Memory of a Legend
photos courtesy Don Henderson -- All rights reserved
(Natale Michael Gabriele)
2/28/30 – 12/10/05
They just don’t make ‘em like Jack anymore—big personality, big heart, and a ton of gamble. Hollywood Jack, born Natale Michael Gabriele, was one of those larger than life characters who was always cracking a joke and would insist on giving you the shirt off his back. Unless, that is, if he was gambling with you -- in that case you had a pit bull at your throat for the duration.
Jack was of that generation of pool players who came of age before “The Hustler” and Johnson City. He was born in 1930 of Italian immigrant parents in Providence, Rhode Island, and developed a knack for pool and cards at an early age. Around the age of twenty he got the bug to see the world and stuck out his thumb and spent many months on the road playing pool till he finally reached the sunny climes of Los Angeles, California.
His last ride dropped him off at Hollywood Blvd. and Western Ave. and Jack knew in his bones that this was going to be his new home. (Hollywood & Western was the old home of Hollywood Billiards where Jack was to become owner in a few of years.) In the early 1950s, LA had more Snooker and billiard tables than it did pool tables. Though Jack had never really played those games before, he soon became adept at both of them and Snooker was to eventually become his best game.
Jack took to the sporting life in Los Angeles like a duck to water and soon augmented his pool earnings with cards and occasional stints as a movie extra. Art “Doc” Tripp captured Jack’s gambling style best: “Jack had a little of the ‘Ronnie Allen’ in him. He’d oftentimes give away the nuts, but then beat the spread anyhow. Typical of the seat-of-their-pants gamblers, he was at his best when he was on that ‘action’ juice.”
Jack flourished in the LA pool scene in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s. It was an action-charged world peopled with characters like Cuban Joe, Fat Bill, Sleepy Bob, Harry the Hook, Magic Man, and Shakey Red. Jack would often partner up with Marvin Henderson or Ronnie Allen in trying to trap the many road players who showed up in LA. When Jack was at Chopsticks, a pool hall in Burbank, he presided over a bunch of young up-and-comers like Cole Dickson, Keith McCready, Ritchie Florence, and Allen Gilbert.
Jack was a lady’s man and always took Saturdays off from the gambling routine to go to the many dance halls that proliferated in LA in those days. He often made forays to Las Vegas with card players like “The Nutty Professor,” a wealthy UCLA Professor who wasn’t afraid to drop (or win) $250 grand on occasion. In fact, during the late 1970s as pool action started drying up, Jack turned more and more to cards as his mainstay.
Jack always encouraged beginning pool players. Some of LA’s better One Pocket players like “Canadian” Wayne first learned their moves from him. One of Jack’s greatest talents was stirring up action. It was said of him that “Jack could get the Pope to gamble.” Yet he never denigrated the non-gamblers. When others were knocking guys for not playing for real money, Jack would tell them: “Leave him alone – let him play – he just loves the game.” Jack himself loved pool so much that everyday when he woke up he was so anxious to get down to the pool hall he would run out the door before properly drying himself from the shower.
In 2001, Jack was diagnosed with multiple Myoloma. From then on it was a steady decline. His good friend Peter Hess helped look after him in his last days, ferrying him back and forth to the hospital during his treatments and relapses. Up until the very end, Jack would make his appearance at the pool hall cracking jokes and getting the side action going. Finally at the end of 2005 Jack succumbed to the inevitable. We’re all going to miss that mischievous little-kid look he had whenever he stuck his face in the poolroom.
OnePocket.org would like to thank Don Henderson for submitting the above article
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