Born in 1934 in West Virginia, Marvin Henderson moved as a child to the hill district of Pittsburgh, where an early job shining shoes just down the hill at ‘Woogie’ Harris’s Crystal Barbershop gave Marvin his first glimpse into the enticing world of pool action. It was a classic barbershop in the front with a poolroom in the back and Marvin shining shoes in between. Too young to play in that back room at first, he sought out the nearest neighborhood room that would let him in.
A natural at the game, Marvin’s game progressed so fast as a teenager it seemed like every day he would defeat yet another player as he worked his way up the competitive ladder. First in Pittsburgh, and then across the country from Cleveland to Chicago and New York, until he finally landed in the holy grail of pool scenes at that time, California in the late fifties. There, in rooms like the Crooked Cue, and Cochran’s, he tangled every day with players like ‘Bananas’, Eddie Taylor and Ronnie Allen. In fact it was his sessions with Taylor that Marvin later credited for adding the final touch to his banking skills. It was also there that he was dubbed “Pittsburgh Flash” by a local sports writer, on account of how quickly his matches seemed to go, but he was known as a sharp dresser as well.
With a velvet smooth stroke, delivered by a powerful cobra of a wrist, Marvin was as comfortable with the lightest touch shot as he was with the most mind-blowing masse. It is hard to exaggerate how much Marvin’s stroke impressed people. Those who saw him in his prime often describe him as one of the great all around talents of all time, in the mold of Harold Worst, including both pocket games and three cushion.
But just when Marvin’s talent was peaking, his career almost came to a tragic end in the split second he was slammed by a passing car after he stopped to fix a flat on the Oakland Bay Bridge. Doctors told him he had little chance of walking again. With the same kind of determination that he showed in his game, that threat motivated Marvin to defy the odds, but it took him nine months, multiple operations and steel reinforcements to finally walk out of the hospital. For the rest of his life he carried a bit of a limp and chronic pain as constant reminders of the accident.
In 1968 he won the Stardust One Pocket division, going undefeated against a field including the likes of Ronnie Allen, Eddie Kelley and host of other future hall of famers. But tournaments were not really his main focus, he preferred the action. He was one of the early players to get in on the high stakes that swept through “The Rack” in Oak Park during the early 70’s. Marvin died in 1998.
When Chicago’s Bugs Rucker was the king of after-hours One Pocket and Banks, he and Marvin collided in a showdown at Banks in one of the big action spots in LA, Dick Barnett’s on Crenshaw. This time, Bugs came out ahead 14-12 out of 26 games, yet his backers surprisingly declined to accept Marvin’s challenge to switch the game to One Pocket. It seems that the last time they had played One Pocket back in Chicago, Marvin had looked so good in a losing effort against Bugs, that the money on the rail had shifted towards Marvin despite the fact he was losing, and the session was cut short.
Marvin was featured in one of Tom Shaw’s Legends of the Road series in Pool & Billiard Magazine in November 1998.