ISSUE DATE: Dec. 29, 1961
Click. The nine ball plops into the side pocket, the cue ball hits one cushion and stops near the center spot. Big as a water tower but light on his feet, with a diamond ring on a pudgy finger, the fat man moves around the table. For 31 consecutive hours, with an almost incredible repertoire of masse shots, bank shots, gather shots, and combinations, with just enough English and the right amount of draw, he has been defending his reputation as the best there is. He chalks up and shoots again. Click. The 15 ball slams into the corner and disappears. Minnesota Fats is still the greatest pool shark in the world.
It is a relatively small part—in Robert Rossen’s movie The Hustler—but no one who has seen that fat man will forget him. A man of understated power, Minnesota Fats is played, curiously enough, by Jackie Gleason, and where audiences might have arrived expecting a million laughs from the most celebrated buffoon ever to rise through U.S. television, they leave with a single, if surprised, reaction: inside the master jester, there is a masterful actor. Gleason, the storied comedian, egotist, golfer, and gourmand, mystic, hypnotist, boozer and bull slinger, is now emerging as a first-rank star of motion pictures.
Read the full story here
Next J.D. Salinger