Showmanship: How is it that some people do the same job but get more recognition than other people? How do they draw attention to their work and promote their career?
When Showmanship meets Substance
I do not know how to get to the point of this article about substance and showmanship but by simply telling you the story of my meeting “Fats.”
In 1961, Paul Newman starred in a movie called “The Hustler.” The movie was nominated for nine Academy Awards and co-starred George C. Scott and Jackie Gleason. Pool became even more popular after the movie, and some of the true greats of pool such as Willie Mosconi, who consulted on the movie “The Hustler,” went from being unknown to being recognized as great in their sport.
Paul Newman played the character “Fast Eddie” Felson and Jackie Gleason played “New York Fats.”
In real life, many people considered “Fast Eddie” Parker to be the real “Fast Eddie” Felson and Rudolph Luther “Minnesota Fats” Wanderone, Jr., to be the real “New York Fats.”
Parker’s Pool Hall
A few years later, I found myself spending an hour or two from time to time at a place called Parker’s Pool Hall on Washington Ave in Houston. A Houston local named T.J. Parker, not “Fast Eddie” owned this pool hall.
The time I was in this Parker’s Pool Hall was in ’68 and ’69. Most of the pool halls I had frequented were newly created, well-lit places that if they had installed different furniture could have passed for a church. The people I saw at most of these other pool halls were young guys and gals who had a couple of extra bucks to spend on a few racks of pool. Most of them were 18 to 25 or so. Most of these players played a 9-ball.
Parker’s Pool Hall was different. The room was rather dark, yet the tables had bright area lighting. Several of the unused tables were dark. The manager turned the lights on over the table whenever there was a game at that table. A tailored vinyl material that had a soft cloth backing covered the empty tables.
There were younger guys in the pool hall. Also, there were what I would call grown men. These men were in their thirties and forties. They played a game called one pocket. In one-pocket, the players were careful not to break the rack of balls wide open.
If these players had an open rack of balls, they could easily sink of the balls on one turn.
If you are not familiar with either of these games, I will try to use some analogies. There are log cabin building sets for kids. These building sets have slotted logs made of plastic or wood and any five-year old could build one of these log cabins. This analogy is perhaps somewhat unfair to 9-ball pool, given that it is the most popular tournament pool game on ESPN. However, to draw the analogy out, one pocket is more like a kid building a log cabin with rounded toothpicks and no glue.
Super Stars of the Game
I did not fully understand what I was watching these grown men play pool. The closest analogy I can draw is that it was like watching the Beatles or closer to today’s generation Jay-Z before they were THE Beatles or THE Jay-Z and the impact of the fame had become as great as the impact of the performance. The type of people depicted in the movie “The Hustler” and in a couple of cases, some people believe, the real people depicted in the movie, were playing pool while I watched free. (See R.A. Dyer’s Hustler Days: Minnesota Fats, Wimpy Lassiter, Jersey Red, and America’s Great Age of Pool.)
Jack “Jersey Red” Breit, the 1965 national one-pocket champion, was one of my favorite players. I knew he was great, and he stood out in my memory only because of the way he played pool. I had no idea until I began to write this article that he was one of the greatest pool players in history.
Legend has it that he ran over twenty racks in nine ball before missing a shot.
The showman at Parker’s Pool Hall was a guy called “Minnesota Fats” (or “New York Fats”). He often he spent time at the pool hall putting on shows with trick shots.
Occasionally, he would help us new players with tips on the game.
He told me that the 8 ball was the hardest ball to hit accurately.
He said that the color made it harder to see the point to hit on the ball
Everyone knew who “Fats” was. He was a great pool player and a great showman.
His showmanship led to his getting the attention of television producers. He appeared on the Tonight Show.
For one season, he had his own TV show.
Minnesota Fats, who was three years older than Jackie Gleason, claimed that Jackie Gleason racked balls for him when they knew each other in Brooklyn.
When Showmanship Meets Substance
I never saw any of those other great players from Parker’s Pool Hall appear on television shows. Perhaps they did, and I just did not hear about it, but “Fats” I heard about for several years. The only difference that I can see between “Fats” and the other players is that he had substance and showmanship.
He was perhaps the best pool player around Houston. He played in more than one spot. It is hard to know how famous he would have been without the movie The Hustler.
However, it is also possible that R.A. Dyer might never had imagined the extraordinary “New York Fats” without knowing about “Minnesota Fats,” a showman with substance.