Looking for a good golf book? I just finished Titanic Thompson: The Man Who Bet on Everything. It’s a must-read for golfers and gamblers, alike…..while not a new title, this 2010 book by Kevin Cook was a fun ride through 20th-century golf, gangsters, and gambling. Titanic Thompson is a mythical figure in American lore. Like Daniel Boone or Davy Crockett, some folks might not even be sure he actually existed. Like those two iconic figures, most believe the legendary tales surrounding Thompson must have been embellished over time. The truth may surprise you. Titanic Thompson is like the Forrest Gump of 20th century American golf and gambling. He knew all the icons, he gambled on and off the course with them, and he usually won. Though he may sound like the Forrest Gump of golf and gambling, Thompson killed at least five men himself and was wrapped up in the murder of Arnold Rothstein – the man who fixed the 1919 World Series and birthed modern organized crime. Titanic wasn’t a gangster, but he was no angel, either.
Damon Runyon was an American newspaperman who wrote about colorful Prohibition Era characters with funny nicknames…..as one of his greatest lines was a warning: “Son, no matter how far you travel, or how smart you get, always remember this: Some day, somewhere, a guy is going to come to you and show you a nice brand-new deck of cards on which the seal is never broken, and this guy is going to offer to bet you that the jack of spades will jump out of this deck and squirt cider in your ear. But, son, do not bet him, for as soon as you do, you are going to get an ear full of cider.”…..as the guy who Runyon was talking about was Titanic Thompson….who golfing legend Sam Snead called him “the greatest hustler ever.”….and Minnesota Fats called him “the greatest action man of all time.”…..cuz we know Thompson was a gambler and a golfer in the long-ago days before Las Vegas became the center for sports wagering. In the 1920’s and 1930’s….when playing for money was a traveling roadshow….as Thompson mainly worked the back roads from Texas across the Deep South….and folks all over have remembered Titanic Thompson’s blue eyes…..and the hustler who has been dead 20 years now, and the time of his fame is half a century past….but folks who knew him, who played golf with him and drove down dusty roads with him….now talk about him as if he were still alive….not only alive but plotting a new hustle. You hear a thrill in their voices.
An old U.S. Open champion tells you Titanic Thompson could have been the best golf ever…..while one of today’s great players tells you about Titanic’s beautiful hands….and another man tells you how those hands made cards fly through a transom….and made dice sit up on a bedspread…..then you track down one of the hustler’s old road partners from the 1930’s…..and the man says, no, no, NO, he doesn’t want to talk about that sumbitch Titanic Thompson. He calls him a thief and tells you he saw Titanic right before he died….and that man tells you he wanted to shoot the sumbitch on the spot. You find Titanic’s last wife, a sweet woman, and she says her man’s story is more phenomenal than all the legends written about him. She tells you he lived to gamble, that gambling meant more to him than food, sleep or love. You trust people who talk that way, people who were there and saw things happen. And all these people tell you the same story…..“The man could do things.”
So, before you write your Titanic Thompson story, you arrive at a state of mind called the willing suspension of disbelief…..which means you might not believe every word of a story…..but you are willing to listen…..and you’ve heard enough to think that maybe, some things did happen. You know he never hit a golf shot into Babe Ruth’s beer…..he never threw Amelia Earhart over the Brooklyn Bridge…..he never bottom-dealt to the Queen of Sheba…..he never married Gypsy Rose Lee…..he never shot J. Edgar Hoover….and he never caused a one-eyed jack to squirt cider in a sucker’s ear….but you get the feeling that if money talked, soft and sweet, Titanic Thompson could have and would have done it all. For when the money talked, however preposterous the proposition, Titanic Thompson always found a way to do it. He was America’s Robin Hood, sort of…..for he stole from the rich….and kept it.
Special – 1893 To 1974 – Kevin Cook On Titanic Thompson – “The Man Who Bet On Everything”
Titanic took up golf later in life and won big-money matches ambidextrously. On the golf course, Thompson hoodwinked everyone from Al Capone to Harvey Penick (is there a wider disparity of characters than that?). He took a young Ben Hogan on the road to hustle golf. It should be noted that Hogan called Thompson the greatest shotmaker he’d ever seen.Titanic also arranged the three-day match between an unknown Assistant Pro in El Paso named Lee Trevino and budding PGA star Ray Floyd that is considered the greatest golf gambling match of all-time. He gambled rounds playing with one club….while playing with garden tools and pool cues….as never passed up even the most ridiculous proposition bet. Thompson was also the inspiration for virtually every gag in Tin Cup. That famous 7-iron scene when Don Johnson’s character hits it down the road to beat Roy in a “Who can hit it longer” contest? Titanic did that in the dead of winter in Chicago with a driver he said he could hit 500 yards….which he did across a frozen Lake Michigan. He could also break par from either side, left or right-handed. So, why don’t more golfers know about a player widely considered one of the best American players to ever swing a stick?…..it was simple…it was all about “M*O*N*E*Y…..for aAt a time when the top earners on the fledgling PGA Tour were making around $6,000 a year…..Titanic Thompson was making that on a quick nine-hole match with an over-confident industrialist, gangster, politician, or any golf hustler who could come up with the cash.
It was October 1967 when Bone Daddy actually saw a Titanic Thompson hustle of the highest order…..a BD was at his friend Rags Murphy’s Deep Eddy Bar, a famous “dive bar” on Lake Shore Blvd. in Austin, Tx, near the Deep Eddy Swimming Pool…..which was a bar known for its clientele of well known politicians and businessmen…..who enjoyed the “shadier side of life” like big stakes gambling on “bar room coin operated pool tables and shuffleboard” ….for this was a place that just about every known hustler “worth his weight in salt” in and around Austin would hang out looking for “a pigeon or a mark”. Bone Daddy actually just saw the very end of a hustle that had been in progress for awhile….which had created quite a buzz throughout the bar….which had to do with the skeleton key lock on Deep Eddy‘s front door….as a guy named Titanic Thompson had just bet a well known Austin physician $500 that he could throw the skeleton key for Rags front door into the keyhole from 10 feet away….and that is when Rags moved all the tables and chairs within 10 feet of the front door to provide a clear path for “Titanic’s toss”….which was as true as any target was ever hit….when the 4″ brass key landed squarely in the keyhole and stuck. As Thompson collected his $500…..while walking out the front door at the Deep Eddy Bar….that is when he turned to the crowd that had just seen his winning toss…..and said to the physician, “Don’t feel bad my friend…..I took Harvey Penick (the golf pro who taught Ben Crenshaw and Tom Kite how to play golf) for much more than that in golf today.”…..and then Titanic Thompson left with a joyful wave of his hand. Bone Daddy has often said that this event was magical, which left a lifelong imprint on our original Sportsphile…..as he recalls the hustle still today in 2020 saying….“I saw it with my own eyes!!”
One day in the Arkansas of 1928, the seven of diamonds sailed through a transom-window space and fluttered to the floor, followed soon after by the deuce of hearts. Each card spun in the air as if controlled by an agency with supernatural powers. Titanic Thompson was that agency…..as he sat in an easy chair halfway across the room. Thirty-five years old, a thin man with a delicate face and shining dark hair….who wore a white dress shirt and a silk tie. His last wife thought of him as “a fern or a willow, a litheness to him.” He held the deck of cards in his right hand and with his left snapped cards across the room, over the transom and into the hallway. “What are you doing?” said a man at the door…..”Practicing.”….
“Practicing what?”…..then Titanic Thompson said, “You can’t tell when some sucker’ll bet you $1,000 you can’t sail 51 out of 52 cards through that transom.”
Special – 1893 To 1974 – Titanic Thompson: The Greatest Hustler Ever
Paul Runyan became one of professional golf’s great players. That day in 1928 he was a kid invited into a big-money match. Two Little Rock businessmen bet $3,000 that Runyan and another club amateur could beat Titanic Thompson and an Arkansas teenager, Dutch Harrison. With side bets, the kitty came to about $4,000. “I was fortunate that match didn’t ruin my career,” Runyan said 66 years later. “I was on the practice tee and Ty comes by and, in a voice loud enough to be heard by the 30 or 40 people standing right there, he tries to buy me. He says, ‘Kid, if you don’t win any holes this afternoon, I’ll give you half the money.’…..to which Runyan replied….“No way would I be crooked with Titanic Thompson. But I was scared to death somebody heard him. I made five birdies that day, so nobody could say I was crooked. But I was so scared I played badly, and we broke even.” Runyan is one of the last men alive who teed it up with Thompson. “He was crooked and unscrupulous,” Runyan said. “He also was the most fascinating human being I’ve ever met, so skillful at what he did—and I saw it with my own eyes.”
Alvin Clarence Thomas became Titanic Thompson one night in a Joplin, Mo., poolroom. It was the spring of 1912, shortly after an iceberg interrupted the maiden voyage of the ocean liner Titanic. Thomas won $500 from a local shark who compounded his mistake by accepting a further proposition…..which was a double or nothing bet that Thomas could jump across the pool table without touching it. Tall, lean and “strong as a wild razorback hog … I could jump farther than a herd of bullfrogs,” Thomas took a running start, dived headfirst across the table and landed on the far side, never so much as brushing an edge. As the country boy collected the extra $500 and some side bets, a loser asked, “What’s the stranger’s name?” “Don’t rightly know,” the pool shark said. “But it must be Titanic, the way he sinks everybody.”
During the Prohibition period, the gambler was a romantic figure.The backwoods-rogue Alvin C. Thomas liked the sound of that…..and when a newspaper later jumbled with his name, he went along…..and the rest of his life, he strutted on a stage of his own in a persona of his making….as he became Titanic Thompson.
He made himself such a master of odds that he knew which card was likely to show up at any seat around a poker table. Should he lose at poker, he offered to lose even more by betting he could hit a silver dollar with his .45 pistol eight out of 10 times from 10 feet away. He carried a bowling ball in his car trunk, there with his golf clubs, a rifle, pool cue and a throwing rock with a flat side and edges bevelled to fit his fingers. As for dice, years of practice on hotel beds made him sure a six or ace would sit up only once in 10 rolls. What he called his “smooth propositions” came to be the surest sign that Thompson had passed through a town and identified its sucker. He perpetrated an especially smooth proposition at age 14….while barefoot in the Ozarks…..with a dog his accomplice. He said, “I used to watch these dudes come to fish in their elegant casting outfits, and I wanted one of those things….so, I had trained my spaniel to dive to the bottom of the fishing hole and bring back a rock I tossed in. So one day I told a dude my dog could do that and offered to bet the dog against his casting outfit…..and the dude said, ‘Mark it so I know it’s the same rock you throw in.’…..which I did…. and the spaniel leaped into the water, swam out of sight and came up with the marked rock. What the dude didn’t know, of course, was that the bottom of that pond was covered with marked rocks.”
The famous road-sign proposition began outside Joplin when Ty saw workmen putting up new signs on the highway. His friend Hickory McCullough owned a fishing camp out that way, 30 miles from town. Ty’s story…..“That night I dug up a sign that said JOPLIN 20 MILES and replanted it five miles closer to Joplin. Next day we were riding along, and I remarked to Hickory as we passed the sign, ‘Those boys are crazy. It’s not 20 miles to Joplin.’….so, “Hickory and Beanie [Benson] bet me $500 each the sign was right. Of course, I won the bet. Hickory and Beanie used that same sign to win plenty of bets later.” Biographer Jon Bradshaw wrote of Thompson….“In the period between 1912 and the end of the First World War, Ty became famous in the netherworld of gamblers and confidence men for the success of his improbable propositions. … By changing the common hustle into a pure and elegantly constructed con, Ty earned an envious respect among his fellow gamblers. Tales of his feats were recounted so often they acquired the legitimacy of legend.” Such as the walnut throw…..as Thompson sat on the porch of the Arlington Hotel in Hot Springs, Ark., eating walnuts from a bag. A local merchant fell into conversation, and Titanic offered him a walnut, eventually giving him the entire bag and saying, casually enough….“I’ve got an interesting proposition for you. What odds will you give that I can’t throw one of these Danish walnuts over that hotel across the street?” The hotel was five stories. “Ty,” the merchant said, “you are some thrower, but not even Ty Cobb could throw a walnut over that hotel.” “Maybe not,” Titanic said, “but I’m willin’ to bet I can. Shucks, I’m willin’ to bet a hundred dollars if you could see your way to givin’ me odds of, uh, three-to-one.” “One of these walnuts, Ty?” “Yep. You can pick any walnut in this here bag.” Sure enough, a walnut flew from Titanic’s hand over that five-story hotel. And the muttering merchant reached for his wallet. He was neither the first nor the last who would fail to discover that Thompson, preparing to throw, had replaced the chosen walnut with the one he carried everywhere—the one filled with lead. It was easily thrown over a hotel, tree or barn that begged for a proposition.
Special – 1893 To 1974 – Titanic Thompson: The Greatest Cheat Of All Time
And propositions weren’t even his best game. Thompson was almost 30 years old before he discovered golf…..when after an all-night poker games at the Kingston Club in San Francisco in 1921….that’s when he sneaked out to the club’s practice range…..and in a few weeks, the master of hand-eye coordination could play…..as he always played left-handed with one exception….that was If he heard money whispering….and if so, he often started out playing right-handed….and when he heard the money talking, he would say, “I tell you what. I’ll play you double or nothing—and I’ll play left-handed.” He told Jon Bradshaw, “It was the easiest thing you ever saw. I played golf almost as well as I breathed.” Not that Titanic said as much to his poker buddies….especially one being the local pro Buddy Brent…..to whom he denigrated golf as a child’s game that he probably could pick it up in a morning. Shucks, he said, he could probably go out right then and beat Brent. The pro beat Thompson every hole in a nine-hole wager with $90 in damages ….and while on the way home, Titanic moaned that his luck had been bad….and the clubs were borrowed ….plus, his back ached from the all-night poker he’d have done better if he felt better. At the next night’s poker, Titanic continued to fume….and when Brent dropped in again….for that is when he asked for a rematch….as this time for $1,000 a hole but he had to get three shots a hole…..as the pro agreed to give him one shot per hole….thus, with side bets, $60,000 was at stake. As Titanic told it, gamblers by the first tee greeted him with sympathetic applause….that is until his tee shot went 275 yards down the middle. Brent blanched. A shot or two the winner, Titanic picked up $56,000. “I never shot more than a stroke or two better’n the opposition,” he said. “If a man shoots 89, I shoot 88. If a man shoots 68, I shoot 67. I never liked to add insult to injury.”
Titanic Thompson’s salad days were the Prohibition years of 1920-’33. Declaring liquor illegal served best to add a sense of illicit adventure to finding a drink. That pleasure of guilt spilled over to gambling as well, with clandestine games of chance available to players in roadhouses and in secret back rooms of fancy hotels. Gambling and sports were intertwined so casually that in the ’20s the New York baseball manager, John J. McGraw, owned a pool hall with Arnold Rothstein, the gambler whose money bought the Chicago White Sox’s cooperation in the 1919 World Series. “In the early part of the century,” Jon Bradshaw wrote, “the professional gambler was still a romantic figure—a fallen man, perhaps, and evil, if the melodramas of the period are to be believed. He was a freebooter, a man who took the long chance at a time when the country still believed in dark horses. Titanic Thompson was at the heart of that belief.”
Resourceful and energetic, he once said, “I’ve been broke, but never for more than six hours at a time.”
He was flush on Sept. 7, 1928, for a poker game on New York’s West Side, attended by a rogue’s gallery of gamblers, bookmakers, horseplayers and organized-crime muscle. The game included Arnold Rothstein, who would lose $475,000….with $30,000 of it to Thompson…..but Rothstein didn’t pay while handing out IOUs…..then six weeks later, he turned up murdered by a gunman…..and the New York newspapers had a time with it. Of the poker players arrested as material witnesses, “ … it was Titanic, then and later, who caught the public’s fancy,” the columnist John Lardner wrote in 1951. “Maybe because he was said to be a Westerner, a lone wolf, a romantic and single-duke gambler of the old school.” Prosecutors believed Thompson and Rothstein had conspired to cheat George McManus out of $51,000….and that a vengeful McManus murdered Rothstein. At the trial, a prosecutor asked Thompson what he did for a living….while replying “I run a cafe,” ….“You have other means of income, do you not?”….to which Titanic smiled while saying “I play a little golf for money.” The prosecutor continued, “Isn’t it right that you are, in fact, a man who makes rather large sums of money by gambling at golf … and that you bet on the horses and sell jewelry at racetracks … and that you have played in a number of high-stake poker games … ?” Titanic Thompson was a state’s witness, cooperating in exchange for reduced bail. Once under oath, though, his memory failed, and he told the prosecutor….“You see, I just don’t remember things. If I bet on a horse today and won 10 grand, I probably would not be able to recall the horse’s name tomorrow.” To no one’s shock, Titanic’s memory improved under cross-examination…..as he declared that George McManus, the accused, was really a swell guy….while being even a swell loser….who was never upset by anything at all, certainly not upset by losing only $51,000 to Rothstein….whose IOU, as all of New York knew, was as good as gold. The next day, McManus was acquitted of Rothstein’s murder.
After the trial, famous if not infamous, Titanic went back on the road….and often found himself in the company of professional golfers. The tour in the 1930’s was little more than an excuse to go gambling…. when if not on the golf course…… then in a hotel room rolling dice and dealing poker. “It was all gambling,” said Jack Burke Jr., the 1956 Masters champion….who learned the game during the Depression from his father, a prominent Texas pro. “They had bookmakers at every tournament. They’d make more gambling with each other than there was in the purse. Ben Hogan would play you $50 nassaus. Thompson wasn’t alone gambling on golf. There were a lot of Titanic Thompsons loose out there. It was Bonnie and Clyde time.” The early years of the Depression left 30 million people with no income at all….as they were desperate people whose tolerance of crime was the highest in American history. By robbing banks and shooting his way out, John Dillinger became a folk hero. “People who had never seen a pistol,” a historian wrote, “spoke casually of the rod, the roscoe, the equalizer, or the heat.” ….as Titanic Thompson carried a .45 with adhesive tape on the butt to make the grip surer. He had killed his first man on a riverboat by hitting him in the head with a hammer and allowing him to fall overboard. The next four he did with the .45, each time dropping to one knee and firing up at the poor fellows who thought to rob him.
Special – 1983 To 1974 – The History Guy Presents The Gambler Who Cheated Al Capone
Sam Snead had heard the stories, not only of the sharpshooting but of Titanic’s golf game. He knew Thompson played left-handed with a baseball grip and was a good short-iron player who made every putt he needed…..so, when Snead met him in 1934….as one hustler apprising another, Sam asked, “Just how good are you?”….to which Titanic responded….“Play me and find out….I’ll take four strokes a side.”…..as Snead came back with “Not until I see your honest swing.” They should live so long. One of his travelling partners, Herman Keiser, who later beat Hogan to win the 1946 Masters, said Titanic seldom gave a sucker an even break. “Ty’d get a Hungarian lock on ’em before they hit the first tee ball. Oh my, he’d be moaning about his bad back and his stiff hands and how he hadn’t played for so long. They didn’t have a chance. He’d even talk ’em into letting Tall Boy—that was me—have two putts on every green. Well, hell. I didn’t need but one most of the time.” Runyan calls Thompson “the best left-handed player in the world until Bob Charles came along. He could really play. He was deft, is the word, at hitting any shot in the bag.” Tommy Bolt, the 1958 U.S. Open champion commented….“He could’ve been the greatest. He had great everything, a good, solid, compact swing. Not one of those long swings like Hogan’s where you had to practice every day to keep it; Ty had a gambler’s swing. No telling how great that guy could’ve been—except back then he made more money hustling oilmen in east Texas than he could have made on the tour.”
Byron Nelson had heard the name but until 1934 had never seen Thompson. Members at Nelson’s club in Dallas arranged a money match between the two best players they knew of in Texas, Titanic Thompson and Byron Nelson. The way Thompson told it, he shot a 29 on the back nine at Ridglea to win $3,000. Now, wait a minute. Thompson wants us to believe he was good enough to beat Byron Nelson? So you go to Nelson under the big oak trees at Augusta National the day the 1994 Masters starts….and you ask one of history’s greatest players if he ever played Titanic Thompson. “I saw him once,” Nelson says. “He’d been out in the east Texas oil fields. Those fellas had so much money, it was easy for Titanic to make money out there. I’d turned pro a couple years before when I was 20, 21. The members said they wanted me to play Ty, and I told them I wasn’t a gambler. They said, ‘We’ll take care of that.’ Ty was backing himself. I had to give him three shots. He shot 71 and I shot 69. The money? I don’t have any idea.” What Nelson also remembered were Thompson’s eyes. “He was a nice-looking man, pleasant and polite, with very sharp eyes. Those eyes could look a hole through you.” The eyes also come up in conversation with Keiser. You find the old man at his driving range in Ohio, 80 years old….and you ask if you can talk to him about Titanic Thompson, to which Keiser bellows, “Noooo…..Well …I have got nothing good to say about him. He never gave me a dime…..for he was a thief. Playing poker, he’d mark the cards, and he could see his mark. He had wonderful eyes.”….so, you mumble something about how everyone remembers the eyes. Then Herman Keiser starts talking….“I was with him for one trip across the country. We played 10, 12 places. Good short-iron player, pretty good player all around…..who had fun every minute every day. But all the money he made, I never got a dime. I never wanted it, never took as much as a $10 bill….then one day, he’s got to be 80, he shows up at my house in Ohio. I hadn’t seen him in 10 years…..and here he comes with a partner and two young girls. He says, ‘Herman, I’ve got a plan that’s going to make you rich.’ Here’s Titanic after all these years, and he’s trying to hustle me. He says, ‘Give me $5,000, Herman, and we’re going to make these lamps that use natural gas.’….that’s when I tell him, ‘Ty, stay right here, I’ll be right back.’ I go in the house and get my .22 pistol with the long barrel. I come out in the garage and I tell him, ‘Get outta here right now or I’m gonna shoot you.’….which was the last I ever saw of Titanic Thompson.”
By then Thompson lived in Dallas. He had no money. He was old and tired. A doctor took a look and said Ty didn’t have enough blood to keep a grasshopper alive. Then one night, the doctor, a Dallas dentist named Jim Hill, told Ty he didn’t believe all he’d heard. “Turns out he could do all that stuff,” the doctor said….“he had almost an ESP that let him do these amazing physical things. He could just touch a card and mark it. Nobody believes this, but I saw it In my kitchen, in dim lights, he’s in his 70s, he takes 20 cards, gives us some rhetoric about them being plastic and hard to mark, shuffled them, gave them to my wife and told her to lay them face down and he’d name them just looking at their backs…..and of the 20 cards, he named 18. Even in his 70s, Thompson was still dedicated to the wild proposition that would add to his fame and notoriety.”
Looking for money, Titanic talked about a movie. Clint Eastwood could play him. Maybe James Garner. Titanic wanted $1 million. No movie ever got made, and too bad about that: Here’s a man 62 and fresh out of jail (cops caught him naked with a teenager not his wife) who marries Jeanette, an oilman’s daughter, 19 years old….who called him Slim rather than Titanic. They wandered the highway for years, the old hustler and his young bride, from California to Arizona to New Mexico before winding up in Texas….where
he met an 18-year-old son he had left with his previous wife 16 years before….as the boy, Tommy, had become a gambler….who today calls himself “the best card mechanic in the world.” He’ll tell you his father, even at 75, had eyes so good he could stand across the street and identify the nine of spades in your hand. He’ll tell you he cheated his dad at cards one day and the old man’s grateful reaction was to hug him and say, for the first time, “I love you, son.” The San Antonio sportswriter Dan Cook wrote “Ty must’ve been 70 when I met him at a poker game. He walked with a strut, almost military. His eyes were the thing, eagle eyes that didn’t miss a thing. As the cards were dealt, those eagle eyes watched them all the way around. Afterward, we sat on the porch until 4 in the morning. I asked him if it were true he could play golf both right- and left-handed. He said, ‘Left-handed? That’s ridiculous.’ “….which must have been the siren song the left-hander sang to suckers all over America for a half-century and more.
Pool – 1985 – Once A Star Special – The Tales Of Minnesota Fats
Before he tamed down and won everything, Raymond Floyd was a stallion looking for a test. In 1965, he took his game to Tenison Park in Dallas, a hustler’s shooting gallery. There Floyd noticed an old man in the trees….“He was a tall, slender gentleman,” Floyd said, “and I’d seen him watching me. He introduced himself as Ty Thomas. I’d heard of him, of course, and he asked if I’d heard of Lee Trevino….I said no, and Ty asked if I’d play Trevino. I said certainly. I’ll play anybody I’ve never heard of.’….Ty said, ‘On his course?’ I said, ‘I’ll play anybody anywhere I’ve never heard of.’ ” Trevino and Floyd played three days at El Paso Country Club, Trevino winning the first two days and Floyd the third, with maybe $1,000 changing hands. Floyd on Titanic Thompson…..“I remember most his hands. He had the hands of a 25-year-old. I caught myself looking at them. He had long, elegant, linear fingers, just perfect, like they’d been drawn. You could see how he did the sleight of hand with cards. It’s an odd word to use about a man’s hands, but they were just beautiful.”
In 1973, the old man and his young wife were divorced so he could qualify for Government aid in a nursing home. “It won’t be so bad,” Titanic told the dentist Jim Hill. “I’ll beat those old geezers out of their Social Security money.” Less than a year later, Alvin Clarence Thomas died in his sleep. “Slim was a good person, and everybody loved him,” Jeanette said. “He enjoyed every minute in that nursing home. He probably had himself a little nurse in there somewhere. And every minute he lived he was looking to gamble on something. He didn’t waste his time with anything that interfered with gambling, not food or sleep or love. Slim didn’t just like to gamble, he loved to gamble….and as much as he said he didn’t like the notoriety, he loved it. He loved being Titanic Thompson.”