Wednesday, June 15, 2011

PoolSynergy20: The Hustlers' Jamboree

I’ve been thinking a lot about Johnston City lately, especially given that the 50th anniversary of the Hustlers Jamboree is just around the corner.  For those who have never heard of it, the famous tournament started out as a tiny backwoods affair. Eventually, however, it grew into one of the most celebrated pool competitions in American history.   The first Johnston City event featured one-pocket only and almost no spectators. The last had nine-ball, straight-pool, one-pocket — and so much gambling that it was raided by federal agents.

I've written plenty about Johnston City over the last several years and as a consequence I've received several letters from folks who witnessed all the mayhem first hand.  For my PoolSynergy contribution this month I figured I'd turn those letters into gold. Our assignment was to describe what makes for a great tournament experience.  Who better to opine about this topic than folks who were present for America's great Hustler Jamborees?

But before we get going, let me first provide the Cliff Notes explanation as to why you should care about Johnston City. As noted previously, the first of these events was conducted in 1961. The last was in 1972. They were organized by the brothers George and Paulie Jansco and drafted off the popularity of The Hustler, the famous movie featuring Paul Newman and Jackie Gleason. The tournaments were noteworthy for many reasons, not the least of which was their elevation of nine-ball as the official tournament game of pool and because they helped to establish Minnesota Fats as America's most famous pool player.  The tournaments were also the first significant pool events to bring gambling out of the shadows. In fact it was the gambling —and the romance that surrounded it —that attracted the national media to Johnston City.  Whether for good or bad, this is simply a fact.
Johnston City Sign
Ross Parker Simons, center, with his Dad and unidentified man.

For those who are unfamiliar with the events, I've written a retrospective essay in this month's Billiards Digest. You can find it here.  There's also plenty of information about Johnston City in Hustler Days and The Hustler & The Champ.  I maintain this Johnston City blog with plenty of anecdotes, pictures and video about the event, which you can find here. And just above I've reproduced a video of the famous Minnesota Fats holding forth in Johnston City.

And now on to the letters:

          Gary Carlson writes that in 1965 or 1966 he piled into a Chevy Impala with a friend and the two drove down from Decatur, Illinois to Johnston City. And that's where he witnessed the famous "toilet brush" incident.

I didn’t know what was going on — I knew nobody. The place was wall-to-wall packed. Difficult to see the action and it seemed somewhat disorganized. After watching endless 9-ball, we learned that the more interesting stuff was going on “out back.” I can’t recall (after all, this was about 45 years ago) if it was in a part of the same room walled off or a small building separate from the main room. I think we paid $5 for entry. It was north of the main building (which was like fifties deco), the latter which sat on the northwest quarter of the intersection. In any case, we were there only maybe a couple hours and the only memory I have was in this back room. I recall or heard of or saw “Jersey Red,” Eddie “Knoxville” Taylor, and “Big Daddy Warbucks” who I much later learned was Hubert Cokes. The match I recall was between Big Daddy and somebody else — I can’t recall who —seems like Taylor, but I’m not totally sure if Taylor or Red were even there that year and I just heard their names — but it was certainly Big Daddy. I also remember a LONG conversation about what the handicap would be. The game was going to be 8-ball and a race to something for $100 (good money back then). Now, instead of their bridge hand, Warbucks was to use his hat for a bridge and the other guy went into the toilet and returned with a big toilet brush."
 And here’s a note from John Rousseau, who read my Billiards Digest essay:

“I am glad I went to Southern Illinois during that period and got to go to Johnson City every day. Grades sucked but it was quite an experience on life. I was there that night thanks to my deceit and larceny. The tickets for the broadcast were very expensive so I bought extra tickets for the regular tournament as they had no date or reference to ABC. We made a stink at the front door when they refused to admit us when Jim McKay yelled out, this is f------ live, let the a**holes in!”

Ross Parker Simons in 1965 with Boston Shorty.
Ross Parker Simons was just 13 when he want to Johnston City. That’s a picture of him on the right and above. Here's what he has to say:

“When I was 13, my father took me out of school is Wisconsin for a road trip to Johnston City and the Jansco Brothers 1965 tournament. I don't recall my mother's reaction, although she couldn't have been too mad as she packed a cooler with fried chicken and seven ounce bottles of Schlitz for the overnight drive. ... Although I don't recall much about the games, I knew good pool and remember that Harold Worst was impressive.  Looked like a haberdasher and shot like a machine.  I also liked to watch one pocket.  What's funny about the picture of Boston Shorty now that I look at it is his bored sneer... like beat it kid.  But I don't remember anyone being rude to me, even the imperious Daddy Warbucks.  Saw Handsome Danny Jones there and he was, in fact, quite handsome.”
You can read more at this Johnston City blog, including some recollections of Karen Fox, whose husband co-authored the autobiography of Minnesota Fats. And if you were old enough to remember Johnston City, please drop me a line.

Before I sign off, I would like to leave you with this last thought. I believe it's high time that George and Paulie Jansco, the late promoters of Johnston City, were inducted into the Billiard Congress Hall of Fame. They've already been inducted into the One Pocket Hall of Fame, but now it's time for them to be honored by the BCA. If you agree (or even if you don't) send a note to Billiards Digest or your favorite pool magazine.

About PoolSynergy
PoolSynergy is an online collaborative effort by pool and billiard bloggers, in which each agrees to write about a single theme. PoolSynergy submissions are published simultaneously by each of the participating blogs on the 15th of every month. To read a list of the other fine contributions this month, check out Mike Fieldhammer's excellent Billiard Coach blog, which you can find here.


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