Kevin Shelly at Galloway Patch put together an excellent article about the differences between HBO’s Nucky Thompson and the real life Nucky Johnson that he is based on. Nelson Johnson, author of Boardwalk Empire and The Northside, helped shed light on the real historical figure.
Book as Inspiration
Author Nelson Johnson, who literally wrote the book on the real Enoch “Nucky” Johnson, says HBO’s Terence Winter has said the fictionalized character created for the TV version of Boardwalk Empire is 70 percent drawn from Johnson’s 2002 book of the same name.
“They are doing their best to do historically accurate fiction,” added Johnson, who is not related to Nucky Johnson. Judge Johnson explained that by “accurate fiction” he meant creating a storyline that captures the essence and possibilities of the Prohibition era in Atlantic City, not necessarily the verifiable details.
Physical violence is an aspect of almost every installment of the TV series. And frequently the violence is carried out by either Nucky or one of his closest followers.
That’s not how it really worked in Atlantic City, according to Judge Johnson.
The real violence was the threat of economic ruin—and the security belonging to Nucky’s organization provided. But that’s hard, if not impossible, to show on screen.
Instead of physical violence, the people who crossed Nucky and his organization lost their goverment jobs, they were ostracized, their businesses not patronized, operating licenses were pulled, or they were raided and shutdown by complicit police who were a part of the organization.