Hollywood Mob Characters and Where They Came From
The Mafia and its various members have been emulated many times on the silver screen. Here’s a list of prominent mobsters and the actors who portrayed them on the screen or the films that influenced them into a life of crime.
The Godfather had far and away the most influence on mob culture, because the guys in organized crime identified completely with this romanticized version of Mafia life. Sammy Gravano is one Mafioso who recalled “floating out of the theater” after he saw the movie in 1972. In the Peter Maas book Underboss Gravano talks about how made guys all over New York felt the same way after watching the Corleone family on the silver screen. “It was basically the way I saw the life,” Gravano said. “Where there was some honor.”
Crazy Joe Gallo/James Cagney in White Heat/Public Enemy
Crazy Joe Gallo thought of himself as a cross between Richard Widmark and James Cagney. Its said that he patterned the way he acted and conducted himself after watching and being mesmerized with Cagney’s performances in both White Heat and Public Enemy. From the way he talked to the way he walked and dressed. All copped form Cagney’s characters.
Al Capone/Paul Muni in Scarface
The 1932 gangster classic was loosely based on Al Capone. The movie came out the year after Capone was convicted and sent to prison and most definitely capitalized on the headlines of the day which have made Capone one of themes popular gangsters ever.
De Niro’s character was drawn directly from the Lufthansa heist’s mastermind, Jimmy (The Gent) Burke. Henry Hill said that De Niro endlessly quizzed him for details about Jimmy Burke before the movie shot. He thought De Niro really captured Burke.
Vito Genovese/Al Pacino in The Godfather
Pacino’s Michael Corleone character was more like a combination of various Mafiaso, with various people saying Michael Corleone was based on real life mobsters like Bill Bonnano, son of a boss, or Vito Genovese, who went to Sicily to dodge a murder charge.
Henry Hill/Ray Liotta in Goodfellas
Henry Hill loved Ray Liotta’s portrayal of him. He turned the mob associate and small-time criminal into a Mafia superstar. Due to Liotta’s portrayal Henry Hill is now immortalized in pop culture.
DeCavalcante family in New Jersey/The Sopranos
Tony Soprano was modeled off of a boss in New Jersey, and his crime family. When members of the DeCavalcante family in New Jersey were watching The Sopranos and making comparisons with their mob operations, associate Anthony Rotondo was caught on tape offering his review of the show, “What characters! Great acting.”
Marlon Brando’s Vito Corleone was based loosely on old time New York bosses Joseph Profaci and Joseph Bonanno. The real mobsters loved the portrayal as it made them look good in all the ways they wanted- masculine, powerful, and honorable.