Minnesota Fats, or George Hegerman, is a fictional pool hustler created by American novelist Walter Tevis. The character appears in Tevis' novels The Hustler (1959) and The Color of Money (1986). Jackie Gleason portrayed the character in the 1961 film adaptation of The Hustler, a performance that received several awards and nominations.
The character was an original creation of Tevis, though a real pool hustler, Rudolf Wanderone, who began calling himself "Minnesota Fats" in 1961, claimed to be the inspiration. Tevis denied Wanderone's claim, though Wanderone capitalized on it for years.
Rudolf Wanderone as "Minnesota Fats"
Real-life pool hustler and entertainer Rudolf Wanderone was known as "New York Fats" (among other nicknames) when the book was published. Realizing there was money to be made from being associated with the success of the book and subsequent film, he changed his nickname to match the fiction and later went on to play himself as the character "Minnesota Fats" in the film The Player (1971). Tevis consistently denied that Wanderone had anything to do with the author's character, writing in a subsequent printing of The Hustler: "I made up Minnesota Fats—name and all—as surely as Disney made up Donald Duck".
Wanderone's association with the name started in 1961. That year, while at a drive-in movie theater owned by a friend of Wanderone's (George Jansco), in Johnston City, Illinois, showing The Hustler, Wanderone boasted that the author had based the character upon himself, which was picked up by local news and soon by the U.S. national press. Willie Mosconi – famed as the 15-time winner of the World Straight Pool Championship and the technical adviser for the filming of the The Hustler – disputed the claim, which had the paradoxical effect of giving it more notoriety. Wanderone capitalized on this, threatening to sue Tevis and 20th Century Fox. Tevis responded by denying he had ever met Wanderone. Meanwhile, the press covered it all, and the association became fixed. Wanderone's second wife later claimed that a financial settlement had been made by Tevis to avoid a lawsuit, which Wanderone's first wife denied.
Jackie Gleason played Minnesota Fats in the 1961 adaptation of The Hustler. His performance earned Best Supporting Actor nominations for the Academy Award and the Golden Globe, and the Best Supporting Actor award by the National Board of Review of Motion Pictures. The Minnesota Fats character did not appear in the 1986 film version of The Color of Money, which had an entirely different storyline from the novel.
- Minnesota Fats: Pool Legend, a Sega Genesis and Sega Saturn video game
- Thomas, Robert (January 19, 1996). "Minnesota Fats, a Real Hustler With a Pool Cue, Is Dead". New York Times.
- "People". Time. New York. December 28, 1970. Retrieved December 20, 2009.
- R. A. Dyer (July 1, 2005). Hustler Days: Minnesota Fats, Wimpy Lassiter, Jersey Red and America's Great_age of Pool. Globe Pequot Press. p. 122. ISBN 978-1-59228-646-1.
- Le Batard, Dan (June 21, 1989). "He Still Has the Magic Touch: Willie Mosconi, 75, Says He Doesn't Miss Pool, but on Recent Tour You'd Never Know It". Los Angeles Times.
- Johnny Hughes (August 17, 2012). Famous Gamblers, Poker History, and Texas Stories. iUniverse. p. 71. ISBN 978-1-4759-4217-0.
- Jay Helfert (June 7, 2012). Pool Wars: On the Road to Hell and Back with the World's Greatest Money Players. iUniverse. p. 3. ISBN 978-1-4759-2592-0.
- "The Hustler — Awards". allmovieguide.com. Retrieved 2008-03-31.
- "Awards Search: The Hustler". Hollywood Foreign Press Association. Retrieved 2008-03-31.
- "Awards - 1961". National Board of Review of Motion Pictures. Retrieved 2008-03-31.