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    Thursday, December 02, 2004

    Books: The Hills Are Alive

    GANGSTERS AND GOODFELLAS, by Henry Hill with Gus Russo
    ON THE RUN: A MAFIA CHILDHOOD, by Gregg and Gina Hill

    Henry’s life was the basis of Nick Pileggi’s WISEGUY, which in turn became GOODFELLAS. Gregg and Gina are his children.

    You want a schizophrenic reading experience? Try plowing through these books back to back like I did. Each one tells the same story, first recapping Henry’s days as a New York gangster, then delving into the family’s experiences in Witness Protection in places like Omaha and suburban Seattle. (At one point, Henry set up a carriage ride for tourists in Cincinnati. He went on TV to promote it – even though Jimmy ‘The Gent’ Burke was still trying to have him killed.)

    The facts in the books never quite match up. For instance, the Hills’ first new surname, depending on whom you ask, was either Haines or Haymes. Henry’s an affable rogue in his book, always trying to put one over on the feds. But let the kids tell the same story and he comes off as monstrous. Consorting with lowlifes, hooked on booze and drugs, forever taking stupid risks that put his entire family in harm’s way. My neck still hurts from the whiplash.

    ON THE RUN is the better book, told in alternating sections by the two Hill children. Gregg in particular is very candid about the emotional problems his father’s lifestyle created. But Henry’s book is much more fun to read.

    Although neither holds a candle to WISEGUY. Sometimes Henry would call Pileggi to work on the book and get his wife Nora Ephron. She turned their conversations into the script for MY BLUE HEAVEN, a Steve Martin comedy about a Mafia man relocated to the suburbs. Henry says more than once that if it had been anyone else’s wife, he’d have whacked her.

    Magazine: The New Yorker, 11/29 issue

    The phrase of the day comes from Frederick Kaufman’s piece on raw milk smugglers in New York:

    ... a secret Listserv of lacto-fermentation scofflaws.”


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