Friday, January 7, 2011

Mosconi and Greenleaf -- TOGETHER

Billiard Champs Entertain The Troops

Will the wonders of the Internet never cease? I just came across this very cool footage of legends Willie Mosconi and Ralph Greenleaf sharing an exhibition stage.  (Click here to see it.) Willie appears to be at the peak of his abilities.  Greenleaf looks hung over. The footage, from a website called British Pathe, was shot during a performance for injured troops at Gardner General Hospital, in Chicago. I suspect this footage was taken in January 1944, as it was in that month that Mosconi and Greenleaf went on a four-city tour together. Two months later Mosconi would be inducted into the army. Six years later, Greenleaf would be dead.

The two also reportedly joined together for a tour in 1934, shortly after Mosconi's debut in world competition.  Willie told biographer Stanley Cohen that Greenleaf was drunk for much of it. But even still, Greenleaf's staggering ability seemed undiminished. "I don't know how he did it," Willie said. "Even on long shots he seemed to be able to feel a ball right into the pocket, to shoot it just hard enough without banging away. It was like watching a virtuoso playing a violin, just beautiful."

You can also read about Greenleaf and Mosconi in The Hustler & The Champ.

-- R.A. Dyer

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Pool Synergy 11: What's in Mosconi's Case?

Consider exhibit A, above. It's a handwritten note in which someone has enumerated 13 pool shots, each of which has been described with just a few words. The unnamed author uses cursive letters that slant off to the right. It also looks like he took his time writing it because the script is deliberate. Almost tidy. And judging from the crease marks, one can assume the note was at one time folded into at least three sections. This tells me that the unnamed author must have been carrying the note around with him. 

Why are we examining this note? Because at one time it may have resided in the pool case of one William Joseph Mosconi, the 15-time world champion. I recently found it in the Archives Center of the  National Museum of American History in Washington. As part of my contribution this month to the  PoolSynergy project, I'm posting this note up here.

Quick review: Pool Synergy is a monthly collaborative effort in which online pool writers take on a single theme. This month it's pool gear. Our September host, Samm Diep of,  has asked us to provide photos and descriptions of stuff we put in our cases. But as I write about history here, I decided not to explore my own gear, but rather that of Willie Mosconi.

Many consider Mosconi to be the greatest player of all time. He was born in 1913, went on to win numerous world championships, was inducted into the Billiard Congress Hall of Fame, hobnobbed with the rich and famous.  This yellowed note, pictured above, was written by Mosconi sometime in the 1960s. It  includes a description  of the “Paul Newman” shot, an apparent reference to the shot the actor employed in The Hustler. Mosconi, as you may recall, was a technical adviser for the film and,   according to information on the Archive's website, these notes relate to shots employed in the movie. That could be. But it also could spell out Willie's exhibition trick shot routine, which doubtlessly also included the Paul Newman shot.

The Archives Center also possesses other objects that Willie doubtlessly carried in his case. I don’t have images of them here, but there are business cards and letters. The archives also possess several items that wouldn’t fit in Willie’s case, including scrapbooks, legal records, videos of Mosconi's appearance on the Ed Sullivan show and the affidavit attesting to his famous 526-ball straight pool run.

Now consider exhibit B, the simple piece of chalk pictured just above. Although you can’t tell it from this photo, this piece of chalk once rested on the rail of Willie Mosconi’s pool table in the basement of his Haddon Heights home. Flora Mosconi, Willie’s widow, gave it to me some years back.  The piece of chalk is not autographed or otherwise marked to signal its famous origins. But I know the truth. It looks well worn. But was it ever in Willie's case? You be the judge.


Thursday, April 8, 2010

Ursitti on Flora Mosconi

Pool historian Charlie Ursitti pens a lovely rememberence of "Auntie Flo" on the Pool & Billiard Magazine blog. Auntie Flo was none other than Flora Mosconi, wife of the late Willie Mosconi. Flora passed away March 25 in hospice care in New Jersey.

Writes Charlie: "I first met Auntie Flo back in 1977 while preparing for the ABC's Wide World of Sports telecast of the 'Great Pool Shootout' between Willie and Minnesota Fats. I was going back and forth between New York City and Haddon Heights, New Jersey where the Mosconis lived, bringing contracts and formats for Willie to approve.

"We had talked on the phone many times, but this would be the first time I would meet her in person. She prepared a big meal, for myself, my girlfriend, Willie, her daughter Gloria, her two her nieces, Nancy and Loretta, and herself. Auntie Flo had asked me what I wanted for dinner, and we settled on roast beef, baked potatoes, corn on the cob and New Jersey beefsteak tomatoes that were in season. She reminded me of my own mother the way she had prepared the meal and the warm greeting she gave me."

As promoter for the Great Shoot-Out, Ursitti had a long association with the Mosconis. He has also conducted a meticilous examination of Willie's records, which I reference in a column this month about Mosconi and Ralph Greenleaf. You can check it out in this month's Billiards Digest.

-- R.A. Dyer

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Flora Mosconi, widow of pool legend, dies

Flora Mosconi, the widow of Willie Mosconi and a woman credited with bringing love, warmth and stability to the pool legend's family during his long years on the road, has passed away after a long illness. She was 87.

Ms. Mosconi, formerly Flora Marchini, met Willie in 1952 and they were married a year later. They lived out most of their years at a home in Haddonfield, New Jersey, not far from where Ms. Mosconi passed away March 25 in hospice care.

Her husband, who was among the finest pool players in U.S. history, spent long months away from home as he participated in tournaments and promotional activities. Flora accompanied him on many of these trips, but also ran the household in his absence.

She became a mother for Mosconi's two children from a previous marriage, William, Jr. and Candace. The Mosconis also had a child of their own, Gloria, who died of breast cancer about a decade ago.

Flora was introduced to Mr. Mosconi by a co-worker, who happened to be Mr. Mosconi's cousin. Quoted in The Hustler & The Champ, a Mosconi biography, Flora Mosconi recalled that she was just 19 years old when she first set eyes on the world champion. "Well, you know, I worked at the telephone company with his cousin, and she asked me one day to go out on a double date,” she said. “You know, I never heard of Willie Mosconi, never heard of billiards -- and she wants me to go out with Willie Mosconi. She says, ‘He’s divorced and has two kids,’ and I said, ‘No, thanks! I don’t want a man with kids.’”

But after the first date, the future Ms. Mosconi was smitten. “I knew right away, I mean—I knew. And when I got home, my brother was asleep, and I woke him up, and I said, ‘Guess what? I’m going to marry Willie Mosconi!’”

Quoted in the same biography, William Mosconi, Jr. recalled the warmth that his new stepmother brought to their home. Prior to her arrival on the scene, William and Candace had been shuttled between various homes during their father's long absences. But Flora Mosconi brought the family together, said William, Jr..

“He (my father) was gone a lot for more than ten years -- even when I went through high school -- and [Flora] raised us up through high school,” said William, Jr. “(My father) wasn’t here. For six years he wasn’t home at all, except during the summer because they didn’t have air conditioning, and so he didn’t play pool then. ... [But Flora] made a home for him. ... At the end of his life he said she made all our lives as good as they could be. She created a home, which we never would have had."

William Mosconi, Jr. said that his stepmother, a life-long smoker, had become increasingly frail in recent months, especially after a fall around Thanksgiving. She is survived by the two stepchildren, five grand children and two great grand children. Willie Mosconi, winner of 15 world championships and holder of the official high run in straight pool, died in 1993.

-- R.A. Dyer

Sunday, March 7, 2010

The History of Pool Cue Abuse

Earl Strickland's emotional outbursts have earned him a lot of criticism over the years. But judging from internet traffic, they also have brought a lot of attention to the sport. As of March 7, 2010, the image of Earl smashing his pool cue in frustration during a Mosconi Cup event has been viewed 181,233 times (181,238 if you count the five times I watched it that day). I've included the video, above, for your amusement.

But know that Earl is not alone for engaging in such over-the-top antics. Some of the very greatest players in our sport have been known to snap a cue -- or worse -- in a fit of pique. Check out, for instance, the article at right. It describes the great Ralph Greenleaf breaking his cue during a match-up with Mosconi. This occurred in 1945, during what would turn out to be Greenleaf's last world championship competition with Mosconi. At the time, Greenleaf was clearly in decline while Willie was on the way up.

There's also a story in The Hustler and The Champ that describes an angry Mosconi brandishing his cue like a spear during a 1965 tournament.

-- R.A. Dyer

Friday, February 26, 2010

Mosconi's Wallet and "The Paul Newman Shot"

The National Museum of American History in Washington D.C. -- specifically its Archives Center -- has in its possession a great collection of artifacts relating to Willie Mosconi. Flora Mosconi, Willie's widow, donated the items to the prestigious museum in 2003. She also donated a cue stick, trophies, and an ivory cue ball to the Museum's Division of Cultural History.

The archival image above is of Willie tutoring Paul Newman and Jackie Gleason on the set of the The Hustler. Mosconi was the technical director for the film and had actually recommended Frank Sinatra for the Fast Eddy part. Instead director Robert Rossen went with Newman. You can read more about The Hustler, including eyewitness accounts from Willie's son, in The Hustler & The Champ.

I've also included at the right some handwritten notes crafted by Mosconi. According to information on the Archive's website, these notes relate to strategy while Willie was working on The Hustler. I'm not so sure. The folks in the Archives may have made this assumption, in that the notes make reference to the "Paul Newman shot". However, it looks to me like these notes spell out Willie's exhibition trick shot routine, which doubtlessly also included the "Paul Newman shot." What do you think? You can click on the image at right to get a better view of the notes. Either way, I think they're particularly cool in that they apparently remained folded in Willie's wallet for quite some time. And by the way, you can check out the "Paul Newman shot" by clicking here.

The museum collection also includes identification and business cards, letters, and scrapbooks. Mosconi's professional and career papers housed at the center include those relating to his work on behalf of Brunswick, legal records, and affidavits attesting to straight pool records. The museum also possesses videos of Mosconi's appearance on the Ed Sullivan show. You can go to Archives Center website for more information about the collection and to read the rules for viewing the artifacts next time you're in Washington.

-- R.A. Dyer

Friday, February 19, 2010

Willie Mosconi: Sometimes your idols disappoint

BCA Instructor Roy Pastor sends in this picture (at right) of himself, circa 1969, standing next to his then-idol, Willie Mosconi. I say "next to" and not "with" because the boy had to resort to subterfuge to have the picture taken with the great champion. Mosconi was a great player, but he could also be a tough and difficult man -- as Pastor's somewhat sad story about this photograph attests.

I've also attached a photograph below of Roy standing with Cueball Kelly and Onofrio Lauri. That picture also figures into Roy's story, which you can read in his note that I've attached below.

I grappled a little bit about posting this story -- after all Mosconi was one of the great icons of our game. But it's also an indisputable fact that there was a darker side to the man -- that much became clear to me as I wrote
The Hustler & The Champ. It also seems clear to me that for our history to be legitimate, we must endeavor to capture and convey the full story of its icons, both the good and the bad.

Here's Roy's letter:

"When I was 12 years old, back in 1969, my father took me to see an exhibition match between my idol Willie Mosconi and the house pro at Golden Q billiards in Queens New York. I was very excited as I watched Mosconi run 60 + balls to win the match.

We did not realize that Mosconi was selling copies of his book. When my dad asked him if he could take a picture of Mosconi with me, Mosconi replied that he would on the condition that my dad would purchase one of his books. Unfortunately, my father did not have enough money to buy a book. As a result, Mosconi refused to shake my hand or pose for a photograph with me. My disappointment must have been obvious because “Cue Ball” Kelly and “Kid” Laurie came right over, introduced themselves, posed for photos and were very kind. I think that it was Kelly who told me to go over and stand next to Mosconi while he was giving an interview. That way, even though he would not look at the camera, I had a picture with him.

I have kept the photos from that day as a reminder of my interactions with these legends of the sport. I always wondered how Mosconi could have so easily disappointed a 12-year-old star struck fan."