Cover image for Hustler days : Minnesota Fats, Wimpy Lassiter, Jersey Red, and America's great age of pool
Hustler days : Minnesota Fats, Wimpy Lassiter, Jersey Red, and America's great age of pool
Dyer, R. A. (Richard A.)
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Guilford, Conn. : Lyons Press, [2003]

Physical Description:
vii, 274 pages, 8 unnumbered pages of plates: illustrations; 24 cm
Shooting down the cowboy -- Under the lemonade sun -- The ring game -- The big lie of little egypt -- The king of Norfolk -- The death of pool -- Red's last refuge -- Crossroads -- World's greatest roadhouse -- 1965 -- The wolf -- The hustler king -- Epilogue: winners & losers..
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Call Number
Material Type
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Item Holds
GV892 .D94 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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Minnesota Fats was a brilliant pool player, but he was even better at lying about his past. Wimpy Lassiter, the gentleman hustler, started playing at age seven, and for the rest of his life lived for the rush of victory and high stakes. Violent and determined, Jersey Red made and lost a fortune at the table.

With a passion for the game evident on every page, R.A. DYER takes us through the smoky bars and late nights where a win was just as dangerous as a loss. He captures the game's popularity in the thirties, its dark days in the fifties, and its renaissance and apex in the sixties, fueled by the smashing success of Paul Newman and Jackie Gleason going toe-to-toe in The Hustler. It was an era that culminated in the legendary nationally televised tournaments in Little Egypt, Illinois, where Jersey Red and Wimpy Lassiter went at it for hours. And it was an era that ended in perhaps the most dramatic scene in all of pool. Just as Jersey Red beat Wimpy Lassiter in 1969, after a decade of bitter rivalry, the police shut down the tournament. Cameras in tow, they arrested eighty hustlers--including the new champion!

From Fats's first showdown--in Brooklyn, with a Texas-style gunslinger in cowboy boots and revolvers--to world championship clashes, HUSTLER DAYS is a rollicking portrait of one of our national treasures.

Author Notes

R. A. Dyer is a columnist for the nation's premier pool magazine, Billiards Digest

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Every great countercultural moment lives longer in analysis than in real time. Adding to a slow-growing canon, Dyer explores America's second great age of pool (roughly 1960-72) and the players who defined it: self-inventing bloviator Fats; shambling, hypochondriacal, shot-making genius Wimpy; and Red, gifted but a perennial also-ran. Pool hustlers, like con men, tap into an especially American envy of those who literally refuse to play by the rules. Dyer knows this, even as he, too, is seduced by the film noir quality of these lives: predatory masters of an obscure craft, the hustlers' greatest triumphs are little-known and most die broke and alone. One senses that the prose has been bullied in an attempt to make it sing, and one wonders if, despite his long research, the author is a bit too credulous when stories are too good to be true (he cites Fats' fanciful autobiography too often). Yet this labor of love has much to recommend it. Pool players leave no troves of correspondence for researchers, only great stories, and maybe that's enough. --Keir Graff Copyright 2003 Booklist

Publisher's Weekly Review

This lyrical, profane ode to the irresponsible life explores the dissolute romance of pool through the lives of legendary hustlers Minnesota Fats, Wimpy Lassiter and Jersey Red. Journalist Dyer follows the fluctuating fortunes of the hustler demimonde from its Depression-era heyday, when unemployed men flocked to pool halls looking to make a quick buck (?idle men?surge like lifeblood into poolrooms?), to the doldrums of the years after World War II, when these men had jobs, families and mortgages to absorb their time and money and a ?black plague infect[ed] pool,? to the explosion in pool?s popularity in the 1960s, after the movie The Hustler glamorized it for a new generation seeking escape from propriety. Following sociologist Ned Polsky, Dyer appreciates the pool hall as the last redoubt of the ?permanent bachelor,? a classless, defeminized zone where ?men argued and spat and threw money across green felt? and evaded the burdens of respectability and domesticity. Dyer brings this subculture to life through many colorful anecdotes about his three anti-heroes, examining their childhood opposition to chores, their unfitness for gainful employment, their titanic tournament duels, where their human deficiencies become virtues, and the sad denouement?especially for pool demi-god Wimpy Lassiter?of a lonely old age. His prose can shade toward the purple (?[Jersey Red] came at the other fellow ferociously?his young lion heart pounding with every soft thud of the nine-ball,?) but connoisseurs of urban decadence will enjoy soaking up the rich atmospherics. Photos. (Nov.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.

Library Journal Review

According to the author, a newspaper reporter and frequent contributor to Billiards Digest, Rudolf Wanderone, the man who became famous as Minnesota Fats, was no more the "real" Minnesota Fats than was Jackie Gleason, who portrayed Fats in the 1961 movie The Hustler. But no matter. Wanderone, previously known as New York Fats and Chicago Fats, was a professional hustler who often shied away from facing pool's best in tournament play but who possessed a boundless aptitude for self-promotion. And in promoting himself as the person upon whom the character was based, he joined the landmark movie and another unknown, George Jansco, who in 1961 organized what would become the greatest annual pool hustlers' tournament in tiny Johnston City, IL, in sparking a renaissance that lifted the game from dark back rooms to bright family rooms across America. Dyer also follows two other billiards greats of this era, Luther "Wimpy" Lassiter and Jack "Jersey Red" Breitkopf, who through their brilliance with their cues also helped make the 1960s the golden age of the sport. Well researched and stylishly written, this salute to pool's glory days is recommended for all public libraries.-Jim Burns, Jacksonville P.L., FL (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

Introductionp. 1
Chapter 1 Shooting Down the Cowboyp. 8
Chapter 2 Under the Lemonade Sunp. 19
Chapter 3 The Ring Gamep. 38
Chapter 4 The Big Lie of Little Egyptp. 49
Chapter 5 The King of Norfolkp. 64
Chapter 6 The Death of Poolp. 87
Chapter 7 Red's Last Refugep. 101
Chapter 8 Crossroadsp. 114
Chapter 9 World's Greatest Roadhousep. 134
Chapter 10 1965p. 154
Chapter 11 The Wolfp. 174
Chapter 12 The Hustler Kingp. 190
Epilogue: Winners & Losersp. 208
Glossaryp. 223
Appendix I The Tournamentsp. 229
Appendix II Other Playersp. 235
Author's Notesp. 263
Acknowledgmentsp. 273