Richie Florence Stories
(March-June 2006)

(1.) Did you know Richie Florence, along with other pool sharpies of the 1980's were used in the film about money players called The Balimore Bullet? This according to Billard Reviews...check this out along with pictures from the Newman/Gleason classic, The Hustler.

Billiard Reviews

http://www.terra.es/personal/eddie-felson/subindex/Subsub/pelicula.htm

The Baltimore Bullet

US (1980): Drama, 103 min, Rated PG, Color, Available on videocassette

Leonard Maltin Review: 2.5 stars out of 4

Pleasant enough film about major-league pool hustlers Coburn and Boxleitner, and their buildup to a high noon showdown with smoothie Sharif.

Cast List

James Coburn - Nick Casey. Omar Sharif - The Deacon. Bruce Boxleitner - Billie Joe Robbins. Ronee Blakley - Carolina Red. Jack O'Halloran - Max. Calvin Lockhart - Snow White. Michael Learner - Paulie. Paul Barselou - Cosmo. Cisse Cameron - Sugar. Jeff Temkin - Sportscaster. Willie Mosconi - Sportscaster. Shepherd Sanders - Robin. Jon Ian Jacobs - Baron. Ed Bakey - Skinny. Robert Hughes - Ricco. Rockne Tarkington - Gunner. Shay Duffin - Al. Thomas Castranova - Ernie. Eric Laneuville - Purvis. William M. Vint - Frankie.

Lou Butera,Irving Crane,Richie Florence,Allan Hopkins,Peter Margo Jim Mataya,Steve Mizerak,Jim Rempe, and Michael Sigel.

(2.) One pocket Hall of Fame member Grady Mathews will have Richie Florence nominated for the One Pocket Hall of Fame, with this note: "The earliest Richie could be added to this world class list is early in 2007 because this year's inductee's have already been selected." Thank you Mr. Mathews. By the way you all do support the One Pocket Hall of Fame (www.onepocket.org) don't you? If you have not signed up and contacted them supporting Florence now is the time and thanks.

(3.) This picture of a commercial building was recently taken by Jerry Atiyeh and is interesting because it provides some background into Richie's family history. Richie's mother, Mary Florence (still active and well at over 90), was in the fabric business. She began with a small shop on Pacific Coast Highway and eventually grew Florence Fabrics into a successful venture. According to Mary she purchased this property and built the pictured building in 1978 to accommodate this growing enterprise. The family began with a home on Via Monte D'Oro in an exclusive area of Redondo Beach. Again in 1978 they added to the family holdings by purchasing the adjacent lot to the original house and built a larger two story home with a magnificent view of the ocean. The family also purchased rental property so by any standard Richie was born into business success and wealth. When Florence was not on the road he spent most of his time at the family home in Redondo Beach.

(4.) RICHIE FLORENCE & THE BCA HALL OF FAME

It had been 40 years since I talked with Don Hinzo, Lester Moss, Tex Martin, Jerry Vega and others from the early Tropicana days. And it wasn't long before we were discussing the action Richie brought to the Tropicana and the greater South Bay area. His public matches with world champions, his feared money game, and his later tournament promotions had made Richard Florence famous. The possible inclusion into the BCA Hall of Fame was now being talked about by his close friends.

I'm not an authority when it comes to pool and do not know much about the BCA process but I did remember that Florence was a great pool player. Tex Martin suggested I call Grady Mathews for general information and Grady graciously provided a number of sources.

From what I initially learned the BCA process of choosing Hall of Fame members had become a commercial enterprise. This, of course, does not work well for road players like Florence, whose real genius was not shown at the tournament level. He was however a tournament threat according to Grady Mathews: "Richie was a really good straight pool player. It's almost comical that he's best known in straight pool for running over 100 balls four different times in the US Open and losing all the games."

And the billiard press has not gone out of its way for Florence and others of that hard living era. Again, according to Mathews: "Richie always found it ironic that reporters weren't eager to talk with him, even when he was putting on one of his celebrated events. If he wanted to talk to the reporter and get a great interview, he'd say "Do you know about the time I lost $20,000 to Fatty?"

So what about Richie's publicized use of alcohol and drugs relating to his early demise? It is not my intention to condone this activity but simply to point out that the press likes this angle because it makes for better reading. I could just as well suggest that Florence died early because he was a heavy smoker with a sedentary lifestyle and terrible eating habits. I sweated most of a 10 hour session between him and Harry the Horse (McConnell) at the Tropicana in the early sixties. I remember the Horse as a well dressed, educated money player. He was also a scratch golfer

and was fond of pointing out that you could bet all you wanted at the golf course too. They both moved around the table like leopards. I smoked two packs of cigarettes between 10:00 PM and 8: 00 AM and Florence smoked more than me in the process. He eventually busted Harry and in the end was giving him the 7 the 8 and the break to keep him at the table.

It is also hardly necessary to point out that Richie was no saint. But as far as virtue is concerned please check yours at the door. Every real money player I met was laying down business of some sort in the early sixties. This environment condoned cheating and then took the high road when possible, so Richie's drawbacks mirrored others in his trade at that time. Viewed by today's standards it is easy to make a case against Richie's claim to Hall of Fame status. But this case would have to include many of his most talented contemporaries. And what about the notion that these early players took advantage of suckers and as such were just predators? I have always believed there was more made out of this angle than the truth would support. Pictures like The Hustler and The Color of Money also helped to create this urban myth. Now don't get me wrong, there will always be a pool player picking someone's pocket, but not on the scale that Hollywood would have you believe. Ask any road player and he might admit that most real action is created by matching up with other skilled players. The road was appealing because sooner or later the local action needed too much weight to assure a win. Jack Disney's article in the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner (Jan. 29, 1971) The Ups And Downs Of A Pool Hustler provides some insight. "Handsome and outgoing, Richie is a hustler although he carefully avoids the use of the word. "It's a battle of wits," he (Richie) explains. "I just try to outfox a guy who is trying to outfox me."" The article sheds some light on why Richie played pool (for the money) and tells a short story of winning money in Oildale (Bakersfield, CA) from Large William. William, feeling like Richie could eventually be beat for a large sum brought in a local sharpie for a rematch. Richie beat him for $800.00 in the bargain. Large William's parting words are quoted and worth repeating. "All trappers don't wear fur caps". These were American capitalists in the truest sense, each figuring the other had something to offer.

So why not adopt a Hall of Fame standard that would at least consider these early innovators for their pure, raw talent? Such ability is transcendent and yet integral to this fascinating sport. Some short-stop players would dance with the devil for such ability but with many of the hallowed great it was just standard equipment. Such talent caused their light to burn brightly, and in the process created bigger than life Damon Runyon like characters that should be celebrated in the Hall of Fame.

I am not well informed enough to criticize the larger pool fraternity about how it looks at its darker players. The professional poker establishment faced a similar situation with early rounders and ended up turning after the fact promotion into an art form. Today, card players worldwide not only embrace these trail blazers they have tuned many into modern icons. Movies were made about players with serious problems like the great Stu Ungar and the public did not run in disgust, it watched with fascination and participated in greater numbers.

Then Mike Panozzo's piece in Billiards Digest, May 2006 (A Vote for Unity) indicates that change could be in the making. The BCA has modified its procedures regarding the Hall of Fame. According to Mike this was brought about because the existing Hall of Fame Committee believed the process could use improvement. Mike goes on, "And after several were presented to the BCA, the board of directors voted to ratify a new system by which players and people who have greatly influenced the sport in other ways are elected into the Hall of Fame."

This new approach by the BCA has at least opened a door for Richie Florence. It provides an opportunity to look more closely at his career, but finding information is not easy. The OnePocket.org web site has begun to chronicle these tournaments and asks for help in providing primary source material. Their "work in progress" listing of tournament first and second place finishes shows Florence the winner of the 1972 Minnesota Fats Billiard Classic. Further searches using Google or Noodle are not very helpful, but we have a few newspaper accounts and programs:

The program to your right was supplied by Randy Burns (ra3ndy@aol.com). As you can see the commentary on Florence is complimentary and the picture of him is the best I have seen, right in the middle of his most productive pool playing years. Also take a minute and go to the home page where the entire program is posted along with pictures of other great players like Jimmy Moore, Danny Gartner, Peter Margo, Steve Mizerak, Lou Butera, and Jonny Ervolino.

I'm quoting portions of the Daily Review (Friday, February 5th, 1965) World Billiard Tourney Special:

Billiard Picks Rally

Lassiter Plays Tonight
by Jim Groth

"Jimmy "Cowboy" Moore, of Albuquerque, came back from the brink of defeat to nip Bill "Weenie Beanie" Stanton, of Alexandria, VA., 150-147, and front runner Jack Breit had to pull a similar feat to put down young upstart Richard "Little Richie" Florence of Torrance, 150-133."

"Breit had the same trouble as Florence, at 20 the youngest player in the tournament, ran 83 balls in the first inning."

""Jersey Red" as Breit is known, cut into Florence's lead bit by bit with runs in the 30's until he had secured the win."

"The only way you can play this kid is to take a lot of safety shots and force him to gamble," Breit said after his narrow victory."

""He's young and he takes a lot of unnecessary gambles. He sure had me going there for awhile. I thought he was going to run 150.""

The W.W. Woody book (Buddy Hall: Rags to Rifleman, Then What?) provides another glimpse. In chapter 34, The OK Corral of Pool Players Woody beings:

"In the early 1970's the most famous pool room in the United States was Jack and Jills Cue Club, in Arlington, Virginia. It was owned and operated by Bill Staton, better known as "Weenie Beanie", and Charlie Devalliere." On page 160 the story continues.

"Richie Florence came to Jack and Jills after sweeping the 9-ball division of the first annual Minnesota Fats Classic tournament. He defeated Billy Incardona in the finals and went on to play Jimmy Rempe 9-ball, straight-pool and one-pocket for the All-Around title. Florence defeated Rempe in the straight-pool division. However, Rempe won the one-pocket and 9-ball divisions, and that gave him the All-Around Championship."

"Florence was having one of the best years in his career. He was at the top of his game, and he had gained a reputation of being a triple tough money player. Richie had left a long line of victims in his wake, to verify that his reputation was legitimate. Buddy remembered how Richie had dug himself out of an 11 game hole, and got a two game lead on him in Johnson City. They called him Little Bulldog Richie. His nickname suited him, and he lived up to it."

Woody goes on to explain that Richie and Buddy Hall matched up playing 9-ball sets, 7 ahead for $2000.00. Florence lost to Hall but this story is indicative of the world-class players Richie faced and the large sums of money that hung in the balance.

Grady Mathews book Bet High and Kiss Low provides more information on Florence and references a number of tournaments they produced together. Don Hinzo gave me an original invitation to one of these tournaments dated November 4, 1992, and Richie's middle name was Dale. A portion of the invitation is as follows:

RDF Richard D. Florence Productions

Redondo Beach, CA 90277

Dear Player:

"Please accept this invitation to participate in the Flamingo Hilton Reno One Pocket Tournament, January 5th through 9th, 1993. The tournament has the largest added prize money - $61,500 - in pool history and is being promoted by Richard D. Florence in conjunction with Grady Mathews."

"The tournament's first prize is $20,000 with a $1,000 guarantee for last place. This event's promoters are dedicated to the financial improvement of the sport, for its players and fans."

If you don't have a copy contact Grady at www.gradymathews.com and buy this book. He calls it "x" rated but besides a few expletives and a racy passage here and there, it is about pool and the money players that influenced this great sport. And it comes through the direct experience of Grady, a man who has seen and done it all. His book makes reference to Florence 9 times and provides great insight to an era that is largely forgotten unless you love the game. I have e-mailed and spoken to Grady a number of times and by his own admission, he and Florence were close. But like all gamblers they had their differences. Grady readily admits that Richie's foremost talent was not in tournament play although he matched up with many of the best players of his era. It was his gamble that made him a feared opponent.

I also don't think it an exaggeration to say that Richie's promotional vision was ahead of his time. He was one on a short list that saw real money potential as interest in pool surged after the release of The Hustler. The Thomas Shaw article The Legendary Stardust Tournaments in Pool & Billard Magazine (June, 2003) explains what these early tournament organizers were trying to accomplish:

"It wasn't the glitzy Las Vegas location alone that attracted record fields to the Stardust Open All-Around Pocket Billiard Tournament in the 1960's. More than location, it was the money. With the casino kicking in ten grand, the $30,000 purse was the biggest in pool."

Shaw continues: "The movie The Hustler had re-popularized the sport and was threatening to make stars of the anonymous road players. They had entered the Johnson City All-Around in 1961 and '62 with some hesitation. After more than two decades undercover, it took real optimism to think they could make more money in the new legitimate tournaments than they could gliding into backwater poolrooms and gliding back out the cash."

"Almost all the best players took that chance, however. They were anxious for legitimacy, anxious to be able to make a regular income that would support a family, and anxious to be famous."

"After the movie was released in 1961 tournaments began springing up in the Northeast, Midwest, and on the West Coast. Johnson City was the premiere event, but the hometown promoters George and Paulie Jansco had the urge to go big time. Together with Hubert Cokes they arranged for a yearly sister event at the Stardust Hotel in Las Vegas, which began in 1965."

Like these early tournament promoters Richie began to think and talk about tournaments large enough to support world-class players. According to a recent conversation I had with his mother Mary, Richie was the first to use the word "event" in his promotions. And he was one of the first to talk about the million dollar purse. In today's world of sponsorship, the IPT, and other bigger than life promotions, such talk is becoming a reality. But in Richie's day tournament play for such sums was a fantasy. When Florence turned from playing pool to tournament promotion he believed he could create a larger pay day, increase national interest, and make better use of television.

A quote from Bet High and Kiss Low (page 92): "Richie Florence, I thought, had some of the best tournaments. His final event in the mid 80's in Vegas had problems. Bill Cayton of "Big Fights" had 8 players under contract. Rempe, Hopkins, Martin, Butera, Mizerak, I think and 3 others. Part of that agreement specified that none of the eight players could play in any televised event. Despite the fact that not one of the eight players made the TV part of Richie's tournament, Big Fights sued and stopped this great event from being shown. It ruined Florence. A real shame, if you ask me. I had my differences with Richie over the years but underneath everything he loved the sport and the players. He suffered a stoke in 1992 and had to slow down quite a bit."

December 1993, Page 4

July 1994, Page 4

July 1994, Page 7

July 1994, Page 10

July 1994, Page 14

In May of 2006 Don Hinzo passed along this obituary on Richie Florence. He saved it from The Daily Breeze. It was sad as I had talked with Richie after his stroke and he was in good sprits. He was making excellent progress, doing what the doctor had instructed and looking forward to his recovery. I have read the obituary a number of times and am struck by the lack of details regarding his career. No mention of the man himself, what he accomplished or what he valued. They did not even get the name of his business down properly.

Daily Breeze

Florence, Richard D.

Age 58, born May 23, 1944 in Hawthorne, CA, died June 25, 2002 in Redondo Beach, CA. He owned R.D.F. Production. Richard is survived by his mother, Mary Florence; 3 sisters, Bobbie (Dale) Patton, Katy Matthews and Shirley (Jim) Maxwell; 13 nieces and nephews, many great-nieces and nephews. Viewing will be Friday, June 28th, 2002, 12:30-1:00pm with funeral services at 1:00pm. Burial to follow at Green Hills Memorial Park. Green Hill Mortuary (310) 831-0311

More to follow. Corrected and updated Sept 13, 2006. Keep in mind that RICHIE FLORENCE & THE BCA HALL OF FAME is just a working title and these comments will become more organized as material becomes available. Refresh this page for the latest version. Hold your control button down and push the refresh button on your browser. Your comments and suggestions are always welcome and thanks for reading. (RSchwary@aol.com)