Guest Author - Carol Taller
Rudolph Wanderone, Jr., also known as New York Fats or Minnesota Fats, died on January 18, 1996 at the age of 83. Minnesota Fats was best known for his abilities as a hustler and a pool shark. His smooth talking and entertaining showmanship gained him international fame.
Fats was born in Brooklyn, New York. His parents were Swiss immigrants. At an early age he began spending time in pool halls, and then decided to travel cross county as a pool shark. He would often talk his way through games entertaining a room full of people and eventually taking money from all of them.
Eventually, Fats settled in Dowell, Illinois where the Johnston City hustler’s tournaments were held.
In 1963 a movie called “The Hustler” was released. It was about a professional billiard player who looked similar to New York Fats and was played by Jackie Gleason. After this movie Fats’ fame grew and he changed his name to Minnesota Fats. He was offered a television show called “Minnesota Fats Hustles The Stars”. On the show he would play famous celebrities and entertain his audience as he won an exciting game of pool.
Fats dubbed himself “the greatest pool shooter of all time” but in reality he never won a world championship. He was an excellent player, but there were others with more skill out there. He was, however, a great entertainer and hustler. He was known for wearing a one hundred dollar bill in his handkerchief pocket at a time when one hundred dollar bills were a shockingly large sum of money; he was all about entertaining.
Fats married Evelyn Groff on May 7, 1941. He loved animals and at one time admits to living with 30 - 40 cats and dog in his home in Dowell. He was known to find homes for strays and professed his dislike of killing any animals of any kind for any reason.
Fats divorced Groff in 1985 and remarried in 1993 to Theresa Bell. The remained married until Fats died in 1996.
Fats died of congestive heart failure in Nashville, Tennesee. He was still famous and enjoyed visiting nightclubs with country music where he was recognized and surrounded by admirers.