Billiards Digest: The Hustler and Minnesota Fats

skip100

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The new Billiards Digest has a cover story arguing that there is now "proof" that Rudolf Wanderone was actually the model for Minnesota Fats in The Hustler.

After a long buildup, the totality of the evidence presented in the article seems to be that an early draft of the novel used the nickname New York Fats, which Tevis crossed out by hand and changed to Minnesota Fats.

This seems like pretty weak proof. Never mind that Wanderone was apparently one of the loudest, most boisterous characters in 20th century public life, while the book's Minnesota Fats was an even-keeled and quiet presence. Also never mind that Wanderone went by a number of other names: New York Fats, Broadway Fats, Chicago Fats, Triple-Smart Fats, and so on. It's not as if nobody else was using the name Fats - Fats Domino, Fats Waller, Fats Navarro come to mind.

What are people's thoughts on this? At the very least, I'm surprised they made it the cover story and presented the new evidence as something much more authoritative than it actually seems.
 

Duane Remick

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Same here. Case closed. This horse has been beat to death.

" I read some where,
the characters were inspired from actual pool players-
" The best in the country player-called Minnesota fats I think was really based on a renowned greatest player in the country-also a pretty hard drinking quiet guy like Eddie Taylor....

Eddie Felson I think was the likes of Ed Kelly-
that's what Jim Whitman told me once at the Palace"
 
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skip100

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Tevis said: "I made up Minnesota Fats—name and all—as surely as Disney made up Donald Duck."
 

crazysnake

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Delighted to hear mention the name of the great jazz trumpeter Fats Navarro in this thread.

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MattPoland

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I think it’s feasible Tevis heard of a player named New York Fats to be known as the guy to beat in certain circles and built a story around that idea. If so, I think he based an idea off Wanderone but developed it purely into his own direction, personality and all.


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jay helfert

Shoot Pool, not people
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I think it’s feasible Tevis heard of a player named New York Fats to be known as the guy to beat in certain circles and built a story around that idea. If so, I think he based an idea off Wanderone but developed it purely into his own direction, personality and all.


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This is closer to the truth. Walter told me on more than one occasion he had never seen New York Fats in his life. It's possible he heard that name and rather than face any kind of lawsuit from Wanderone he changed his character's name to Minnesota Fats. It turned out he was right to be careful as New York Fats (Wanderone) sued him anyway.
 

WildWing

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There is no way an author, like Tevis, would suddenly make up a pool character, named Fats, pretty big guy, without hearing of New York Fats, Double Smart Fats, then, Triple Smart Fats. That guy was Wanderone.

Not saying Tevis went to great lengths to research Fats. I'm given to believe he was working a pool script, and had heard of Fats more than one time. He changed the name to Minnesota.

Tevis benefited. Wanderone also benefited, by taking the name. Sometimes, the world is in balance. But, I think Tevis and Mosconi should have been a bit more honest on this.

All the best,
WW
 

lfigueroa

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Having read everything I've read over the years, Tevis' account of how the Fats character in his book had no relation to RW always sounded a little thin to me.

There is a side of me that says Tevis was just enjoying the success of his stories being published and then ultimately being turned into a major motion picture starring Paul Newman and Jackie Gleason -- and he wanted sole creative credit for coming up with the story and characters. Certainly, in Tevis' wildest dreams, he never thought that a pool player would have the audacity to claim inspiration for one of his characters.

But then there was Fats.

So, on the balance, I think R.A. is right and this is the smoking gun that pretty much proves RW was the inspiration for Minnesota Fats in "The Hustler."

Lou Figueroa
 

pt109

WO double hemlock
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Seems to me that Tevis probably sold more books because of Wanderone...
...and Mosconi made more money because of Wanderone....
...so all three of them were winners.....life can be strange
 

Buzzo80

Registered
" I read some where,
the characters were inspired from actual pool players-
" The best in the country player-called Minnesota fats I think was really based on a renowned greatest player in the country-also a pretty hard drinking quiet guy like Eddie Taylor....

Eddie Felson I think was the likes of Ed Kelly-
that's what Jim Whitman told me once at the Palace"
The book was published in 1959. That same year Ed Kelly was an Arthur Murray dance instructor on the first floor days and played in Kleins on second story at nights in Baltimore Only out of Marines a year or two. So seriously doubt Fast Eddie was based on him.
 

Scott Lee

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if Fast Eddie was based on anyone, the general consensus is for Ronnie Allen...much more of a hustler than Ed Kelly could ever be.

Scott Lee
Director, SPF National Pool School Tour

The book was published in 1959. That same year Ed Kelly was an Arthur Murray dance instructor on the first floor days and played in Kleins on second story at nights in Baltimore Only out of Marines a year or two. So seriously doubt Fast Eddie was based on him.
 

BC21

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I think it’s feasible Tevis heard of a player named New York Fats to be known as the guy to beat in certain circles and built a story around that idea. If so, I think he based an idea off Wanderone but developed it purely into his own direction, personality and all.


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This is very likely. Back when Wanderone was hustling NY and got to being called New York Fats and Broadway Fats, I think it was in the 1930's. Tevis was a kid living in California. He moved from California to Kentucky in about 1939. He was only 11 then.

By the time Tevis was 15 New York Fats had already gotten married and moved to Illinois. But he did hit Newport News or Norfolk VA on occasion to hustle service members during the war. And Tevis did serve in the Navy at the end of WWII, so he could've witnessed the fat man hustling some of his navy buddies.

After the war Tevis ended up working in a poolhall throughout college, started playing a lot of pool. Then he graduating and became an English teacher, writing short stories on the side with hopes of making money as a writer. By the time he started writing pool stories he probably had enough experience with the pool hustling world that he had a good idea what type of characters he could create. It's likely he'd seen or heard of New York Fats, and used that name at first for his fat man character. But then, as Jay said, Tevis thought better of it and changed the name to Minnesota Fats.

None of it matters, because even if Tevis knew who Rudolph Wanderone was, or who New York Fats was, the only thing the real New York Fats had in common with the fictional Fats is that they were both fat pool hustlers. Lol. As far as character/personality/composure, there was no comparison. Rudolph Wanderone took the name Tevis created, Minnesota Fats, but never in his life (before or after taking that name) was Wanderone anything like the character Walter Tevis created.
 

jay helfert

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This is very likely. Back when Wanderone was hustling NY and got to being called New York Fats and Broadway Fats, I think it was in the 1930's. Tevis was a kid living in California. He moved from California to Kentucky in about 1939. He was only 11 then.

By the time Tevis was 15 New York Fats had already gotten married and moved to Illinois. But he did hit Newport News or Norfolk VA on occasion to hustle service members during the war. And Tevis did serve in the Navy at the end of WWII, so he could've witnessed the fat man hustling some of his navy buddies.

After the war Tevis ended up working in a poolhall throughout college, started playing a lot of pool. Then he graduating and became an English teacher, writing short stories on the side with hopes of making money as a writer. By the time he started writing pool stories he probably had enough experience with the pool hustling world that he had a good idea what type of characters he could create. It's likely he'd seen or heard of New York Fats, and used that name at first for his fat man character. But then, as Jay said, Tevis thought better of it and changed the name to Minnesota Fats.

None of it matters, because even if Tevis knew who Rudolph Wanderone was, or who New York Fats was, the only thing the real New York Fats had in common with the fictional Fats is that they were both fat pool hustlers. Lol. As far as character/personality/composure, there was no comparison. Rudolph Wanderone took the name Tevis created, Minnesota Fats, but never in his life (before or after taking that name) was Wanderone anything like the character Walter Tevis created.

He was also NEVER called Minnesota Fats prior to the movie being released and his deciding to capitalize on it. It's all good though. I knew and liked both men for different reasons, and both of them had a huge impact on our game. That's enough for me! :thumbup2:
 

Island Drive

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You guys are making me want to watch my Ev Interview again, a solid hr + of footage.

I definitely remember Ev saying to me, as he rose in notoriety , they used to call em Dbl Smart, then Triple Smart Fats for awhile.
 

bstroud

Deceased
I invited both Tevis and Fatty to the Dayton tournament alone with most of the players.

I personally introduced Fatty to Tevis for the first time at the Dayton tournament.

It is safe to say that they had never met before.

The introduction was cold at best.

I personally think that Tevis who had worked in a pool room as the houseman must have heard of New Your Fats but he never told me so.

Bill Stroud
 

jeephawk

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Probably not news to anyone here but some things I noted that caught my attention:

1. R.A. Dyer published "The Hustler & The Champ" in 2008. Maybe he doesn't want to take away the spotlight from the guy who found the references in the original manuscript, and maybe he writes the article assuming everyone reading knows he wrote that book, but I think it should have played a part in the story.
2. One reason is I would have liked to have heard Dyer's explanation for why he never consulted or reviewed the original manuscript (if he never did) when researching and writing his own book.
3. Even in Dyer's book, not mentioned from what I can see in the article, he references the famous comment by Mosconi which helped stir things up back in the day that the character of Minnesota Fats "was patterned after a real live pool hustler known as New York Fats." So that has always been out there.
4. In the new article, Dyer posits, "I think the author probably spied New York Fats during one of his frequent trips." This made no sense to me, having read the book and I went back and looked up what he had written about Tevis a little over 10 years ago. He said in his book that Tevis' pool experience was "based on his observations of pool halls in his native San Francisco and Lexington, Kentucky." Tevis said he met pool hustlers at this pool hall in Kentucky - never anything to suggest he ever met Walderone there.

Seems more likely that he indeed, as someone mentioned above, had at least heard the name "New York Fats" and just as likely he never had any idea who the guy really was or anything specific about him and certainly didn't model the attributes of the Minnesota Fats character off of Walderone.

I think Dyer at least owed a footnote in this article so that he explained to those familiar with his pretty significant work how it was he either totally missed or discounted (if he saw it) that manuscript. And if he somehow missed pretty important info about Tevis really making frequent trips out of town to pool halls (the implication is he must have gone somewhere New York Fats was playing or at least talked about) that should have been in his book that should have been explained as well. That's a pretty big contradiction.

Was it just incomplete research? Did Dyer know a little more than he let on in the original book?

I don't think it's intellectually honest to write the article as if we are now, as Dyer says, looking at two "new" questions, when they were both questions that could have and easily should have been addressed in his book and this article is written as if his book never happened.
 

lfigueroa

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This is very likely. Back when Wanderone was hustling NY and got to being called New York Fats and Broadway Fats, I think it was in the 1930's. Tevis was a kid living in California. He moved from California to Kentucky in about 1939. He was only 11 then.

By the time Tevis was 15 New York Fats had already gotten married and moved to Illinois. But he did hit Newport News or Norfolk VA on occasion to hustle service members during the war. And Tevis did serve in the Navy at the end of WWII, so he could've witnessed the fat man hustling some of his navy buddies.

After the war Tevis ended up working in a poolhall throughout college, started playing a lot of pool. Then he graduating and became an English teacher, writing short stories on the side with hopes of making money as a writer. By the time he started writing pool stories he probably had enough experience with the pool hustling world that he had a good idea what type of characters he could create. It's likely he'd seen or heard of New York Fats, and used that name at first for his fat man character. But then, as Jay said, Tevis thought better of it and changed the name to Minnesota Fats.

None of it matters, because even if Tevis knew who Rudolph Wanderone was, or who New York Fats was, the only thing the real New York Fats had in common with the fictional Fats is that they were both fat pool hustlers. Lol. As far as character/personality/composure, there was no comparison. Rudolph Wanderone took the name Tevis created, Minnesota Fats, but never in his life (before or after taking that name) was Wanderone anything like the character Walter Tevis created.


Not so sure about that.

What most of us are familiar with would be the later edition of Fats. But back in his heyday I think he might have been closer to the Gleeson portrayal.

Lou Figueroa
 

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lfigueroa

AzB Silver Member
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Probably not news to anyone here but some things I noted that caught my attention:

1. R.A. Dyer published "The Hustler & The Champ" in 2008. Maybe he doesn't want to take away the spotlight from the guy who found the references in the original manuscript, and maybe he writes the article assuming everyone reading knows he wrote that book, but I think it should have played a part in the story.
2. One reason is I would have liked to have heard Dyer's explanation for why he never consulted or reviewed the original manuscript (if he never did) when researching and writing his own book.
3. Even in Dyer's book, not mentioned from what I can see in the article, he references the famous comment by Mosconi which helped stir things up back in the day that the character of Minnesota Fats "was patterned after a real live pool hustler known as New York Fats." So that has always been out there.
4. In the new article, Dyer posits, "I think the author probably spied New York Fats during one of his frequent trips." This made no sense to me, having read the book and I went back and looked up what he had written about Tevis a little over 10 years ago. He said in his book that Tevis' pool experience was "based on his observations of pool halls in his native San Francisco and Lexington, Kentucky." Tevis said he met pool hustlers at this pool hall in Kentucky - never anything to suggest he ever met Walderone there.

Seems more likely that he indeed, as someone mentioned above, had at least heard the name "New York Fats" and just as likely he never had any idea who the guy really was or anything specific about him and certainly didn't model the attributes of the Minnesota Fats character off of Walderone.

I think Dyer at least owed a footnote in this article so that he explained to those familiar with his pretty significant work how it was he either totally missed or discounted (if he saw it) that manuscript. And if he somehow missed pretty important info about Tevis really making frequent trips out of town to pool halls (the implication is he must have gone somewhere New York Fats was playing or at least talked about) that should have been in his book that should have been explained as well. That's a pretty big contradiction.

Was it just incomplete research? Did Dyer know a little more than he let on in the original book?

I don't think it's intellectually honest to write the article as if we are now, as Dyer says, looking at two "new" questions, when they were both questions that could have and easily should have been addressed in his book and this article is written as if his book never happened.


lol, I think you're being more than little hard on R.A.

Besides the cop who found it, who had any idea that an original manuscript still existed? And, if every author in the world felt compelled to search out and travel to visit original manuscripts for their research nothing would ever get published.

Lou Figueroa
 
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