In 1961 Jackie Gleason played the role of Minnesota Fats in a movie, The Hustler, that drew heavily on the character of Rudolph Walter Wanderone Jr., generally known as New York Fats, though sometimes as Chicago Fats and Omaha Fats. Wanderone sued, unsuccessfully, but now he has attained his revenge. New York Fats has become Minnesota Fats.
This transformation is attested in a new book, The Bank Shot and Other Great Robberies, by Minnesota Fats with Tom Fox (World Publishing Co., $5.95). The author is good old New York, Omaha and Chicago Fats Wanderone (his collaborator is, was and always has been Tom Fox, a talented Philadelphia journalist who covered the first Johnson City, Ill. pool hustlers' tournament for SI).
Although the Fat Man says he has been a hustler since the age of 6, there is no paragraph in the book on how to hustle. This, he explains, is because hustling is a personal business, not confined to pool halls. (Fats thinks stockbrokers are the greatest hustlers of all.)
The first part of Fats's book is marred by interminable repetitions of his own pet jargon—everything is a zillion times, and every time he wins a lot of money, which is often, he shoots out the lights. If Fats is to be believed, and throughout the book he gives repeated assurances that his narrative is "on the square," his life from boyhood through his recent retirement from the active pool hustler's circuit was a steady run of good times, hard shooting, prodigious eating, losing craps and a lot of fun all along the line.
Fats drops names like balls in the right pocket of his favorite game, "one pocket." They are all there: Titanic Thompson, the greatest hustler of all time; Johnny Carson, whom Fats once squarely hustled on national television; and many other show-business figures, as well as some pool hall inhabitants with names like Weenie Beanie, Boston Shorty, Daddy Warbucks and Tuscaloosa Squirrelly.
Wanderone says that at an early stage of his career he was called Double-Smart Fats and sometimes even Triple-Smart Fats, the supreme accolade. He complains that after he became famous he had to give tremendous odds to get any action going, but once under way, he always "shot out the lights."
After the garrulous early chapters, Fats tightens up his prose considerably to present a first-rate primer on billiards. Beginning with fundamentals ("The tip of your nose should be in a straight line with the cue and the cue ball"), Fats proceeds through the intricacies of English, bank shots, combinations and kisses with the aid of clear and clever diagrams. All in all, this book would make a fine addition to the library of any pool fan—be he pigeon, shooter, hustler or just plain spectator.
—JOHN F. MURPHY
In 1949 a candy manufacturer died in Portland, Me., leaving behind a large collection of cheap copybooks in which he had noted every item of interest encountered during more than 30 years of hunting and fishing, bird watching and rock collecting, "peeping and botanizing," in many parts of the state. The mound of copybooks weighed more than 200 pounds, indicating that both his interests and his powers of observation were substantial.
After years of devoted labor by his friends, the essence of Herbert M. W. Haven's diaries has been published in a little paperback volume called Tales of a Homemade Naturalist. (It may be ordered for $2.95 from the Winthrop Mineral Shop, Route 2, Winthrop, Me. 04364.) It is a curious collection of lists, hearsay and observation. In the 99% of the diaries left unpublished, the editors suggest, there are enough detailed local lists of birds and plants to be of some scientific value. But these, it is claimed, "are dull reading for too many people. It is necessary to stress the items of human interest at the cost of the strictly scientific."
So, instead of being filed away in the archives of some obscure learned society, a part of Haven's diaries has been opened to the world. The world appreciates a man who walks about it with his eyes wide open. Haven even recorded signs that met his eye along the way, as this one in front of a hotel did: "$3 for strangers, $1.50 for old customers." If he is an amateur naturalist, so much the better. From the "parochial history" of Gilbert White (a curate) to that account of housekeeping on Walden Pond by Thoreau (a pencil manufacturer), readers have treasured natural histories which somehow prove too broad to slide into the tomb of a researcher's filing drawer.
Haven's curiosity never flags. He reports that "Judge McLaughlin counted 3160 calls of a Whip-poor-will the other night." He records the going price for fox and raccoon skins, as well as the habits of the razor clam and the technique of fishing for smelts. There are, as in every interesting diary, bits of gossip: "Old Chief Metallac's wife died during the winter. They claim that he smoked her over a fire and kept her until spring."
If he came across neither the meanness nor the sublimity which Thoreau sought in the woods, Herb Haven found in the Maine outdoors "pasture enough" for his imagination. And perhaps, like White, he has induced his readers "to pay more ready attention to the wonders of the Creation."
—FRANK GRAHAM JR.