Titanic Thompson killed five men, double-crossed Arnold Rothstein, hustled Al Capone…and lived to the age of 82. Bill offers his thoughts on Kevin Cook’s new book on Thompson, one of the greatest con-men of all time.
The subtitle of this book is misleading. Titanic Thompson did not bet on everything. He did not bet on golf the day Sam Snead offered to give Thompson the advantage by playing him left-handed. That was because Thompson himself had hustled suckers by playing left-handed, and he did not wish to be hustled by Snead.
But Thompson did bet that he could cut the blooms off flowers by scaling playing cards at the bouquet. He bet he could throw a peanut over the roof a New York apartment building. He bet he could guess the number of watermelons on a truck rolling past the corner where Thompson and the designated sucker were standing, Thompson having counted the melons at the same time he had paid said driver some hours earlier to make the detour.
He won the first bet through practice; he tossed cards into hats, under doors, and at flowers for hundreds of hours. He won the second bet by loading the peanut he would toss with buckshot. You already know how he won the third bet, so the next time somebody wants to bet you he can guess the number of watermelons on a truck, keep your wallet in your pocket.
Some of Kevin Cook’s stories of the adventures of Titanic Thompson are funny, and some of them are alarming. You don’t hustle Al Capone and cheat Arnold Rothstein without “alarming” making an appearance.
By the time he died at the age of 81 in 1974, Thompson was a bit of a sad case. Plastic cards were impossible to mark with his finger nail, which had been one of his tricks when the cards were made of cardboard. He was well enough known so that nobody wanted to play golf against him anymore. Of his appearance at the 1969 World Series of Poker, Kevin Cook writes, “he left broke, and nobody said goodbye.”