Minnesota Fats

True Animal Stories by Pool Hustler Rudolf Wanderone

Minnesota FatsNew York pool hustler Rudolf Wanderone, also known as Fats and later as Minnesota Fats after the movie The Hustler portrayed a character by the same name who was strikingly similar to Fats, stopped in Du Quoin, Illinois one evening on his way to hustle pool down south. He had slid on the icy road into mail boxes and wanted to fix his car before traveling on. He met waitress Evelyn Inez and found plenty of gambling action in the area and decided to make the tiny village of Dowell his home. Soon, Evelyn Inez became his wife and pool halls in Southern Illinois were never the same.

A little known fact about Fats was that he loved animals. Reportedly he regularly kept 30 or 40 dogs and cats at his home in Dowell and found homes for hundreds of stray animals. Here's how he tells it in his book, Minnesota Fats, The Bank Shot and Other Great Robberies. Because Fats had a colorful vocabulary, there are editor's interpretation for a few of his phrases that are in parenthesis.

I'm crazy about every living creature, it doesn't matter what it happens to be. I even love insects; in fact, I wouldn't swat a fly or a mosquito for a whole barrel of gold. One time I drove all the way from Mobile, Alabama to Dowell and it was like in the summertime and my car was loaded with a zillion mosquitoes (ed. interpretation: a zillion is a lot more than a billion) but they didn't even bite me. It was unbelievable because if you happened to drive from Mobile to Dowell with a carload of pool hustlers, you would get bit so hard and so often that you would need a malaria vaccine and a new bankroll as well. (ed. interpretation: being bit by a carload of pool hustlers means you lost all your money on foolhardy bets)

Animals surpass humans on all counts. They not only never talk back, but animals appreciate kindness and affection in a way that most humans wouldn't understand to start with. If you can take an animal and tame it and make it next to human by showing it love and tenderness, like the doll with the lion cubs in Detroit, (ed. interpretation: a women with lion cubs) think what you ought to be able to accomplish with a human being who is supposed to have an intellect.

They way I see it, human beings could learn an awful lot from lesser creatures like cats and dogs and even crocodiles. One time a guy gave me a chicken. I didn't even know the fellow, only he knew how crazy I am about animals of all kinds. So this night I was playing cards in Du Quoin and this guy comes up and throws this chicken in the middle of the card table. I took that chicken home with me. It was real cold like in the wintertime and I didn't know what to do with the chicken so I went to this great big dog house in the back yard where there was 30 or 40 dogs and cats all sleeping together. So I threw the chicken in the dog house and went in and told Eva-line the story (ed. note: Eva-line is his nickname for his first wife, Evelyn).

"Rudolf," Eva-line said, "you must be out of your tree. Just because the dogs and cats sleep together, you can't put a chicken in there, too." So I told Eva-line, "Is that so? Well, well see. So we tiptoed out there and peeked in and this chicken was sitting sound asleep on top of this big dogs head. That's on the square." (ed. interpretation: he swears its true)

Now the reason the chicken was accorded immediate acceptance in the dog house was on account of my dogs and cats are accustomed to total kindness and affection and therefore aren't looking to touch off any beef jolts, (ed. interpretation: fights) not even at the drop of a live chicken. Out in my back yard everybody is just one of Gods little creatures. There's no discrimination of any type.

I've got this tremendous big old dog named Spotty and he watches over the rest of 'em, like he was a shepherd. I don't even know what kind of dog he is. He's just short and stocky with a heavy fur and enormous weight, only he don't throw his muscle around out back. He just gets up every morning like he's the top general and the rest of the dogs and cats fall in line like they were privates in the Army and Spotty goes by each one and washes their faces by hitting them a lick with his tongue. Its amazing. The dogs and cats just stand there like a five-year-old waiting for the Mama to come scrub him clean and old Spotty licks every face until he thinks its washed. Then he dismisses the whole outfit for breakfast. Its fantastic beyond compare.

minnesota fats and mohammed ali   minnesota fats and johnny carson
Muhammad Ali recognized
Fats as The Greatest at boasting.
  Fats hustles Johnny Carson
out of a dollar on national television.

Every one of my dogs and cats lives like the King and Queen of England. When I'm home every night I stop in at the Perfection Club and pick up maybe a 100 or 150 pounds of bones and leftover steaks. Sometimes a patron might leave a whole steak on the plate and Muzz (ed. note: restaurant owner Frank Riggio) drops it in the sack along with the bones. I'm always hustling like that. And when I happen to be on the road, Eva-line drops by to pick up the calories. (ed. interpretation: food)

So now, when all the regulars and the supernumerary strays from the neighbors places are finished, there's always enough left for any new faces that might happen to be in the vicinity. I always put out like two or three times the normal consumption because you never know who might be coming. In fact, hundreds and hundreds of birds wing down to belt out the off-fallings. In a week there might be a million birds eating out there. There're crazy about meat and bone and when they get their fill they fly off chirping like a whole choir of sopranos.

A lot of people think its real fun to kill and torture animals, but I'm funny about that sort of thing. I don't want any animal shot on my property. Like one time in Du Quoin a fella' pulls up to the poolroom and says "Well, go out in the back of my truck and get yourself a turtle. Now I figure the turtle is dead, only when I get to the back of the truck the turtle is alive and kicking, I mean really kicking. I took that turtle down real quick and put him in a box and when I climbed down out of the truck with this enormous turtle this fella' says, "Take him home and kill him, Fatty. Hell make tremendous turtle soup." I told him there was no chance of that turtle getting killed.

So I put the cardboard box on the front seat of the car and drove home, only on the way, the turtle climbed out of the box and I almost tipped the car over trying to get him back in. I told Eva-line I was going to take him over to Big Muddy, which runs into the Mississippi River around Murphysboro, but Eva-line said we should take him down to the branch because it had been raining a lot lately and the water was almost coming over the banks.

The poor turtle looked dry and hungry so I put a little food in the box and me and Eva-line walked down to the branch with him. The water was all brown and muddy and swirling and when that turtle saw that swirling water he went down like a two-year-old. It was a picnic just to watch the way he took to that water. Nothing on earth would have satisfied me more, not a zillion dollars (ed. interpretation: a lot of money!) or even a date with Elizabeth Taylor. Eva-line got a big kick out of it, too. "Hell likely be free forever now, Rudolf," Eva-line said. "Hell follow the branch all the way down and end up in Big Muddy."

I always loved animals, ever since the day my old man won Gans, the goose, at the Swiss Verein outing in New York. We always had a dog or a cat around the house, but keeping a pet caged up in New York is brutal beyond compare. Animals have to be free to roam about, just like humans.

Source: Minnesota Fats, The Bank Shot and Other Great Robberies, with Tom Fox, The World Publishing Company, Cleveland and New York, 1966.

Rudolf Wanderone, a.k.a. Minnesota Fats, died on January 18, 1996 at the age of 83 in Tennessee of congestive heart failure. He was almost as good an entertainer as he was a pool player. No one could touch him in either category. Wanderone also was nicknamed Fatty, triple smart, dean of the green, the sultan of stroke and the bank shot bandit. His epitaph read: Beat everybody living on Earth. Now, St. Peter, rack 'em up. Some say the movie The Hustler is based loosely on Wonderone's life.

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