Back in the early 1990s, Danny DeVito and Jack Nicholson told Jimmy Hoffa’s life story on the silver screen to a lukewarm response. The 1992 Christmas Day release of Hoffa by 20th Century Fox Studio was directed by DeVito – who also co-starred – and got Nicholson a Golden Globe Award nomination for his portrayal of the historic slain labor union leader. However, the film itself failed to make a dent at the box office, raking in just $30,000,000 against a $35,000,000 budget and underwhelmed critics.

Jimmy Hoffa was the face of the working man in America in the second half of the 20th Century. Supported by the mafia, he ascended to the presidency of the Teamsters union in the 1950s before a falling out with the very same mobsters he relied on to climb the ranks of the union resulted in his murder – Hoffa was last seen on the afternoon of July 30, 1975 en route to a lunch date with a pair of mob capos at a suburban Detroit restaurant. His remains have never been found and nobody has ever been arrested in the kidnapping and homicide case that remains a part of the modern-day pop culture zeitgeist over four decades later.

Next up in the Hoffa to Hollywood department is Oscar-winning director Martin Scorsese’s upcoming Hoffa-centered film, The Irishman, featuring a $100,000,000 Netflix budget, a powerhouse cast spearheaded by Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Joe Pesci and Harvey Keitel and currently shooting in parts of New York and New Jersey. While DeVito’s Hoffa movie took significant creative liberties with its script and storytelling format, The Irishman will be considered straight fiction by most experts.

The Scorsese-helmed flick tackles the relationship between Hoffa and a Delaware-based Teamsters goon and hit man named Frank (The Irishman) Sheeran and Sheeran’s highly-questionable boast that he was the triggerman in Hoffa’s still-unsolved slaying, first reported in author and attorney Charlie Brandt’s 2004 NY Times Best-Selling book about Sheeran called I Heard You Paint Houses. The FBI and the majority of historians surrounding the case cast heavy doubt on the claim. Sheeran passed away prior to the book’s publication. De Niro is playing Sheeran in the movie and Pacino is playing Hoffa.

Let’s look back at 1992’s Hoffa and how the tale that it spun stacked up to reality:

Hoffa movie characters – FACT OR FICTION?

Jimmy Hoffa – Legendary leading man Jack Nicholson captured Hoffa’s passion, fire-and-brimstone personality and combative nature with an over-the-top performance that fit the role and the man himself through-and-through.

Bobby Ciaro – Actor-director Danny DeVito played a composite character, based partially on Hoffa’s adopted son Chuckie O’Brien and partially on Detroit Teamsters official and longtime Hoffa loyalists Bobby Holmes. O’Brien and Hoffa had been feuding in the months preceding Hoffa’s disappearance. Authorities believe O’Brien had possession of the car used to kidnap his surrogate dad the day he went missing in July 1975, but aren’t certain of his actual role, or if he played any at all, in the murder conspiracy itself. Holmes met briefly with O’Brien the afternoon Hoffa was killed to take possession of a fresh-water salmon. DeVito’s Bobby Ciaro was Hoffa’s right-hand man in the film.

Frank Fitzsimmons – Well-known character actor J.T. Walsh accurately portrayed “Big Fitzy,” Hoffa’s less-combustible, easier-to-puppet vice president and successor, who betrayed him and sided with the mob in Hoffa’s battle to reclaim the Teamsters presidency. Fitzsimmons ran the union from 1971 when Hoffa stepped down from behind bars until he died of cancer in 1981. An unsuccessful car bombing in the parking lot of a Southwest Detroit tavern aimed at killing Big Fitzy and his son in the summer of 1975 — as shown in the movie — is alleged to have set in motion the final phase of the Hoffa murder conspiracy.

Carol D’Allesandro – Mob movie staple Armand Assante played a character based directly on Detroit mafia street boss Anthony (Tony Jack) Giacalone, Hoffa’s primary conduit to the organized crime figures that at first provided the backing for his political reign in the labor union and then killed him for refusing to retire following a prison term. In the movie, like in real life with Tony Jack, Assante’s “Dally” character set Hoffa up to be murdered, luring him to a meeting where he was kidnapped and slain.

Pete Connolly – Oscar-nominated supporting actor John C. Reilly played a composite character based partially on Richard (Little Fitz) Fitzsimmons, Big Fitzy’s son and fellow Teamsters leader, and Edward Grady Partin, the Louisiana Teamsters agent and star witness against Hoffa at his trial for fraud related to the handling of the union pension fund. The “Petey” Connolly character in the movie was Big Fitzy’s nephew, who turned against Hoffa and the Teamsters in court.

Red Bennett – Character actor John P. Ryan played a character based loosely on former labor union powerbroker, trusted mob associate and early Hoffa ally, Paul (Red) Dorfman. While Ryan’s character in the movie was Irish, in reality, Red Dorfman was Jewish.

 

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