Willie Mosconi

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Willie Mosconi
Mosconi&Moore.png
Mosconi (left) with "Cowboy Jimmy" Moore at the 1953 World's Invitational[1]
Born William Joseph Mosconi
June 27, 1913
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania[2]
Died September 17, 1993(1993-09-17) (aged 80)
Haddon Heights, New Jersey
Other names "Mr. Pocket Billiards"

William Joseph Mosconi (/mɒsˈkni/; June 27, 1913 – September 17, 1993), generally known as Willie Mosconi, was an American professional pool (pocket billiards) player from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Between the years of 1941 and 1957, he won the World Straight Pool Championship an unmatched fifteen times. For most of the 20th century, his name was essentially synonymous with pool in North America – he was nicknamed "Mr. Pocket Billiards" – and he was among the first Billiard Congress of America Hall of Fame inductees.[3] Mosconi pioneered and regularly employed numerous trick shots, set many records, and helped to popularize pool as a national recreation activity.

During the 1940s and 1950s, the pocket billiards game most often played in competition was called straight pool, or 14.1 continuous, a form of pool considered by most top players to be more difficult than today's fast tournament game nine-ball. Mosconi still holds the officially recognized straight pool high run world record of 526 consecutive balls (see below for more details).

Early life[edit]

Willie's father Joseph Mosconi owned a pool hall that the family lived above. Joseph Mosconi was strongly opposed to Willie playing pocket billiards, preferring he become a Vaudeville performer. He tried to keep his young son away from the game by hiding the billiard balls, but Willie improvised by practicing with small potatoes from his mother's kitchen and an old broomstick.[4]

The young Mosconi was a prodigy and his father soon realized that his son's talent could help earn money for their growing family. His father began advertising challenge matches, and though Willie had to stand on a box in order to reach the table, he beat experienced players many years his senior.[5]

In 1919, an exhibition match was arranged between six-year-old Mosconi and the reigning World Champion, Ralph Greenleaf. The hall was packed, and though Greenleaf won that match, Mosconi played well enough to draw considerable attention and launch his professional career.[5]

Tournaments and exhibitions[edit]

In 1924, at the age of 11, Mosconi was the juvenile straight pool champion and was regularly holding trick shot exhibitions.[6] By the early 1930s, Mosconi had taken a brief hiatus from the game, but returned a few years later in the hopes of earning some money.[5]

Upon his return, Mosconi entered one local tournament after another and according to his autobiography, "Willie's Game",[7] he won them all. After a short while, Mosconi was making a living as a professional pool player. Willie claimed he never hustled anyone, beating everyone honestly: "I played everyone straight".[5]

In 1933, Mosconi competed in the Billiard Congress of America (BCA) World Straight Pool Championship. He nearly won the title but lost in the final to Erwin Rudolph.[8]

His performance garnered the attention of the president of Brunswick Corporation who immediately hired the young phenom. That same year, Mosconi embarked on a hectic cross-country exhibition tour promoting Brunswick products. Mosconi was joined by his idol and then World Champion Ralph Greenleaf, who was at the top of his game. In the end the scoreline read 57 wins for Greenleaf and a close 50 for the 20-year-old Mosconi.[3]

From 1940 to 1941, a round-robin tournament series was sponsored by billiard halls, with eight invitational players. Mosconi was sponsored by a hall in New York City called McGirr's. He dominated this series, and ran 125 balls from the break five times when only two other players in history had ever done the same.[citation needed]

In 1944, Mosconi enlisted in the US Army, having already spent several years working within the defense industry. When World War II ended, he returned to a successful tournament career and renewed his affiliation with Brunswick.[5]

After suffering a stroke in 1956, Mosconi slowed down on his tournament appearances in order to recover.[5] He returned to the game at nearly 100% by 1957, when he once again won the BCA World Championship.[citation needed]

Mosconi retired from tournament play in 1966 but remained active in promoting the game. He consulted and appeared in several movies dealing with billiards, made game show appearances and wrote many articles on billiards, as well as co-authored some books. A feud with pool hustler Rudolf "Minnesota Fats" Wanderone (concocted mainly by Wanderone himself) kept Mosconi in the spotlight well into the 1970s and 1980s.

As an author[edit]

Mosconi authored an autobiography titled Willie's Game, published in 1993.[7]

He and a ghost writer authored an instructional book on pocket billiards entitled Willie Mosconi on Pocket Billiards.[9] In the book he offers advice on fundamentals, includes photographs and diagrams on shotmaking and provides straight pool strategies. The book was published originally [number 121 in the Little Sports Library series] by Ziff-Davis Publishing Company of Chicago & New York in 1948. It was reissued by Crown Publishers of New York in 1959. A second ghost-written book (which on some finer points contradicts On Pocket Billiards) was also published under his name.

526 high run[edit]

Mosconi set the world record by running 526 consecutive balls without a miss during a straight pool exhibition in Springfield, Ohio on March 19–20, 1954. To this day the record has not been toppled and many speculate it may never be bested.[10][11] A handwritten and notarized affidavit[12] with the signatures of more than 35 eyewitnesses exists as proof of this feat.

The record was set on a 4 × 8 foot Brunswick table with 5 1/4 inch corner pockets at the East High Billiard Club. Today's standard for tables may be considered more difficult to play on than this exhibition table in the sense that longer shots are required (today's standard tables are 9 x 4 1/2 ft) with 4 1/2 to 4 3/4 inch pockets, but today's tables may be considered easier to play on in the sense that there is more room for the balls to spread, creating unfettered shots. Mosconi competed successfully on 4 1/2 × 9 and 5 x 10 ft tables. The 526-ball record just happened to be on a 4 × 8 ft table, a size seldom used in professional play, but used for the billiard club exhibition that day. In fact, the room owner expected the exhibition to take place on the room's 9 foot table.[citation needed] That table was not a Brunswick, so Willie was required to play on one of the Brunswick 8 foot tables.[citation needed]

The Hustler (1961)[edit]

Mosconi was the technical advisor on the 1961 film The Hustler, starring Paul Newman, Jackie Gleason and Piper Laurie. The movie played a major part in the boom in the popularity of pool. Mosconi's job was to teach Newman how to walk, talk, and shoot like a real pool hustler. Newman had never even picked up a pool cue prior to filming, but his relative inexperience was undetectable due to Mosconi's expert instruction. According to Mosconi, Gleason already knew his way around a billiard table[13] and Mosconi recommended Gleason for the role of the original "Minnesota Fats".[5]

Mosconi also had a cameo role as himself, acting as a stakes holder during the first match-up between the film's characters "Fast Eddie" Felson and "Minnesota Fats". Gleason can be heard saying "Willie, hang on to that" (the stakes money) when the match commences. At various points in the extended scene, Mosconi can be seen in the audience watching the match.

The documentary short "The Hustler: The Inside Story", featured on The Hustler Special Edition DVD revealed that whenever the camera cut to Fast Eddie's hands it was really Mosconi taking the shot. (However, IMDb claims that the only shot Mosconi took was the masse shot during Fast Eddie's rematch with Fats).[14]

Filmography[edit]

1937: "Super Cue Men", a short feature starring Mosconi, Jimmy Caras and Joi Lansing.

1945: Columbia World of Sports: "Champion of the Cue", an eight-minute "sports reel" in which Mosconi demonstrates his cueing expertise in slow motion.

1953: Columbia World of Sports: "Billiard and Bowling Champs", another short documentary starring Willie Mosconi and carom billiards great Willie Hoppe (as well as bowlers), once again in slow motion.

1950–57: Mosconi appeared on Toast of the Town later known as The Ed Sullivan Show on three occasions: April 23, 1950, January 6, 1952

September 25, 1961: Theatrical release of The Hustler (see above).

February 5, 1962: Mosconi was a contestant on the television game show I've Got a Secret.

September 2, 1962: Mosconi was a contestant on the television game show What's My Line?.

1966: An episode of Get Smart, "The Dead Spy Scrawls" {1/18}, featured actor Harry Bartell in the role of "Willie Marconi," trying to teach Maxwell Smart how to play pool. While some have erroneously believed this is a cameo of Willie Mosconi playing himself, the Marconi character is a fictitious but obvious tribute to Mosconi, who is acknowledged by The Chief as "the greatest pool player in the world."

February 25, 1978: "The Great Pool Shoot-Out", a US$15,000 match between Rudolf "Minnesota Fats" Wanderone, Jr. and Mosconi at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City. Mosconi won the nine-ball competition in three sets, 5–2, 5–3 and 5–2. Aired on ABC's Wide World of Sports[15] with commentator Howard Cosell and referee Charles Ursitti.

Throughout the 1970s and 1980s: Mosconi made several other television appearances competing in challenge matches with other legends such as Jimmy Caras, Luther Lassiter, Irving Crane, Joe Balsis and "Fats" Wanderone. Many of these shows aired on ABC and the fledgling ESPN network.

May 9, 1980: Mosconi played a sportscaster in the film The Baltimore Bullet starring James Coburn and Omar Sharif.

1982: He appeared in the music video for George Thorogood's "Bad to the Bone".

August 10, 1991: Mosconi played his last challenge match, against Jimmy Caras at the Valley Billiards Hall of Fame tribute dinner show. The event was hosted by billiard artists the Birkbeck Twins at the Williamson Restaurant in Horsham, Pennsylvania. Both players were stopped every couple of racks for interviews.

The Mosconi legacy[edit]

In 1968, at the age of 55, Willie Mosconi was inducted into the Billiard Congress of America Hall of Fame.[3]

In 1994, the Mosconi Cup, an annual pool competition between American and European players, was founded in Willie's honor. The event has been held in December of every year since then and is more popular than ever, especially in Europe. The Mosconi Cup is considered the Ryder Cup of the billiard world, and being asked to play in the event is regarded with prestige both among the American and European billiard community.

In 2006, Mosconi was posthumously honored with membership in the Philadelphia Sports Hall of Fame.[16]

Personal life[edit]

Shortly before winning his first World Straight Pool Championship in 1941, Mosconi married Ann Harrison, his first wife. Shortly thereafter the first of his three children was born, William, Jr., who attended St. Joseph's Prep in Philadelphia and graduated with the class of 1959. Willie's and Ann's daughter, Candace, followed soon after William, Jr. The marriage ended in divorce.

Mosconi married his second wife, Flora Marchini, in 1953. Their daughter Gloria was born in 1954. Flora remained married to Willie until his death in 1993.

Death[edit]

Willie Mosconi died of a heart attack on September 17, 1993 at his home in Haddon Heights, New Jersey.[2] He is interred at New Saint Marys Cemetery, in Bellmawr, New Jersey.[17]

Notes[edit]

  • Billiards: The Official Rules and Records Book 1992
  • Billiard Digest, Vol 16, No. 2
  • Keen, Cathy (June 5, 2002). "WILLIE MOSCONI PAPERS, 1924-2000 #744". National Museum of American History. Smithsonian Institution. Retrieved 24 March 2012. 

References[edit]

  1. ^ Mizerak, Steve; Panozzo, Michael E. (1990). Steve Mizerak's Complete Book of Pool. Chicago, IL: Contemporary Books. p. 43. ISBN 0-8092-4255-9. 
  2. ^ a b "Willie Mosconi, 80; Was Champion Billiards Player". Seattle Times. September 18, 1993. Retrieved 7 January 2012. 
  3. ^ a b c "Hall of Fame Inductees: 1966-1968". Billiard Congress of America. Retrieved 24 March 2012. 
  4. ^ "Mosconi, "Willie" (William J.)". Sports Biographies. Ralph Hickok. Retrieved 24 March 2012. [unreliable source?]
  5. ^ a b c d e f g Keen, Cathy (2002). "Biography". WILLIE MOSCONI PAPERS, 1924-2000. National Museum of American History. Retrieved 9 January 2012. 
  6. ^ ""Boy Wonder" poster". National Museum of American History. Smithsonian Institution. c. 1924. Retrieved 24 March 2012. 
  7. ^ a b Mosconi, Willie; Stanley Cohen (1993). Willie's Game. NY: Macmillan. p. 264. ISBN 0-02-587495-0. 
  8. ^ Dyer, R.A. "Untold Stories: Mosconi Made World Debut by Weird Fluke". Billiards Digest. Retrieved 24 March 2012. 
  9. ^ Willie Mosconi on Pocket Billiards
  10. ^ Dyer, R. A. (2007). The Hustler & The Champ. Globe Pequot. p. 159. 
  11. ^ Billiards Forum, Willie Mosconi
  12. ^ Smithsonian Institution (image of the affidavit)
  13. ^ Jackie Gleason bio
  14. ^ IMDb Trivia
  15. ^ 1970s Sports Milestones via ESPN
  16. ^ "Inductees". Philadelphia Sports Hall of Fame. Retrieved 10 October 2013. 
  17. ^ "Willie Mosconi". findagrave.com. Find A Grave, Inc. Retrieved 4 July 2014. 

External links[edit]