Biographical / Historical
Born in Philadelphia in 1913, Willie Mosconi learned his game at the pool hall owned by his father, Joseph Mosconi, a former prizefighter. Initially, Willie's father opposed his son's even coming into the pool hall above which the family lived. The father's preference was that Willie become a dancer and go into Vaudeville. However, after only a little practice accomplished behind his father's back, Willie was soon demonstrating amazing skill at the pool table. Joseph realized that the boy's talent could earn the growing family some money. Soon, Mosconi was considered a child prodigy, with advertisements posted challenging experienced players to try to beat him at billiards. Even as a child who had to stand on a box to reach the pool table, Mosconi beat experienced players. A match was arranged in 1919 between Willie and Ralph Greenleaf, then the World Champion. Though Greenleaf won the match, the hall was packed, and Willie played well enough to draw considerable attention, and launch his career in professional billiards.
After taking a few years hiatus from billiards in the 1930s, Mosconi returned to pool playing in an effort to earn some money. He entered one local tournament after another, and according to his autobiography, Willie's Game, "to be truthful, I don't remember losing any of them." He began making a living at billiards, and he claimed that he never hustled anyone: "I played everyone straight." In 1933, Mosconi participated in the world championship tournament of the Billiard Congress of America, having taken second place in the divisionals. He placed fifth in the world championship tournament, but his career and reputation were taking off. His performance in the tournament brought him to the attention of the president of Brunswick Corporation, and Mosconi joined the staff traveling around the country promoting Brunswick's products. He continued to compete in tournaments and after several near misses, in 1941 won the world championship, a feat that he would repeat fourteen more times. Shortly before that tournament, Mosconi had married his first wife, Ann Harrison, and shortly after it, the first of his three children was born, William Jr., followed soon after by a daughter, Candace. That marriage ended in divorce. After working in the defense industry for a few years, Willie enlisted in the Army in 1944, and after the end of World War II, resumed his affiliation with Brunswick and his successful tournament career. Mosconi remarried in 1953 to Flora Marchini. Their daughter Gloria was born in 1954. Mosconi continued his tournament work, and during the 1950s won several championships and set several records, including high run (most consecutive balls pocketed without a miss) of 526 in 1954. Mosconi slowed down his tournament appearances after recovering from a stroke in 1956. Additionally, he wrote a book on billiards in 1957, Willie Mosconi on Pocket Billiards. He was involved in the making of the 1961 movie The Hustler. It was he who suggested the casting of Jackie Gleason as Minnesota Fats, and he served as an instructor to Paul Newman, who had never played pool. The movie helped to resurrect the faded popularity of the game of billiards. He retired permanently from tournament play in 1966 and during his retirement, he consulted on and appeared in several movies dealing with billiards, made game show appearances, and wrote articles on billiards. Willie Mosconi died in 1993.