‘Goodfellas’: How Henry Hill’s Beating of Karen’s Assaulter Really Happened

In Wiseguy: Life in a Mafia Family (1985), author Nicholas Pileggi gave readers a real insider’s look at the mob. The operators and killers in the book weren’t “made men,” but Henry Hill’s story was just as (if not more) fascinating. And Martin Scorsese gave it a superb treatment in Goodfellas (1990).

While writing the Goodfellas script with Scorsese, Pileggi didn’t need to change many of the stories in his book. The details of the jobs and other goings-on were compelling enough. As a result, Goodfellas is basically a historical re-enactment (or close enough) for much of its runtime.

That includes the scene in which Hill (Ray Liotta) beats up the neighbor of his soon-to-be wife Karen (Lorraine Bracco). The event played out in real life much like it did on film, according to the recollections of Henry and Karen Hill in Wiseguy. Scorsese and Pileggi omitted only a few details.

Henry Hill reacted violently to the assault of Karen, as in ‘Goodfellas’

Ray Liotta as Henry Hill in 'Goodfellas'
Ray Liotta poses for a publicity shot for ‘Goodfellas,’ 1990. | Warner Brothers/Getty Images

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In Goodfellas, abrupt shifts in narrative are the norm. That’s certainly the case when the scene jumps from Jimmy Conway (Robert De Niro) choking Morrie (Chuck Low) with a phone cord to Henry (Liotta) racing out the door of the wig shop.

Henry gets a disturbing phone call from Karen, whom he’s been seeing for a while. When he meets her at a phone booth, she tells him her neighbor Steve from across the street made unwanted sexual advances on her. And when she turned him down, Steve threw her out of his car and ditched her.

In Wiseguy, Karen told more or less the same story. Steve asked her to run an errand with him, then pulled over by Belmont racetrack. When he made his advances, Karen hit him. He didn’t stop, and Karen hit him again. Steve became incensed. He started his car and got on the highway, then jammed on the brakes at a high speed. Then he shoved her out of the car.

The film dropped one detail in that part: why Karen went with him in the first place. “Mostly I wanted to go with him because I liked his car,” she said in Wiseguy. “He had a Corvette.” After she called Henry, he arrived quickly. Within minutes, he was pummeling Steve with a pistol.

The police escorted Hill to the Nassau County line after the beating

Henry Hill and Ray Liotta smile for the camera in the early 2000s
Henry Hill and Ray Liotta during “GoodFellas” Special Edition DVD Release at Matteo’s Italian Restaurant in Los Angeles, early 2000s | Rebecca Sapp/WireImage

If you think Scorsese exaggerated the beating Henry gave Karen’s neighbor, well, not according to Wiseguy. “I took the gun out of pocket and I started to smack him across the face,” Henry said in the book. “I can feel his face go. I shoved the gun inside his mouth and moved it around like a dinner gong.”

Someone had called the cops. “Before the cops arrived I gave Steve a few more belts,” Henry recalled. “I gave him another couple of smacks in the head and left him crying in the driveway. He had pissed all over himself.” Then Henry went across the street and gave Karen his gun. She hid it in a box used for collecting milk bottles outside the house (as in Goodfellas).

Meanwhile, Henry drove his car around the corner and ditched the box of bullets he had for the gun. When he returned, the police were all over the place, looking for his gun. They didn’t find anything, though, and since Karen had told them the story of Steve’s assault they apparently called it even.

Instead of arresting Henry, they escorted him to the Nassau County line (where Brooklyn begins). As for Karen, she wasn’t turned off by the incident — from from it. “It was a thrill just to hold it,” she said of the gun. And the gesture pleased her more. “I loved that Henry had done all this for me,” she said in Wiseguy. “It made me feel important.”