‘Goodfellas’: Marrying Karen Was Much More Painful for Henry Hill in Real Life
Where did the real life story of Henry Hill end and the fictional part of Goodfellas begin? The lines blurred, to say the least. In Wiseguy: Life in a Mafia Family, Nicholas Pileggi’s 1985 nonfiction account of Hill’s life, you’ll find plenty that got copied and pasted into Martin Scorsese’s film. (Scorsese and Pileggi collaborated on the script.)
If you’re wondering about “Stacks” Edwards (played by Samuel L. Jackson), you find him in Wiseguy, botching a post-Lufthansa obligation and getting whacked for it. You’ll also read about a kid named Spider (Michael Imperioli) who Tommy (Joe Pesci) shot and buried in a social club’s basement.
As for Henry (Ray Liotta) and Karen (Lorraine Bracco), you read about their tricky courtship in Wiseguy, too. Karen’s parents definitely disliked the idea of their daughter marrying a man who wasn’t Jewish. But it went beyond what audiences saw in the film. Henry actually got circumcised just before he married Karen, and it was a rather excruciating experience.
Henry Hill’s adult circumcision didn’t make it into ‘Goodfellas’
Pileggi did extensive interviews with both Karen and Henry Hill for Wiseguy, and several sections feature them both telling their sides of the story. During their courtship, the couple decided to tell Karen’s parents Henry was half Jewish. That didn’t solve the problem.
The Goodfellas scene with Henry wearing the crucifix to meet Karen’s parents did happen. “I was already a little nervous,” Karen recalled in Wiseguy. “But what I see first is this huge gold cross. It went from his neck to his rib cage.” And, as in the film, they found a way to hide it.
There’s only a passing reference to Henry’s circumcision in the book, though. And it comes from Henry’s mistress, Linda. (Scorsese and Pileggi named the character in the film “Janice Rossi.”)
“When they got married, [Karen] had him convert,” Linda said in Wiseguy. “[Henry] was 20 or 21 at the time, and she made him get circumcised. It was horrible. He was walking around with a diaper for a month.” That definitely didn’t make the film.
Hill later spoke about the effects of getting circumcised as a grownup
By 2007, Henry Hill had already joined and exited the witness-protection program. He’d also enjoyed a measure of celebrity after Goodfellas hit with audiences. He’d published a few books, opened a few restaurants, and generally did his best to avoid jail.
In conversation with the Village Voice around that time, Hill looked back on his circumcision. He said he didn’t regret it, though it was a process. “It took me a while to learn how to f*ck again,” he told the paper. “It did, it was weird. With a foreskin and without a foreskin, it’s pretty difficult.”
Hill said he thought back to his pre-circumcision days at times. “You have these memory lapses,” he told the Voice. “Why did I get my d*ck cut? I had it to get married by the rabbi. So I had to do it. You know, whatever. No, I think it’s a good thing.”