Saturday, September 4, 2010

RIP Frank McGown, New York Pool Legend

Frank McGown is dead.  I know this because I recently stumbled across a short obit for McGown during my semi-regular trolling of the Internet for pool news. The story I found in the Billings Gazette notes that "over the years, Frank won many billiards honors."

Just to be clear: Frank W. McGown was a former New York state champion who, during the course of his career, beat Wimpy Lassiter, Onofrio Lauri, Harold Worst, Mike Euphemia and Lou Butera. He was a regularly top finisher in world competition, and once ran 150 and out against Joe "Meatman" Balsis. Although the reference to his billiards success doesn't appear in his obit until somewhere near the middle, it should be noted that at one time, Frank was a very big deal. For our sport, his loss is a great one.

I first came across McGown's name some years back while researching Hustler Days, my book about Lassiter and the 1960s pool renaissance.  In '67, during the early going of that year's Billiard Room Proprietors Association of America world tournament, McGown demolished Wimpy 150-22. As was McGown's custom, he played excruciatingly slow. Other players hated matching up with him.  "Now, lawdie, I ask you sir, wasn't that awful?" Lassiter said shortly afterwards. "Why that danged rascal McGown played a real slow-down on me, he did indeed."

McGown ended up finishing 6th in that tournament, and then finished third the following year. It was during that 1968 event that McGown ran 150 and out against Balsis. In an article from the March 1983 edition of Billiards Digest (which you can find here) McGown recounts how he made a stunning shot to complete the run. Balsis had scratched of the break, giving McGown ball in hand. "I got up and ran 149 balls, and then got tied up," wrote McGown.  He had to resort to a tricky cross-corner bank to complete the run. That's a diagram of the shot, above.

Lou Figueroa also posted up a funny recollection on the players' forum at Lou had matched up with Frank during an exhibition. Lou said he was playing well, and thought he had the nuts to win.
"I start to run the balls. I get into the second rack. And then the third. Frank goes to the bathroom. I get into the fourth rack. The balls are wide open. And then comes the shot that I still remember today: a little baby two ball combination on the rail behind the rack that, as Danny McGoorty would have said, a drunk Girl Scout could've made if you held her up to the table long enough.
And I took it for granted and I hung up the ball.
I was told afterwards, by a friend who went into the bathroom at that point, that McGowan was in there washing his hands. When my buddy told him that I had just missed, McGown went, 'He missed?!' And McGown comes flying out and quickly proceeds to make a dish of Shredded Duck ala Lou with an 80-something run and then a 50-something."
A few quick biographical notes.  McGown was born on Sept. 27, 1933 in Brooklyn.  He worked as an accountant in New York, and then served with the U.S. Army in Germany until 1958.  He returned to accounting upon his return from Europe, but eventually left that profession to go into business for himself.

He partnered with the dad of pool legend Jean Balukas in the operation of a Brooklyn poolroom  during the 1960s. He also competed in various national and world events. According to Charlie Ursitti's site, McGown had top ten showings during major competitions in 1963, 1964, 1965, 1966, 1967 and 1968.

McGown eventually moved to Montana, where he at one time managed a chain of pool rooms. He died in Billings on Aug. 20th after a stroke and long illness.

Rest in Peace, Frank McGown.

-- R.A. Dyer


Arthur (Bob) Bray said...

I grew up with Frank, known to everyone as Skippy. We were best friends and tight buddies from age 9 to about 23 when I married. Skippy had two brothers: Donald, a blue baby who died at 23 and Jackie, a year older and a golf pro.
I was best man in his marriage to Margaret (Maggie), his first wife with whom he had one daughter.
He lived with his third wife Mary
in Monroe, N.Y. when I lost track of him. At that time he was a Winchester Model 70 collector and big game hunter. He went on exhibition tours overseas while in the Army Special Services.
I know he played Mosconi and maybe Hoppe. I spent a lot of my youth
in pool rooms watching him play.
Skippy was an expert fly fisherman
who could pull a big trout out of nowhere. His photo is as I knew him. Sad to hear he died.
He was born Sept 27, 1933
Bob Bray

Anonymous said...

I was best friends with Franklin Roe McGown who was named after FDR.
We lived in the same apartment house
at 127 Parkside Ave Brooklyn.
We were buddies from the age of 8 to 23. Skippy, as he was known to all was an expert fly fisherman which gave way to Winchester collecting and big game hunting,
I was best man at his first wedding to Margaret with whom he had a daughter in '57-58.
I lost contact when he married his third wife,Mary in Monroe, N.Y..
His photo is as I knew him.
Sad to hear of his passing.
I was looking him up to make contact.
For info on his youth contact:

Eric Hughes said...

I was shocked to hear of Frank's passing.I played Frank in 1958 in Kassel, Germany and it was a pleasure meeting him. I was in the U.S. Air Force and Frank was in the army special services. He traveled around Germany giving exhibitions. I was fortunate to win the base pool tournament and my reward was to play Frank. In a 50 point game, he beat me 50-24.

Several photos were taken of Frank, myself, and another person who traveled with him, a ping-pong expert. I kept those 1958 photos and I heard he was living in Montana. I got his address in 2008 and sent him a letter, the photos and my telephone number.

Frank called and thanked me for sending the photos. In the photos, he was about 23, and sported a mustache and beard.

I never saw him play professionally but I was certainly happy our paths crossed again during our lifetime. Great guy!

Eric Hughes
Washington, D.C.
(202) 465-2479
October 12, 2011

Eric Hughes said...