by R. A. Dyer
The Lyons Press, $22.95
This is an article from the Oct. 27, 2003 issue
The pool hall was once a refuge for the working-class American
bachelor, a place where he could "gamble, spit and cuss freely,"
according to Dyer. And from this environment came the hustler,
who perfected the art of setting up, then fleecing unsuspecting
victims. The 1961 film The Hustler celebrated this culture,
bringing fame to real-life characters such as Wimpy Lassiter and
Jersey Red Breitkopf, not to mention world-champion Willie
Mosconi, who had a small role in the movie. The most notorious
hustler may have been the mendacious, motor-mouthed Rudolf
Wanderone Jr., who inspired the Minnesota Fats character in The
Hustler and then adopted that moniker.
Dyer deftly explores the shifting fortunes of the game, towns and
hustlers through rich anecdotes, none better than the one about
Minnesota Fats and Hubert (Daddy Warbucks) Cokes being robbed at
gunpoint in Du Quoin, Ill., in 1941. Fats owed Cokes money.
"Before you rob me," Fats begged the masked bandits, "let me pay
him the $5,000 I owe him."