A Popular Face in Billiards, Rudolf Wanderone

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Rudolf Walter Wanderone, also known as Minnesota Fats or New York Fats, was a professional billiards player in the United States.

Even though “Fats” never won a major pool tournament, he was once the most well-known pool player in the United States—not just as a player but also as an entertainer. 

The famous pool player Rudolf Wanderone
The famous pool player Rudolf Wanderone

Similarly, Rudolf started playing during his childhood in New York City. In addition, he began as a traveling pool hustler when he was a youngster.

Wanderone was once called “New York Fats.” But then, he adopted the moniker “Minnesota Fats” after the character of the same name popped up in the 1961 film The Hustler, falsely claiming that the character portrayed by Jackie Gleason was based on him.

Let’s learn more about Rudolf Wanderone, starting with some quick facts. 

Rudolf Wanderone: Quick Facts

Full name Rudolf Walter Wanderone
Nickname Minnesota Fats, New York Fats, Rudy
Birthdate January 19, 1913
Birthplace New York City, United States 
Died on January 15, 1996
Nationality American 
Ethnicity Not available 
Religion Not Available 
Zodiac Sign  Capricon 
Father’s name Rudolph Walter Wanderone Sr.
Mother’s name Rosa Bergin
Sibling Three Sisters
Education Not Available 
College Not Available 
Gender Male 
Marital Status  Married 
Wife Theresa Ward Bell
Ex-Wife Evelyn Inez Graff
Children  None 
Weight   136 Kg/ 300 lbs
Height   175 cm/ 5′9″
Eye Color Blue
Hair Color White 
Profession  Professional Billiard Player 
Net Worth $1 million 
Merch Billiard Pool Stick Holder, Minnesota “Fats” Book of Billiards
Last Update May, 2024

Rudolf Wanderone: Early Life

Rudolf was born in New York City to Swiss immigrants Rosa and Rudolf Wanderone.

He was born in 1913, although he speculated that he might have been born much earlier, as early as 1900.

Wanderone, often known as “Rudy” to friends and family, began playing pool as a youngster while growing up in Washington Heights, Manhattan.

Similarly, he flew to Europe with his father in 1923, where he received training from German pool champion Erich Hagenlocher.

After training from a pool champion, Wanderone’s first notable match was in 1926, when he faced previous nine-ball champion “Cowboy” Weston; Wanderone easily won.

In addition, the USA-born dropped out of school in the eighth grade to pursue a career as a traveling pool hustler.

Likewise, he spent most of the 1920s at Cranfield’s in New York City, where he earned his initial moniker after defeating another hustler known as “Smart Henry”.

Wanderone had become the manager of a pool hall owned by a friend in Anacostia, Southeast Washington, D.C., by the mid-1930s.

Thus, he was now known as “Triple-Smart Fats,” “New York Fats,” “Broadway Fats,” and “Chicago Fats,” among other titles.

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A Brief into Rudolf Wanderone’s Books and Shows

Wanderone’s fame as “Minnesota Fats” led to executive vice-president of billiard table maker Rozel Industries. There, he played exhibition matches and demonstrated the products.

Similarly, he released his first book, Minnesota “Fats” Book of Billiards, which Rozel released in 1965. 

He also participated in the television game show What’s My Line? on January 17, 1965, and successfully stumped the panel.

Likewise, in 1966, he collaborated with Sports Illustrated journalist Tom Fox on his memoirs, The Bank Shot and Other Great Robberies.

In addition, Minnesota Fats Hustles the Pros, his first television game show, also premiered in 1967 and featured “Fats” competing against other professional athletes. 

In 1967, he wrote and released “Minnesota Fats on Pool”, an instructional paperback. Wanderone appeared on The Joey Bishop Show on January 24, 1968.

The book of Rudolf Wanderone
The book of Rudolf Wanderone

He appeared on “Celebrity Billiards with Minnesota Fats”, a short-lived television game program in 1970 against celeb guest Sid Caesar.

Later, Wanderone portrayed himself as “Minnesota Fats” and was remarkably featured on the advertising poster in a feature film entitled “The Player”.

Nicknamed Rudy, he became a popular figure by 1979 to appear as a celebrity guest star in “the Usurper,” a season 2 episode of the popular television detective drama Vega$.

He was the Billiard Congress of America’s Hall of Fame inductee in 1984 for “Meritorious Service” in appreciation of his contributions to the popularization of the pool.

Rivalry with Willie Mosconi

Wanderone relished the opportunity to promote a rivalry with world champion Willie Mosconi about how the pool should be presented—as a rough-and-tumble gambling game or refined leisure.

Similarly, on Valentine’s Day (February 14), 1978, the two-faced off in a televised contest on ABC’s Wide World of Sports.

Likewise, the game was the second-highest-rated program of the year, behind only the Muhammad Ali vs. Leon Spinks rematch, with over 11 million viewers.

Howard Cosell introduced the game hosted at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York.

Although Wanderone may have lost the game, he charmed the audience with his banter and funny demeanor. 

However, on the other hand, Mosconi was said to be a chilly figure.

In the following years, “Fats” lost a series of rematches against Mosconi. However, in the nationally televised Resorts International Shoot-Out in October 1984—Wanderone’s final big television appearance—he finally defeated his opponent.

In addition, the competition kicked off with a trick-shot challenge between Wanderone, Mosconi, Steve Mizerak, and Allen Hopkins.

Rudolf Wanderone: Wife

In 1941, Wanderone and his friend Jimmy Castras moved to Du Quoin, Illinois, a major hustling center on the fast road to televised tournament competition.

He met Evelyn Inez Graff, whom he married two months later, on May 7, 1941.

Later, the Wanderones moved to Dowell, Illinois, after their wedding. Finally, the couple relocated to Norfolk, Virginia, in 1942. 

However, he abandoned his wife Evelyn in 1984, and they divorced a year later.

In 1985, Wanderone relocated to the Hermitage Hotel in downtown Nashville, Tennessee, for several years.

Rudolf Wanderone with his wife
Rudolf Wanderone with his wife

Later, he had a major heart attack in 1992 while undergoing surgery for a knee ailment, but he survived.

He married Teresa Talley Bell, his second wife, in 1993. Wanderone had no children, and he was aware of it.

However, Etta James, the singer, stated she felt he was her biological father after hearing it from her mother and others who knew her mother, whom James characterized as “those who were there and should know.”

After all of that, there is no documented proof of such a link. Only a meeting between James and Wanderone is known to have occurred in 1987.

He died on January 15, 1996, four days ahead of his 83rd birthday, in Bell’s Nashville home. In the meantime, many other sources, including The New York Times, incorrectly reported his death date as January 18th.

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Boys, the only difference between me and everybody else is that everybody else drives around in a Volkswagen, and Minnesota Fats drives around in a Duesenberg.“- Rudolf Wanderone.

The New York native was noted for his ostentation, arrogance, fantastic stories, quick wit, and amusing banter.

According to Dyer, Rudolf Wanderone never stopped talking about things he didn’t know much about or telling anecdotes about himself.

Similarly, Wanderone was an animal enthusiast who was said to have had hundreds of cats and dogs simultaneously. 

Despite his fame, he spent a lot of time seeking homes for stray animals. He also was a crowd-pleaser who would go to almost any place to promote the game.

Throughout his career, Wanderone owned several limos. He once toured the country in a bright Lincoln limousine with his expanded title “Minnesota Fats, King of Pool” sprayed in transparent paint. 

Rudolf Wanderone in later years
Rudolf Wanderone in later years

The title, along with the side panels, changed colors as it moved with the sun’s reflections: “Minnesota Fats, King of Pool.”

Similarly, his 1980 Cadillac Fleetwood limousine was displayed at the Nashville Automobile Museum until it got closed. 

As a whole, Wanderone was well-known for his quick wit.

He never got engaged in tournament circles; he was dubbed the “uncrowned king” of the pool because he was too busy hustling.

Rudolf Wanderone: Net Worth

Rudolf Walter Wanderone did not win any main pool championships or compete in any tournaments throughout his professional career because he was too busy hustling.

However, he engaged and participated in various activities such as publishing books and appearing in tv shows.

The net worth of Rudolf Wanderone is estimated to be $1 million as per Billiard Guides. 

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Frequently Asked Questions

What was the cause of Rudolf Wanderone’s death?

As per his wife Theresa, congestive heart failure was the cause of his death.

Sanjib Sah
Sanjib Sah
Sanjib Sah is an engineer and content writer passionate about sports and athletics. With a background in engineering and a love for all things active, Sanjib brings a unique perspective to the world of sports writing. Whether he is covering the latest trends in sports technology or sharing tips on improving your game, Sanjib's words are always rooted in a deep appreciation for players' hard work and dedication everywhere. In his free time, you can find him hitting the courts or hitting the trails, always looking for new ways to challenge himself and improve his skills.

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