We already know how pleased Nicholas Pileggi was when he found out Scorsese had called him about his book Wiseguy, but Pileggi didn’t believe it at first. “I didn’t believe it when Marty left a message,” Pileggi told The Guardian in 2013. “I thought it was my friend David Denby, the film critic, winding me up.
So I just ignored him.” Scorsese finally got Pileggi’s attention by contacting his wife, Nora Ephron. We can imagine it would be pretty easy for someone to assume Martin Scorsese calling you out of the blue would seem like a trick.
Never Rat on Your Friends
At the end of the film, Henry Hill makes a testimony against powerful mafia associates of the Lucchese family, in order to save himself from a lifetime in prison. In real life, doing so led to over fifty convictions. Rule number one in the Mafia is, as Henry learned early on, “never rat on your friends.”
In 2010, the real Henry Hill remarked that “I never thought I'd reach this wonderful age.” After his death in 2012, The Guardian hypothesized that Hill's fame or bureaucratic disorganization within crime families prevented a murder from being carried out.
Originally, during the climactic courtroom scene in which Henry Hill fingers the cronies of the Lucchese Family, the actor portraying the judge was going to be white. According to actor Edward McDonald (more on him later on), when Scorsese learned that the judge who had presided over the real trial was black, the original actor was let go and a black man was brought in.
This was done for a pair of reasons, the first being accuracy. The second was because Scorsese had received criticism for how he portrayed black people in his films, and wanted to begin working against those criticisms.
Speaking of Nora...
There's another interesting connection between Nora and Goodfellas. At the end of the film, Henry Hill is placed in witness protection – at which time he bemoans his inability to get good Italian food. His time in witness protection is the subject of a movie called My Blue Heaven.
It's a humorous look at that period of Hill's life. The first interesting fact is that it came out in 1990, the same year as Goodfellas. The other interesting fact is the film was written by none other than Nora Ephron herself. This husband and wife duo spent plenty of time with this gangster, it seems.
It wasn't only the on-screen mobsters who took hits during the film. At one point, Lorraine Bracco's character points a gun in Henry's face, after she finds out about him sleeping around (she's fine with all the other stuff), and the two have a spousal fight.
During one of the scene's takes, Liotta throws Bracco off the bed. The gun flew out of Bracco's hand and struck director of photography Michael Ballhaus right in the head. For a movie full of so many violent characters and acts, only one person being hurt in this way seems almost incredible to read.