Pool had suffered a major decline during the 50’s culture of wholesome family idealism and in 1961 tournaments were virtually non-existent. Yet this was also the year that the blockbuster movie, The Hustler, was released. And it just so happened that one of the era’s biggest (and most vocal) pool hustlers lived near the small town of Johnston City, Illinois, home of the brothers George and Joe (better known as ‘Paulie’) Jansco. George was a pretty good player himself, and one of his regular customers was none other than Rudolph Wanderone, then known as NY Fats.
It was George that was the main force behind the original Johnston City tournament in 1961, which was only One Pocket, yet quickly became so popular that he recruited his brother to help out. In the second year the tournament was moved from the little bar behind George’s J& J Ranch to Paulie’s larger Show Bar.
That first tournament was organized mainly by word of mouth, and attracted just 14 players, but it was a who’s who of the top road player/gamblers of the time. Despite the fact that the road players were George’s natural pool element, George recognized the need to put a respectable face on the event – at least during tournament hours. Players had to conform to a dress code and a modicum of discipline during tournament hours, but at the same time he encouraged the after-hours environment in the ‘practice room’ out back, which was open all night. In that way George straddled both sides of pools split personality – the more formal tournament scene, and the no-holds-barred action in the “lions den”.
Local reporter Tom Fox was the one that really broke the story about Johnston City in his portrayal of the high stakes action and colorful characters in a major article in Sports Illustrated. That article helped launch Johnston City as a major tournament, Fats as a pool celebrity, and Fox as a nationally recognized journalist – all because George Jansco got the idea for a little One Pocket tournament!
By the third year Jim McKay and ABC’s Wide World of Sports were covering the event, which even led to the debut of One Pocket on national TV. After George died in 1969, Paulie took over both the Johnston City and Stardust tournaments.
Between these two events, these two brothers handed out more prize money than any other pool promoters ever before; for that alone they are overdue hall of fame credit. They also invented the all-around tournament format and were the first promoters to introduce both One Pocket and 9-Ball as major tournament games. We can also thank the Jansco Brothers for forever opening our eyes to a new way of embracing both sides of pools dual personality, spotlighting the hustlers not just as entertaining characters, but as legitimately skilled players. How appropriate these brothers should receive Hall of Fame recognition here at the Derby City Classic!