered button, and ventless back
- Black trousers
- Black dress shirt with 4″-long white “spearpoint” collar and white button cuffs
- Ivory silk tie
- Black leather horsebit loafers
- Black silk dress socks
- White sleeveless ribbed cotton undershirt
- Gold watch on black leather strap
- Gold pinky ring, worn on right pinky
- Gold Catholic cross pendant, worn on gold necklace
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Check out the movie.
For us to live any other way was nuts. To us, those goody-good people who worked shitty jobs for bum paychecks and took the subway to work every day, and worried about their bills, were dead. I mean, they were suckers. They had no balls. If we wanted something, we just took it. If anyone complained twice they got hit so bad, believe me, they never complained again.
I recently came across a cool blog that stays up to date with the latest mob-related news – appropriately titled Cosa Nostra News – and I recommend it for fellow historians of American organized crime.
If you’re curious about how accurate Goodfellas really is, pay attention to when Henry’s voiceover introduces us to “Fat Andy” at the bar. (Hint: he’s the fat guy.) This brief part was played by NYPD detective Louis Eppolito. Eppolito could be called the good egg from a bad family after his father, uncle, and cousin had all been linked to the Mafia… except that Eppolito himself was arrested in 2005 and charged with racketeering, obstruction of justice, extortion, and up to eight murders. Both Eppolito and his partner were sentenced to life imprisonment. (Technically, life imprisonment plus 80 years, should their lives be unexpectedly long.)