Lee Strasberg portraying Hyman Roth
|Created by||Mario Puzo|
|Portrayed by||Lee Strasberg|
|Occupation||Gangster, casino-owner, mafia boss|
Hyman Roth is a fictional character and the main antagonist in the The Godfather Part II and a minor character in the novel The Godfather Returns. He is a Jewish investor and a business partner of Vito Corleone, and later his son Michael Corleone. He is based on Florida-based mobster Meyer Lansky and was played by Lee Strasberg in the movie; John Megna plays a younger version of the character in a deleted scene.
Roth's backstory is supplied in a deleted scene in The Godfather Part II. In this scene, set in Hell's Kitchen, New York in the early 1920s, he is working as a car mechanic. He is noticed by Peter Clemenza, who has been calling him "Johnny Lips". Clemenza introduces him to Vito Corleone, who suggests that he change his name, which is originally Hyman Suchowsky. When Vito asks him whom he admires, Suchowsky says Arnold Rothstein for fixing the 1919 World Series; accordingly, he changes his last name to Roth.
Expository dialogue later in the film explains that Roth worked diligently with the Corleone family during Prohibition, and was a close friend and ally of Moe Greene, the "inventor" of Las Vegas. Roth, as well as Don Corleone, started out running molasses out of Havana and into Canada. It is suggested, however, that Vito never fully trusted Roth, nor did many of his associates, including Frank Pentangeli.
The Godfather Part II
By the timeline of this film, Roth is based in Miami. Though in poor health, he is extremely wealthy, having made a fortune over the years by running his own organized crime outfit, assisted by his right-hand man, the Sicilian Johnny Ola. Roth has gone into business with Michael Corleone, planning to create an extraordinarily profitable business partnership with the corrupt Cuban government of Fulgencio Batista. Roth is secretly planning to betray and kill Michael, however, in part because he resents Michael for having Moe Greene killed (as depicted in The Godfather). To that end, he has Ola manipulate Michael's brother Fredo into giving him information that he uses to make an attempt on Michael's life.
Michael quickly realizes that Roth was behind the assassination attempt. However, remembering his father's advice to "keep your friends close and your enemies closer," he decides to make Roth think they still have a good business relationship before killing him. He also suspects Roth had the help of a mole inside the Corleone family, and wants to buy time to discover who has betrayed him.
During New Year's Eve, the last night of Batista's rule, Michael orders Roth killed, confiding in Fredo, "Hyman Roth will never see the New Year." Just as Michael's bodyguard Bussetta is about to smother the sleeping Roth with a pillow, however, a squad of Batista's soldiers storm the hospital and kill Busetta. Moments later, Fidel Castro's army overthrows the Batista regime, ruining Roth and Michael's plans.
Shortly before the Cuban fiasco, the U.S. Senate begins hearings on organized crime. Seeing a chance to eliminate Michael as a competitor, Roth engineers a plan to manipulate Frank Pentangeli into testifying against Michael. He has the Rosato Brothers, two small-time hoods, try to kill Pentangeli and make him think that they did so on orders from Michael. Angered, Pentangeli agrees to testify against Michael. Expecting such a move, Michael flies Pentangeli's brother Vincent to the U.S. to scare him into remaining silent, thus destroying the government's case against Michael.
After arriving at Miami airport, Roth publicly states that he wishes to retire and live in Israel under the Law of Return. His request (like that of the real-life Meyer Lansky) is rejected by the Israeli High Court, reportedly due to his criminal ties. When Michael finds this out, he arranges to have Roth killed. Roth arrives at the airport and prepares to be taken into Federal Custody in the U.S. Minutes after getting off the plane, he is shot point-blank by Michael's caporegime Rocco Lampone, who is posing as a reporter. Rocco, in turn, is shot and killed by federal officers as he runs away.
Behind the scenes