New to Paul Newman’s THE HUSTLER? Benjamin Introduces Us to this 1961 Pool Player Classic!

So you heard that The Hustler is playing at Alamo Drafthouse Cinema in Winchester on Sunday. Aside from the discounted price of $5.00 and Andy’s goodwill for picking great movies, what should one expect from a Black & White film from the early 60’s about pool players in New York City? Oh, and there’s a love story in there too? Well, in hopefully what will be a regular feature, I’m going to share some of what I dig through to prepare for the Film Club screenings I’m not already familiar with, but yet may be at least somewhat interested in.

Searching for production or casting details to make any film at least a little more interesting without learning any of the plot of that particular film. So, first there’s the cast:


Paul Newman as Eddie Felson

(36yrs old when The Hustler was made)

The Hustler is before much of what he’s best known for (Cool Hand Luke -1967, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid -1969, and The Sting -1973) and Newman’s previous film role was playing Ari Ben Canaan in Exodus the year before.


Jackie Gleason

(45yrs old when The Hustler was made)

Best known as Ralph Kramden on The Honeymooners (1955-1956). If you aren’t familiar with Jackie Gleason’s contribution to television, are you in for a treat. With a background in sketch and improve comedy, Gleason hosted first the Cavalcade of Stars for the Dumont Television Network in 1950 and later a variety show at CBS in 1952. Creating numerous characters for recurring sketches, Gleason developed The Honeymooners first as a recurring sketch, then its own full-fledged program. With its themes of the working-class and the continual war of the roses, it remains an important influence on situational comedy today, although indirectly. Without The Honeymooners, we wouldn’t have shows such as I Love Lucy, All in the Family, Chears, Roseanne, Married… with Children, Home Improvement, Fresh Prince of Bel Air, Everybody Loves Raymond, or even Modern Family.

The Hustler was before his other well-known role as Sheriff Buford T. Justice in the Smokey and the Bandit movies (1977, 1980, & 1983). Previous to The Hustler, Gleason’s last movie role had been Aladdin in The Desert Hawk back in 1950. Having learned to play pool & billiards in his 20’s, Gleason was very good, and insisted on doing all his own tricks and stunts while filming the games, so much that those scenes were filmed in wide-angle to make sure the actor and his shots were in the same frame.


Piper Laurie

(29yrs old when The Hustler was made)

The Hustler was her first movie role since (1957). Other well-known roles of her career are playing Sissy Spacek’s mother in the film Carrie (1976) and later known for her role in Twin Peaks (1990-1991) as Catherine Martell sister of the local mill owner.


George C. Scott

(34yrs old when The Hustler was made)

With many TV credits under his belt, The Hustler was only Scott’s third silver screen appearance at that time. He would go to be known as Gen. ‘Buck’ Turgidson in Dr. Strangelove (1964) and the titular character of Patton (1970). Interestingly, his last credited role was in the TV movie “Inherit the Wind” which aired in 1999 about the scopes monkey trial in which he co-starred with Jack Lemon. After being nominated in the best supporting actor category for his role in The Hustler, Scott declined the nomination. He would late go on to win an academy award for best actor based on his role as Patton in 1970, which he refused and wasn’t even present at the awards ceremony when the announcement was made.


Murray Hamilton

(38yrs old when The Hustler was made)

Primarily a TV actor, Hamilton is best known for his role as Mayor Larry Vaughn from Jaws (1975) and Jaws 2 (1978).


Production Notes

  • The man who holds the money in Eddie & Fat’s initial game is Willie Mosconi 15-time winner of the world straight pool championship between 1941 & 1957. He also served as technical advisor for the film, teaching Newman how to play pool (since Newman had never picked up a pool cue prior to the film), and even served as stunt hands for many of the closely framed shots.
  • Newman was originally unavailable to work on the Hustler as he was staring in the film “Two for the Seesaw” with Elizabeth Taylor. However, when reshoots for Taylor’s role in “Cleopatra” forced a recasting of that film (Robert Mitchum & Shirley MacLaine stepped in for Newman & Taylor), Newman was then available to star in The Hustler.
  • Newman was interested in doing the film after only reading the first half of the script, sans the climactic scenes of the movie.
  • Film was shot over 6 weeks time in two now closed pool halls, a townhouse on East 82nd Street, and the Greyhound bus terminal in Manhattan (all New York City locations)
  • The lunch counter seen in the bus terminal was actually built for the movie, and was constructed and dressed so well, that bus patrons came on set and wanted to place food & drink orders.
  • For added realism, the director hired actual street tugs, enrolled them in the Screen Actor’s Guild so they could be in the film, and used them as extras.
  • The Hustler is also framed to emphasize the changing relationship between characters.
  • Characters are arranged above or below other characters depending on who are playing dominant or submissive roles.
  • In one of those “only in Hollywood” connections, the composer of the film (Kenyon Hopkins) also composed the score for other such great films as 12 Angry Men (1957) starring Henry Fonda and The Fugitive Kind (1959) starring Marlon Brando, and would go on to compose music for the TV shows The Brady Bunch and T” in the late 60’s to mid-70’s.

Legacy, Impact, or What Happened Next:

  • Newman reprised his role as Eddie in the 1986 film The Color of Money for which he won the academy award for Actor in a Leading Role. Newman co-stared in The Color of Money with a young Tom Cruise, likely during the shortly after Cruise starring in Top Gun, released earlier that same year.
  • The film sparked a renewed interest in billiards, much like Archery received more interest from the general public during the initial popularity of The Hunger Games.
  • This created an almost chicken and the egg situation when a real-life pool hustler named Rudolf Wanderone who was already known as “New York Fatty” adopted the Minnesota Fats nickname and used that association for years after to parlay book and television deals for his career.
  • Author Walter Tevis, who wrote the novel on which the movie was based, denied that Wanderone was any inspiration or influence on the creation of Minnesota Fats until the day he died.

So, that’s how I prepare for a Film Club screening. Look at the actors and how their roles in the film relate to their careers, pick out some production aspects related to where it was film & the technical advisers involved, and throw in how the film has impacted other media that came after it.

See you next time at the grooooouuuuppppp phoooottttooooooooo!!!!

When he’s not driving to work, has his hands in his car and/or house, or is attending Film Club events as an #Awesome13 & #Sweet16 alum, Benjamin can be found listening to podcasts and hoping to start his own one day. Reformed Trekker; self-identified Anglophile; Anime fan by way of Akira, Ghibli, & Gundam; and admitted Yankee. You can find him on the Film Club Facebook page arguing about reserved seats & interpretation of recent Film Club screenings.

Sources Used:

Furthur Digging:

New to Paul Newman’s THE HUSTLER? Benjamin Introduces Us to this 1961 Pool Player Classic!

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