Wednesday, March 31, 2010
Mrs. Mosconi, formerly Flora Marchini, met Willie in 1952 and they were married a year later. They lived out most of their years at a home in Haddonfield, New Jersey, not far from where Mrs. Mosconi passed away March 25 in hospice care.
Her husband, who was among the finest pool players in U.S. history, spent long months away from home as he participated in tournaments and promotional activities. Flora accompanied him on many of these trips, but also ran the household in his absence.
She became a mother for Mosconi's two children from a previous marriage, William, Jr. and Candace. The Mosconis also had a child of their own, Gloria, who died of breast cancer about a decade ago.
Flora was introduced to Mr. Mosconi by a co-worker, who happened to be Mr. Mosconi's cousin. Quoted in The Hustler & The Champ, a Mosconi biography, Flora Mosconi recalled that she was just 19 years old when she first set eyes on the world champion. "Well, you know, I worked at the telephone company with his cousin, and she asked me one day to go out on a double date,” she said. “You know, I never heard of Willie Mosconi, never heard of billiards -- and she wants me to go out with Willie Mosconi. She says, ‘He’s divorced and has two kids,’ and I said, ‘No, thanks! I don’t want a man with kids.’”
But after the first date, the future Ms. Mosconi was smitten. “I knew right away, I mean—I knew. And when I got home, my brother was asleep, and I woke him up, and I said, ‘Guess what? I’m going to marry Willie Mosconi!’”
Quoted in the same biography, William Mosconi, Jr. recalled the warmth that his new stepmother brought to their home. Prior to her arrival on the scene, William and Candace had been shuttled between various homes during their father's long absences. But Flora Mosconi brought the family together, said William, Jr..
“He (my father) was gone a lot for more than ten years -- even when I went through high school -- and [Flora] raised us up through high school,” said William, Jr. “(My father) wasn’t here. For six years he wasn’t home at all, except during the summer because they didn’t have air conditioning, and so he didn’t play pool then. ... [But Flora] made a home for him. ... At the end of his life he said she made all our lives as good as they could be. She created a home, which we never would have had."
William Mosconi, Jr. said that his stepmother, a life-long smoker, had become increasingly frail in recent months, especially after a fall around Thanksgiving. She is survived by the two stepchildren, five grand children and two great grand children. Willie Mosconi, winner of 15 world championships and holder of the official high run record in straight pool, died in 1993.
-- R.A. Dyer
Friday, March 26, 2010
Lo and behold, one of my old buddies from Costa Rica, Hernan Aguilar, saw the video and has sent me video of his own trick-shooting prowess. It seems that the legend of Pichitas lives on in Costa Rica. I've posted up one of Hernan's videos, above, but there are tons more at his YouTube channel. I can't tell where Hernan is shooting in these videos, but it looks about like what I remembered of the now-closed Center Pool. The only difference is that with Center Pool, you had to go up a flight of stairs. With this pool hall, you have to go down. (I will note, however, that either up or down, all the best pool halls involve a flight of stairs.)
Thanks to Hernan for sending along this video. He looks like someone you'd want to steer clear from if you're ever in San Jose, looking to make a game.
-- R.A. Dyer
Wednesday, March 24, 2010
Spring cleaning continues. This is a picture sent to me by Charles Howard, the son of Norman "Jockey" Howard. It shows the players at the famous Johnston City tournaments. Charles sent me this photo in 2006. I had it posted up elsewhere, and now I'm posting it up here. That's Jockey Howard on the far right. Although the photo is labeled "1961, first tournament held in Johnston City", I don't believe that can be right. Although Paulie and George Jansco are clearly there seated in the middle, there's also Luther Lassiter and Cisero Murphy in attendance. They were not at the first Johnston City meet. Charles said his dad went to Johnston City in '62 and '63.
Here's another photo from Charles Howard. This one shows his dad, "Jockey" Howard, with the great Willie Mosconi. This picture was definitely not taken at Johnston City. I know this because I know that Mosconi never set foot into the hustler's den that were the Johnston City tournaments. By contrast, Charles said his dad was a full-time pool hustler. "He never entered tournaments that generated national attention," said Charles, "(But) he was best man at Cornbread Red's wedding and has played with some of the greats such as Mosconi and Fats."
-- R.A. Dyer
Tuesday, March 23, 2010
And now, here's that interview excerpt:
"I walked into this little poolroom in downtown Blytheville. There were four tables there – four by eight tables.
"I said something like, ‘is there somebody in here that has any money.’ And Cleo Vaughn said, ‘I bet you there are at least four guys in here with $10,000 in their pocket.’ Remember: this was a small, ratty poolroom in this little town. I came in the next day with $10,000 and I said ‘I want to make it five people with $10,000!'
"(Cleo) heard ... about guys beating me. “I beat Beanie” or “I gave him 8 to 5.” He was getting a picture of how I played, and it was a bad picture. And anyway, I started playing. One time I played him (Cleo) for 56 consecutive hours.
"We played 56 consecutive hours, and I beat him pretty good. I was on a high. Pool made me high. I didn’t’ take drugs or anything. I said: ‘Who’s next?' after 56 consecutive hours.
"We were in a tough place. The action was so high, the chief of police said ‘you got to take this somewhere else.’ The kids were coming in after school, and the money was exchanging hands.
"There was a little place at the edge of town, out behind the gas station. The building was out behind gas station: it was a car port. They had a pool table and a card table. ... So we started playing there. It was around-the-clock action. That was where I played for 56 consecutive hours. I won good money.
"I stayed for 30 days. I was married and had three kids, so I had to get home.
"It happened every year, during the race season. There was a race track, and the players came, and it was west Memphis. And they came during that time. Hot Springs was where the racing was. It was in February, or early March. They had the racing season, and it attracted a lot of people.
"I heard about it a number of years before I ever went there. There was a lot of action at that time. It was wide open.
"That was the first time out there. … I won a little off Cokes, and a little of Fats, and most of from Cleo Vaughn. ... He died in Mobile, Alabama."
-- R.A. Dyer
Minnesota Fats with John Ogolini
I've reproduced here a charming letter I received a few years back from one Gary Carlson. Gary recalls unexpectedly bumping into the Fat One down in Johnston City. The picture above shows Fats with whom I believe is his friend John Ogolini. The picture was probably taken in Fats' home. I was given this photo during one of my trips to Southern Illinois to research Fats' life for Hustler Days.
OK, here's Gary's note:
"I was about 22 or 23 at the time (1964? 1965?) living in Decatur, IL. My friend, Bob Arthur mentioned there was a pool tournament in a town outside of Carbondale. So we got into his '58 Chevy Impala and away we went. I think we paid maybe $5 (???) to get in and then there was another charge to watch the action in the back room. I recall "Daddy Warbucks" playing someone else a handicap game. Warbucks used his hat as a bridge while the other fellow used a toilet brush from the restroom. They played $100 a game.
In 1966 I attended graduate school at Southern Illinois University and went to Johnston City once or twice for the tournament. I also played in a rock band which was hired for one weekend at the Jansco's place.
My major was chemistry and I would work sometimes until 1-2 am in the lab. Afterwards, I would frequently go to a small pool hall with 3 or 4 tables and good hamburgers. I was usually the only one there. I didn't really know much about the game or it's characters. One night a fat guy at the counter asked if I wanted to play a game since we were the only customers. He'd been laughing with the counter man and already knew I was very much an amateur. I said OK and he asked if I played for money. I said I guessed a buck would be OK. He said 'a whole buck?' I said 'If that's too much, how about 50 cents?' He laughed and said he'd try to fit it into his budget. He beat me pretty badly for 2 games and I quit a buck down. He bought me a hamburger and left. Later, the counter man told me it was Minnesota Fats and he lived nearby in Dowell, Illinois. It wasn't until some years later that I appreciated who he was."
-- R.A. Dyer
Originally uploaded by jakedyer.
This is the last remaining Weenie Beenie hotdog stand from a chain of several, at one time owned by Washington, D.C. pool hustler Bill "Weenie Beenie" Staton. The seed money for the purchase of the very first hotdog stand was raised during a gambling trip to Cleo Vaughn's Arkansas poolroom during the winter of 1960.
This is what Staton said about that trip:
"I like to say I made over a million dollars. (That’s because) I won $27,000, and I went home and wanted to invest it. I told my lawyer that I won this money, and I wanted to invest it. He said, ‘Bill, you have to declare that on income tax.’ So, I declared it on my income tax, and then built a little hotdog stand. It was 12 foot wide and 20 foot long. It’s still located in Alexandria, Virginia. The way I figure I made $1 million is from the rent I’ve been collecting all these years."
This picture was sent in by pool fan William McVeigh, who divides his time between Washington DC and Quepos, Costa Rica. This is what he said about the stand:
"The yellow phone pages list only one Weenie Beenie in N. VA, and that is the one in the photos, at 2680 S. Shirlington Rd., Arlington, VA. I remember seeing others in years past, but I don't see them now so they must have disappeared. ... It is significant that this stand is a mere 100 yards down the street from Champion Billiards, the only decent pool room in Arlington County, founded about 15 years ago. But I never happened to see the Bean play there. ..."
-- R.A. Dyer
Monday, March 22, 2010
Just below are two notes from Ken McCarthy. According to my records, he sent them to me sometime before 2006. And just below these notes from Mr. McCarthy I've reproduced some other online memories of Norfolk....
"When I was in the navy (1961-1965) I was stationed in Norfolk ,VA and played pool every minute I had at St. Elmos pool hall (2nd floor, a few buildings up from the YMCA). As you know this is where Wimpy played when in town, and it is where I saw him ( I still have a perfect vision of that white head standing out in the dimness along the left wall watching the goings-on). I was just starting to play pool and my friend pointed him out to me as a great player, although at the time I really didn't realize HOW great a player.
"In 1963 or 64 I bought a Willie Hoppe special (Brunswick) cue through the owner (a kindly, short, bald-headed man). I then sanded off a section on the top of the butt, bought a Parker ink pen and asked Mr. Lassiter to sign it. He did, and I still have the cue and the pen. I have recently picked up the game again and I now know that he was actually at the top of his game when he signed my cue!"
I wrote Ken back later, asking him if he had any photos of the St. Elmos to post up here on the Untold Stories website. I also asked if he had ran into other players like Fats at the pool hall. This is his response:
"I do not have any pictures of St. Elmo's even though at the time I was an amateur photographer and my ships official photographer. In 1963 there was no such thing as a family billiard parlor. This was an old time pool hall where you keep your mouth shut and pay up when you lose. I think you can imagine that taking pictures in an establishment like that may have made one "un-popular" with some of the notoriety. But now I sure wished I had.
No, I never run into Fats or Willie. I did meet Art Cranfield once simply because he was from Syracuse, my home town.
So I'm sorry to say that the only thing I can give you are my memories of St. Elmo's and a vivid picture of that white mane sitting along the side wall watching the players.
My good friend at the time, and the guy who started me in pool, played Luther once for five bucks -- a lot of money for a sailor in 1963. Fred broke and nothing went. The one ball lay down by the corner pocket and the nine up by the side. Luther stepped up, pocketed the one, came back up the table with the cue ball and knocked the nine in the side pocket. He turns to Fred and says 'My gosh, what luck. Let's play another.' Fred declined.
If there is anything else please let me know. I would be delighted to see any pictures of that venerable palace of pool if you run across any in your research.
And now, here are a few notes I received on the same topic:
Brian the Bricklayer said...
"I have lived in Virginia Beach my entire life and you have brought back some fond memories for me about St. Elmo's. I was fortunate enough to have gotten one of those cherry wood grained tables when SE closed and I went to the auction. Unfortunately that table went up in a fire a couple years ago. In Lassiters last few years I was lucky enough to have met and talked to him quite a bit. He was full of stories very colorful stories of his life. He told me about when he won the US Open in 64 and going AWOL from Navy by jumping off the ship he was assigned to.
He died like he lived. Playing pool in Elizebeth City practicing the game he loved. What a character"
"I grew up in Ocean View and remember St.Elmo's as the old time pool hall it was. Like Brian I was also fortunate enough to aquire a table at the auction. Sorry to hear Brians pice of history went up in smoke."
And Foodbill said...
"I played there from august 66 to August 68. I was a Dental Tech at N.O.B and spent a lot of time at St Elmo's. I went there on the last night of my tour of duty at Norfolk and ran 49 balls in a straight pool match. I too wished l took some pictures. Last year l was looking through Ebay and won a bid on an old cue ball that was used at the pool hall before it was sold in 1970. I was telling a young pro in Conn. about that place all the money you could win or lose in those days. The owner back then was Carolina Witfield,his son worked there too. Does anyone remember Big Red? He love to play golf pool."
-- R.A. Dyer
Sunday, March 21, 2010
Here's a photo from Dale R. LeMieux of a flyer for an exhibition he saw with Minnesota Fats at the Pontiac Silverdome, then home of the Detroit Lions. The event was in the 1970s. Note: the top and side of the paper has Fats' autograph.
As he was still standing there alone I went up to him and asked him about the movie THE HUSTLER. (Fats) talked to anyone who would listen. He talked for a while just like he had known me forever and I really enjoyed it because I had always really liked him (one of the few that liked him more than Mosconi). Then as another person started he continued to talk to me as the person ran some balls in their game of eightball.
Now it was Fats turn to shoot and when he got to the eightball a heckler starts in on Fats telling him he was no good at playing pool and that anyone can beat him. Fats says to the man "I'll tell you what I'll dooo. I'll bet you a thousand dollars that I will bank the eight three in the side." The man said no more. With no hesitation Fats banked the eight three rails into the side pocket. I think he said: "I'll just send old Elsie home anyway" and then he shot it in.
After the exhibition we were still sitting in our seats when Fats and a few big guys he had around him came back (to where we were) and ... as he was walking by he reached down and tapped me on the shoulder and said to me: "I will see you later Dale." That was the last time I saw Rudolph Wanderone in person.
Personal note... I have always disliked the way people (pool players) at least in this area after Fats got older and sicker tell of how they beat him. It also happened in this area with a great player I knew Cornbread Red ( Billy Burge). Now that he is gone it seems that everyone beat him. I know that I never beat him and he was one of the greats, He was colorful and liked to talk as well. I for one will miss both players."
-- R.A. Dyer
"I was in the Le Cue in Houston one night back in the 70's. Fats had come in to do an exhibition. Fats was shooting and gabbing, and mentioned he had done an exhibition for the Houston Astros, and let one of the players win the first game of a race to three. Some kid in the crowd popped off then that 'If that had been me I'd have quit after one game so I could say I beat the Fat Man.' It got quiet, and Fats put his stick down, walked over and got right in the kid's face. He said 'Sonny Boy, wouldn't have done ya' any good. Nobody woulda believed ya!' Jersey Red was there, too. He told me he wouldn't walk across the room to watch Fats shoot, but he'd drive across the country to listen to him talk. That was a memorable evening."
-- R.A. Dyer
Thursday, March 18, 2010
Justin Collett, founder of The Action Report, praises the drama of one-on-one action featuring top players. "It really is no secret it is as old as time -- people want the drama of a contest," Mr. Collett writes in comments at the bottom of my PoolSynergy post, which is just below this one.
John Biddle, founder of the PoolSynergy project, argues that gambling is bad for the sport's image. "Pool has a very active gambling culture that harms the sport and many of its players, limits it audience and turns off potential sponsors," writes Biddle in his PoolSynergy post. You can read it here.
I write in my post that the opposite might be true -- at least with regards to Biddle's assertion that gambling has limited our sport's audience. It was, after all, the public's fascination with pool gambling that helped propel the popularity of The Hustler, the 1960s film starring Jackie Gleason and Paul Newman. That film ushered in a decade-long renaissance for the sport. I would also argue that the public's fascination with pool gambling helps explain the astronomical TV ratings of the Great Shoot-Out, which pitted Minnesota Fats against Willie Mosconi. The challenge match was the most watched pool event in American history.
One other observation: Mr. Collett notes that while his website "is about the action side of the game," it's also much more than that. "No one has done as much coverage of the high end custom cue scene as us as well as streaming traditional events like the WPBA, US Bar Table Championships, and the upcoming US Open 10 Ball," he writes. Again, you can read Mr. Collett's comments at the bottom of my PoolSynergy post, which is right below this one.
And by way of background, PoolSynergy is an online collaborative effort between pool writers who post essays each month about a common theme. You can read more about PoolSynergy here. You can also cast your vote on the issue of pool and gambling at the online poll, which I've posted up in the right-hand margin of this blog.
-- R.A. Dyer
Monday, March 15, 2010
I note with interest the on-gain and off-again debate about The Action Report, which, as many of you know, is that online site devoted to high-stakes pool gambling. Founded by Justin Collett, The Action Report (better known as "TAR"), streams gambling sessions -- sometimes very expensive gambling sessions -- featuring our sport's top players.
The question is this: is glorifying gambling good for pool or bad for it?
“There seem to be two schools of thought when it comes to this,” writes the anonymous blogger responsible for the online Pool Cue News and Review. “One camp will tell you that all TAR is doing is embracing what pool has always been. The seedy side of pool has a reputation for gambling and TAR is simply putting it up on a pedestal. The other camp will tell you that pool is a sport that should be recognized as such and the only way it will find its way into the mainstream (and the Olympics) is if the industry sheds its seedy reputation.”
It’s a fair question, and a particularly appropriate one considering our PoolSynergy topic this month. In case you haven’t been following along, PoolSynergy is a collaborative effort between online pool writers, each of whom agree to post essays on a single theme. Our topic this month is “Pool and the Mainstream,” which I take to mean: “How will pool ever gain legitimacy with the mainstream media and the general public?”
And this takes us back to the question of TAR, a website devoted to what many would deem the seedier aspects of pool. Does glorifying gambling help promote our sport, or does it harm its image?
Although the Pool Cue News blogger doesn’t come down one way or the other on this question, he does note that TAR's market strategy is not much different from the one employed by the city of Las Vegas. That is, Las Vegas gave up trying to promote itself as a "family-fun" destination -- that clearly wasn't working -- and instead now promotes itself for what it truly is: a city where you can go gamble.
I also won't come down one way or the other in this debate. But I will provide this bit of historical context. Know that pool's conflicting duality -- that is, the tension between respectability and tawdriness that is illustrated in the TAR question -- has been with the sport always. The game may have began as a pastime for nobility, but it soon migrated to the public rooms, where it then became a favorite of “blacklegs” and ruffians.
Even the term “pool” refers to the gambling "pools" that were commonly operated in 19th Century parlors where one often also would find a billiard table. As historian Mike Shamos points out, it was a linguistic misunderstanding -- that is, the habit of calling these betting parlors “pool rooms” -- that gave our sport its very name.
Brunswick later tried to clean up the sport’s image by attempting to change its name to "pocket billiards.” But like the attempt to project a family-fun image for Vegas, this really didn't take. As anyone who plays in an APA league knows, we’re pool players, not pocket billiard players.
There was also a great hue and cry over the release of The Hustler, a film that did more to bring our game to the public's attention than any single cultural event of the last 50 years. And yet thematically it's focus was exactly the focus of the TAR website: pool gambling. Willie Mosconi, who served as a technical adviser for the film, got an earful from his friends in the industry after its release. They thought the film would wreck the sport. Instead, it sparked a decade-long renaissance.
Likewise, the most watched pool match in history – the Great Shoot-Out between Mosconi and Minnesota Fats – embodied the tension between these two very different faces of pool. Mosconi represented its clean-cut image. Fats represented the gambling. The ABC broadcast had ratings commensurate with some World Series games. I would argue that it was this very tension between the sport's gambling image and its clean-cut one that helped propel its ratings.
Younger readers who have never seen The Hustler should do so immediately. It’s great. And if you're interested in looking at footage from the Great Shoot-Out, I have some posted up here. There's also my two books, Hustler Days and The Hustler & The Champ, that deal extensively with these questions.
So, do outfits like TAR -- that is, those who would romanticize pool's sporting life -- provide for us a way forward? Or, given the general apathy exhibited by the public, should we move away from this image as we look to bring our sport into the mainstream? I think these questions are among the most important for our sport.
-- R.A. Dyer
Thursday, March 11, 2010
You'll have to scroll down a bit to find the poll. I've provided four possible responses, and I of course welcome comments here and on the Pool History Facebook page.
And while you're busy mulling over this deep philosophical question, you might also cast your vote on the Greenleaf-Mosconi question. That poll is at the right. I've got plenty of information about both players here on this blog if you want to research the question before you decide. I also maintain separate Mosconi and Greenleaf blogs, and Billiards Digest will feature an Untold Stories column on the question in an upcoming issue.
-- R.A. Dyer
Sunday, March 7, 2010
Earl Strickland's emotional outbursts have earned him a lot of criticism over the years. But judging from internet traffic, they also have brought a lot of attention to the sport. As of March 7, 2010, the image of Earl smashing his pool cue in frustration during a Mosconi Cup event has been viewed 181,233 times (181,238 if you count the five times I just watched it). I've included the video, above, for your amusement.
But know that Earl is not alone for engaging in such over-the-top antics. Some of the very greatest players in our sport have been known to snap a cue -- or worse -- in a fit of pique. Check out, for instance, the-- R.A. Dyer
Tuesday, March 2, 2010
Mosconi's incredible performance at such an incredibly young age calls to mind another amazing child prodigy, Jean Balukas. You can see footage of her appearance on a 1960s game show here. Like Mosconi, Balukas went on to great fame. And honestly, it scares me to see little children playing so well.
For his insightful answers, Doug receives a free BCA Rule Book. He can email his street address by clicking on my name, below, and I'll get a book out to him this weekend.
-- R.A. Dyer
Monday, March 1, 2010
I've been continuing to research the Greenleaf and Mosconi question for an upcoming Untold Stories column. In the course of my work, I've come up with a good trivia question. Consider that Mosconi and Greenleaf played over 100 games against one another during the course of their careers. Consider also that Greenleaf was a bit older than Mosconi, and started his career somewhat earlier. So here's the question: How old was Mosconi during his very first documented match-up against Greenleaf? As a bonus, name the game and provide the score for that first match-up.
I'll send out a new copy of the Updated BCA Rules Book to the first person who can answer the questions correctly. Good luck!
-- R.A. Dyer