From the Publisher
By Mike Panozzo
Mike became editor of Billiards Digest in 1980 and liked it so much that he bought the company. He has served on the Billiard Congress of America board of directors and as president of the Billiard & Bowling Institute of America.
June: Oh, To Be Old Again!
I'M ALWAYS hesitant to bring up "the old days" because it just plain makes me feel, well, old! But I've now found a loophole! I find that if I discuss "old days" that preceded my grown-up job days, I actually feel younger! (Try it sometime.)
Which brings me to Johnston City, the legacy of which is wonderfully chronicled this month by R.A. Dyer. The dusty hamlet in southern Illinois was, for a decade, the epicenter of the pool universe, thanks to the brothers Jansco, who loved both pool and action. George and Paulie owned a roadhouse called the J&J Ranch, and also a members-only poolroom, the Cue Club. In 1961, at the urging of a few pool-hustling acquaintances, they hosted the first "World's Billiard Tournament," which featured one-pocket and drew only 14 competitors.
By most standards, a 10-day, 14-player one-pocket event wouldn't justify much attention. Luckily for the Janscos (and pool!), a young sports columnist from the Evansville Courier and Express saw beyond "most standards." Tom Fox, young and curious and always interested in a good story, barreled over to the Cue Club to check out the Janscos' first event. As Dyer rightfully notes, the young writer paid little attention to match results. He was, instead, fascinated by the characters who lit up the tiny, dark poolroom with braggadocio, wit, street smarts and daring.
Fox then did something for which not enough credit has ever been given. He packed his encounters and observations into a nice little feature story and pitched the story, "Hustlers' Holiday in the Lion's Den," to Sports Illustrated. The timing was absolutely perfect. The movie "The Hustler" had been released exactly one month before the Janscos' first tournament began. The film, depicting the dark side of pool with its gambling and hustlers, was fresh in the public's mind. And Fox's classic piece in SI set the New York media machine into high gear. For the next half-dozen years, television crews and storytellers from around the country descended on Johnston City like locust, and all the hustlers showed up for their cameos. Legends were made...Fats switched his identity from "New York" to "Minnesota," Ronnie Allen became "Fast Eddie" and Danny Jones became "Handsome." ABC's "Wide World of Sports" aired the final matches.
I never had a chance to witness the annual month-long "Hustler's Jamboree," as the event came to be known. That was before my time. (See that? I feel younger already!) But I never tire of the stories that came out of those events. Fox went on to write numerous profiles from Johnston City for Bowlers Journal and Billiard Revue, the precursor to Billiards Digest. He was a great storyteller, and no one brought the characters of that era to life like he did.
I envy Fox and my old boss, Mort Luby, Jr. They used to spend weeks in Johnston City watching the action, but mostly following the players in and out of the tournament arena. Al Miller, Tommy Cosmo, "Cornbread Red," Fatty, Allen, "Weenie Beenie," "Shorty," Jones, Tugboat Whaley… You can't make up people like that. Mort always told me the best stuff he got was following the players around the golf course the Janscos carved into the countryside around the Cue Club. They'd tell tales and skewer one another with barbs for hours on end. Mort used to come back to the office with several spiral notebooks filled with stories and quotes, enough material to keep the magazine's editorial well filled for almost a year.
When I first started with Billiards Digest, I spent all my free time poring over those old issues from the '60s.
What a great era.
Darn! I wish I was older!