Friday, February 26, 2010

Inside Mosconi's Wallet: the Paul Newman Shot

The National Museum of American History in Washington D.C. -- specifically its Archives Center -- has in its possession a great collection of artifacts relating to Willie Mosconi. Flora Mosconi, Willie's widow, donated the items to the prestigious museum in 2003. She also donated a cue stick, trophies, and an ivory cue ball to the Museum's Division of Cultural History.

The archival image above is of Willie tutoring Paul Newman and Jackie Gleason on the set of the The Hustler. Mosconi was the technical director for the film and had actually recommended Frank Sinatra for the Fast Eddy part. Instead director Robert Rossen went with Newman. You can read more about The Hustler, including eyewitness accounts from Willie's son, in The Hustler & The Champ.

I've also included at the right some handwritten notes crafted by Mosconi. According to information on the Archive's website, these notes relate to strategy while Willie was working on The Hustler. I'm not so sure. The folks in the Archives may have made this assumption, in that the notes make reference to the "Paul Newman shot". However, it looks to me like these notes spell out Willie's exhibition trick shot routine, which doubtlessly also included the "Paul Newman shot." What do you think? You can click on the image at right to get a better view of the notes. Either way, I think they're particularly cool in that they apparently remained folded in Willie's wallet for quite some time. And by the way, you can check out the "Paul Newman shot" by clicking here.

The museum collection also includes identification and business cards, letters, and scrapbooks. Mosconi's professional and career papers housed at the center include those relating to his work on behalf of Brunswick, legal records, and affidavits attesting to straight pool records. The museum also possesses videos of Mosconi's appearance on the Ed Sullivan show. You can go to the Archives Center website for more information about the collection and to read the rules for viewing the artifacts next time you're in Washington.

-- R.A. Dyer

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Pool Hustling Ghost: A cautionary tale

My apologies. I don't have a proper post for today. I'm busy working on a column. But if you're bored and looking for something to read, here's a link to a story about my favorite pool-hustling ghost: U.J. Puckett. Known by some as "Ugly Puckett," the former 9-ball champ died nearly 20 years ago. Now some say he has returned from the grave, apparently drawn by the pretty ladies down at a Fort Worth pool hall. This story might serve as a cautionary tale for the Branch Water Tavern in Houston, which replaced one of Jersey Red's favorite haunts, The Cue & Cushion. Also, at the top of this post, I've attached the first part of Harry Reasoner's famous interview with Puckett.

-- R.A. Dyer

Monday, February 22, 2010

A tribute to The Deacon: Irving Crane

Irving "The Deacon" Crane, a 1978 inductee into the BCA Hall of Fame, possessed so much patience that he would sometimes spend quiet hours practicing safeties against himself. But he was also aggressive enough to rack up crazy big runs, including his flawless run of 150 and out against Joe "The Meatman" Balsis in 1966. You can see the first part of that historic run in the video posted above (and the rest of it in my Historic Video blog).

Crane, remembered fondly today as "The Deacon" of pool, is the subject a short online tribute this month by his old friend Stuart Jack Mattana. Writing for the first time for the online PoolSynergy project, Mattana describes Crane as "the perfect combination of patience and aggressiveness," a refined gentleman and a fine role model. "Irving’s technical excellence and fundamental soundness helped him maintain world class level performance up to the age of seventy -- of today’s older players, at least for me, only Jose Parica comes close to having duplicated Irving’s prolific run of sustained excellence," opines Mattana.

Crane won major world tournaments or title matches in 1942, 1946, 1955, 1966, 1968, 1970 and 1972 -- that is, Crane was named champion during four different decades, a stunning achievement. And he doubtlessly would have won a great deal more if not for having the misfortune of playing during the same era as Willie Mosconi.

Mattana also notes that the Livonia, New York native was one of just a few players ever to run 300 balls on a 5 by 10 table. (Others include Mosconi and Ralph Greenleaf.) "Irving didn’t pocket the balls as well as Lassiter, and his position play was not quite on a par with that of Mosconi, but he managed the table with as much elegance as any player of his or any other era, and showed great imagination in his play," writes Mattana.

Crane died in 2001. You can read Mattana's warm tribute to his old friend at Gail Gazebrook's blog, which you can be find here. You can find the rest of the footage of Crane's 150-ball run (it was during the 1966 U.S. Open) in my Historic Pool Video blog. Keep clicking on the "older posts" buttons to find the entire sequence of videos.

-- R.A. Dyer

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Tribute to Underground Legend Gene Nagy

Just reading a touching tribute to the great Gene Nagy, written by NYC Grind website founder Jerry Tarantola. Tarantola rightly describes Nagy as "one of pool’s greatest underground legends," an expert player who once ran 430 balls successively. Nagy also mentored such legends as Jeanette Lee and Fran Crimi. He died in 2006.

I get letters from time to time from readers looking for more information about Nagy. There's not much out there, although I've come across a fascinating chapter about Nagy and fellow legend Jersey Red in the 1979 book Billiards, by John Grissim. Apparently the author ran his tape recorder for an entire one-pocket session between the two legends, and then jotted down shot diagrams as the session proceeded. As a result, the passage reads more like a movie script than a book chapter.

I reproduced a short excerpt from this chapter (along with a shot diagram) in an earlier post on this blog. You can find it here. Grissim's book is out of print, but it also pops up for sale on the Internet from time to time. And again, check out Tarantola's tribute to his friend and mentor. You can find it here.

-- R.A. Dyer

Friday, February 19, 2010

Willie Mosconi: Sometimes your idols disappoint

BCA Instructor Roy Pastor sends in this picture (at right) of himself, circa 1969, standing next to his then-idol, Willie Mosconi. I say "next to" and not "with" because the boy had to resort to subterfuge to have the picture taken with the great champion. Mosconi was a great player, but he could also be a tough and difficult man -- as Pastor's somewhat sad story about this photograph attests.

I've also attached a photograph below of Roy standing with Cueball Kelly and Onofrio Lauri. That picture also figures into Roy's story, which you can read in his note that I've attached below.

I grappled a little bit about posting this story -- after all Mosconi was one of the great icons of our game. But it's also an indisputable fact that there was a darker side to the man -- that much became clear to me as I wrote
The Hustler & The Champ. It also seems clear to me that for our history to be legitimate, we must endeavor to capture and convey the full story of its icons, both the good and the bad.

Here's Roy's letter:

"When I was 12 years old, back in 1969, my father took me to see an exhibition match between my idol Willie Mosconi and the house pro at Golden Q billiards in Queens New York. I was very excited as I watched Mosconi run 60-plus balls to win the match.

We did not realize that Mosconi was selling copies of his book. When my dad asked him if he could take a picture of Mosconi with me, Mosconi replied that he would on the condition that my dad would purchase one of his books. Unfortunately, my father did not have enough money to buy a book. As a result, Mosconi refused to shake my hand or pose for a photograph with me. My disappointment must have been obvious because “Cue Ball” Kelly and “Kid” Laurie came right over, introduced themselves, posed for photos and were very kind. I think that it was Kelly who told me to go over and stand next to Mosconi while he was giving an interview. That way, even though he would not look at the camera, I had a picture with him.

I have kept the photos from that day as a reminder of my interactions with these legends of the sport. I always wondered how Mosconi could have so easily disappointed a 12-year-old star struck fan."

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Life Magazine and McGirr's Pool Room

Alison Fischer from (no not that Allison Fisher -- the other one) sends in this little gem. It's an article she came across from Life Magazine from Oct. 8, 1951. Here's the link. I especially like the discussion of the famous old McGirr's pool room, which is where much of "The Hustler" was shot. (Director Robert Rossen also used the Ames pool room as a location.) McGirr's is described in this Life Magazine article as being located in the old Roseland building, on Broadway in New York City. However, it eventually moved over to 45th Street. (It has since closed.) You can read more about the famous old room, and its use in "The Hustler," in The Hustler & The Champ.

-- R.A. Dyer

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Ralph Greenleaf, Willie Mosconi & "The Rocket"

If you've been following along lately, you might know that we've begun a online poll intended to get to the heart of the age-old Greenleaf-Mosconi question. That is: which player really was better, Ralph Greenleaf or Willie Mosconi?

Historian Charlie Ursitti recently picked Mosconi. To support this position, Charlie points to Willie's winnning percentage in world championship competition. "The numbers don't lie," he says. To get another view I gave a call over the weekend to author J.D. Dolan. A resident of Michigan, Dolan is one of the nation's foremost experts on Greenleaf. The author's expertise comes as a result of the decade he has spent researching Greenleaf's life as part of his work for a future novel.

And Dolan, perhaps not surprisingly, says Greenleaf was the better player. The author says Greenleaf played fast, and with confidence -- not unlike Ronnie O'Sullivan, the famous English snooker champion. "Have a look at some of Ronnie O'Sullivan's videos on YouTube. His fast and perfect games are just the way people described Greenleaf's," said Dolan.

And so, upon J.D.'s recommendation, I am presenting here an incredibly fast snooker run by "The Rocket."

As an aside, I have found that YouTube is quite annoying in that it prohibits videos of longer than 10 minutes in duration. But O'Sullivan runs these balls so fast that he requires no more than eight minutes.

OK, now tell me again why the cue sports aren't permitted in the Olympics?

-- R.A. Dyer

Monday, February 15, 2010

Greatest Player Ever? Greenleaf or Mosconi?

This is the fourth a series of posts written in coordination with other online pool writers. It's part of the Pool Synergy project hosted this month by Gayle Glazebrook's Confessions of G Squared. Look for more PoolSynergy installments in the future.

A handful of athletes have been elevated by almost universal acclamation as the best-ever in their respective sports. In baseball, it would be Babe Ruth. In basketball, probably Michael Jordon. But pool? Who’s the best ever at our sport?

I recently conducted a poll at this site in which I asked readers precisely this question. I limited candidates only to U.S. players, and only to those known for pocket billiards. That meant that Filipino Efren Reyes and three-cushion player Willie Hoppe — two of my personal favorites — didn’t make the list. You can find the results on the sidebar at the right. (You have to scroll down a bit.) As expected Luther Lassiter, Mike Sigel and Steve Mizerak all got plenty of votes — as did Shane Van Boening. But the two top vote getters (and this shouldn’t come as a surprise either) were Ralph Greenleaf and Willie Mosconi. Both had long and dominant careers. Both smashed records. Both were feared by the competition.

Neither Greenleaf nor Mosconi, however received a majority of the votes. Mosconi came close, but still was held to below 50 percent. So in the spirit of true democracy, I'm conducting a runoff. It's time we came to the bottom of this very important question.

This month’s PoolSynergy column I devote to these two fine players. Consider it an advance on an upcoming Untold Stories column for Billiards Digest. Our PoolSynergy assignment was to write about our favorite player. Well, I pick these two: Mosconi and Greenleaf. They had different temperaments, different playing styles, different reputations. But both were among the very best ever to play the sport.

I read online somewhere in which some knucklehead suggested that if Greenleaf and Mosconi were still playing today, they wouldn’t be able to stand up to modern talent. This is, in a word, horseshit. During his heyday, Mosconi killed the opposition with repeated 100-ball runs. Not occasional 100-ball runs, but repeated 100-ball runs. Over and over again. It was devastating. It would take the air out of the room. Sigel, in his prime, would run 100s — but never with Mosconi’s consistency.

Likewise Greenleaf, during his heyday, would slice through the competition — sometimes going through an entire double round-robin tournament without a single loss. And often he did so while drunk. Greenleaf started young, rose to the national stage at age 16, won his first world title a few years later, and then continued smashing the opposition for the next 13 years.

I recently posed this question to historian Charlie Ursitti: which player really was best. Charlie is an expert in the field, having recently created a website with more than a century of pool statistics. He is a man of strongly held opinions when it comes to pool. Charlie’s answer to me was emphatic. Without a doubt, he said, Mosconi was the superior player. Charlie says this is not simply his opinion, but rather the indisputable conclusion one must draw from examining the facts.

“I statistically proved that Willie was better,” said Ursitti, recalling to me an analysis he conducted some 20 years ago. “He (Mosconi) won 76.3 percent of the games and Greenleaf won 70 percent of his games.” Charlie said these numbers, first published in an article for The National Billiard News, did not sit well with Greenleaf's fans. “I got more hate mail than anybody had in 10 years. They’d say: ‘you don’t know, you never saw Greenleaf play.’ I said both of them played in competition, I never saw them (play against each other) — all I did was present the numbers. And the numbers don’t lie.”

That may be true but consider a few other facts. Greenleaf played more exclusively on the 5 by 10s. Mosconi played extensively on them, but was more known for playing on smaller tables. Greenleaf also was the youngest American ever to win a world straight pool championship, having been only 20 when he took his first title. Mosconi tried to beat that record, but came up short. And while it’s true that Mosconi may have had the slight edge in head-to-head competition, Greenleaf held it early on, when he was still playing in his prime. Recall that Mosconi was somewhat younger than Greenleaf — he was, in fact, Greenleaf’s protégé — and by the time that Willie was in his prime, Greenleaf was already on the way down.

Mosconi, in his own autobiography, says that Greenleaf beat him 57 games to 50 during a 1934 exhibition tour. And this was even though Greenleaf was dead drunk during many of the games. “All told, we played 107 games in 112 days,” wrote Mosconi. “Of course, Greenleaf was the principal attraction. He was not only a great player, but he was great to watch. He had looks and style, a theatrical flair, and a shooting touch so soft that only a connoisseur could fully appreciate it.”

So who really was the best? As I mentioned previously, I’m going to explore these issues further in an upcoming column. But in the meantime, I’m going to post up another poll. A runoff! You pick the best, Greenleaf or Mosconi. Vote early, vote often.

-- R.A. Dyer

Friday, February 12, 2010

More Footage of Jean Balukas

Reader Roy Zornow reminds us of this cool video of Jean Balukas, Fran Crimi, Steve Mizerak and several other legends shooting pool on the Charlie Rose show. Roy went looking for the video after coming across the footage of a young Jean Balukas shooting pool on TV, which is also reproduced here on this blog.

Roy writes that there's an interesting magazine article from 1991 that references a televised match Balukas had vs. Robin Bell in Las Vegas at the Women’s Final of the Brunswick World Open 9-ball tournament. You can find the article here.

-- R.A. Dyer

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

PoolSynergy: Construction in Progress

Sorry. No post for today. That's because I'm working on my assignment for the PoolSynergy project, which is due tomorrow. If you're not familiar with PoolSynergy, scroll down to find some of my recent contributions. Or click here to read a recent one about pool and folklore. Basically the deal with PoolSynergy is that a group of online pool writers each agree to common assignments and then the writers post their contributions on the same day of each month, generally the 15th. The agreed-upon theme of the attached post was "billiard tales." (I wrote about folklore. That's close, right?) Our upcoming assignment is to write about a favorite player. If you're curious about contributing to PoolSynergy, contact organizer John Biddle at Or you can also shoot me an email at R.A. Dyer

Friday, February 5, 2010

Fats vs. Mosconi: The Great Pool Shoot-Out

You read it about it The Hustler & The Champ. Here's the video proof of the most watched pool match in U.S. history. Picture and sound quality is pretty lousy, but it's the only copy out there that I have come across. You can read about the pool match in detail in my book (that's it there to the right). The famous televised pool match was put together by pool promoter Charles Ursitti and the guys from Wide World of Sports.-- R.A. Dyer

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Coffee & Billiards in Vienna

Be sure to make it out the Heinrich Weingartner cafe and billiards museum next time you're in Vienna. (That's the Vienna -- the one in Austria.) Reader Markus Hofstätter brought the facility to my attention. Judging from the photos, I can't imagine a more pleasant spot to spend an afternoon. Mr. Weingartner, a carom player, is also apparently a colorful story teller. He's been playing billiards since 1950 and -- again, according to the site -- is the winner of 15 Austrian titles. He opened his shop in 1964 and a museum in 1993. He's also the author of several books.

The museum hours are by appointment only. For more information, check out the site here.

-- R.A. Dyer

Monday, February 1, 2010

Fisher, Reyes Named Players of Decade

News flash: Efren Reyes and Allison Fisher were named today as the male and female players of the decade by the United States Billiard Media Association. Reyes -- also known as "The Magician" or "Bata" -- amassed nearly $1.7 million in prize money during the decade, according to an USBMA release. Fisher won 27 profession billiard association classic tour titles during the same period.

Reyes and Fisher were chosen by members of the USMBA, who also select Hall of Fame inductees. Reyes outpolled fellow legends Johnny Archer, Ralf Souquet and Mika Immonen in the balloting. Fisher was named Player of The Decade on all but two of the USMBA ballots, with Karen Corr and Jasmin Ouschan also receiving votes, according to the organzation.

Reyes' dominant performance during the first decade of the new century included victories in 20 major professional pool tournaments, beginning with the $30,000 Camel Pro 8-Ball Championship in 2000 and his twin victories in the short-lived but lucrative International Pool Tour. Those victories alone netted him $765,000. Reyes also won four one-pocket crowns, four eight-ball titles, and 14 nineball titles. Reyes won the Derby City All-Around title three times during the decade.

Fisher, arguably the greatest female player of all time, continued her dominance of women's pool, adding 27 titles between 2000 and 2010. She also earned the gold medal at the 2009 World Games and was the 2000 BCA U.S. Open 14.1 champion. She received $637,000 in tournament winnings over the decade. She was also the most dominant player in women's pool during the decade of the 90s.

-- R.A. Dyer