Boardwalk Empire is easily one of the most talked about new shows of the season and for good reason: great cast, fantastic scenery, and well researched.
While the show features several Irish, Italian and African-American antiheroes and bad guys, it’s also given us one of the best pop culture representations of the greatest Jewish gangster of them all: Arnold Rothstein. In Boardwalk Empire, Rothstein, played by Michael Stuhlbarg, is given something of a dandy persona. But as you can see below, what is known about Rothstein is more fictional than fact. The real Arnold Rothstein was a man whose life and death were shrouded in mystery, and he’s been represented several different ways over the years.
1. Meyer Wolfsheim in The Great Gatsby
While there’s always been some debate as to whether Gatsby himself was a Yid (his real last name is Gatz), there is no doubt that his associate Meyer Wolfsheim had a bar mitzvah. F. Scott Fitzgerald leaves little to the imagination as Gatsby tells Nick Carraway that Wolfsheim is the man behind the thing Rothstein is most known for: fixing the 1919 World Series.
2. Tough Jews Rich Cohen and King of the Jews by Nick Tosches
Both books are great reads. Cohen gives you a more straightforward account of Rothstein and his fellow Jewish gangsters, while Tosches attempts to use him as a springboard to explain Western civilization as a whole.
If ever there was a role that made people think F. Murray Abrams was a Jew, playing Rothstein with a pencil mustache may have been it. Even though this early 1990s buddy drama was a total stinker, at least you can say you saw Patrick Dempsey playing Meyer Lansky, and an appearance by Fyvush Finkel.
4. Eight Men Out
Watch this 1988 film about the 1919 Black Sox scandal, then try and tell us you see any sort of resemblance between Boardwalk Empire’s Rothstein, and the larger sized version played by Michael Lerner.
5. Hyman Roth in The Godfather 2
Possibly the most well-known fictional Jewish gangster ever says that Rothstein was his inspiration. It’s good to have role models — even if you’re a gangster.