Whirlwind Finish 9 In A Row

Lou Butera

Lou (Machine Gun Kid) Bu­tera still has two years to fulfill a life-long dream.

“I feel I’m ahead of sched­ule, “Lou told this writer after placing third in the Billiard Room Proprietors Association of America’s World’s Pocket Billiard Championship at the Hotel Commodore in New York City in March.

“Last year I tied for eighth and this year I got third so maybe I won’t have to wait un­til I’m 30 to realize my dream,” Lou said as he accepted con­gratulations from every top bil­liard dignatary for his amaz­ing show during the tourney.

If you haven’t guessed it by now–Lou’s dream and goal–is to win the World’s Pocket Bil­liard Championship by the time he is 30.

And those who saw him in action at the Commodore aren’t ready to bet against him.

For the 28-year-old Butera, now the operator of the Q Lounge located at 140 south Main Street in Wilkes Barre, Pa. has real­ly come a long way since the first time he picked up a cue stick.

“His style of play is one of the most exciting to ever hit the game,” said Bob McGirr, the president of the BRPAA. “He gives the crowd a con­tinuous feeling of excitement.”

Butera deserves the tab Ma­chine Gun.

For who else can claim the record of 93 balls in just eight minutes?

Lou is a sincere quiet indi­vidual who mixes freely in ban­ter between players and is a keen student of the game.

Always anxious to learn, Lou believes in practice–and at the oddest hours.

For an example of Lou’s wil­lingness to hit the practice balls we turn to the recently conclud­ed World’s.

Lou had won his first match of the tourney but then ran into a bad streak in which he drop­ped four straight games.

“This left me puzzled” he explained, “All of a sudden I was missing shots that I nor­mally don’t have any trouble with.

“The evening right after the fourth straight defeat I got to thinking. I just couldn’t sleep, What was I doing wrong?”

Lou took a look at the clock which said 5:30 in the morning.

He quickly dressed and went down to the practice room,

“I entered the room. The only people there were those who were cleaning up,” he re­calls with a smile.

“I asked them for a rack of balls.

“Believe me they thought I was crazy.

“But finally I convinced them that I was a player and they let me have a table and the balls.

“After a while I discovered what the trouble was.

“I had been taking my eye off the ball and therefore miss­ing the real easy shots.

“I worked on keeping my eye on the ball and within an hour I was hitting the balls right into the center of the pockets.

“Then I went out and had some coffee and felt real good,”

The practice session really proved to be the remedy that Lou needed.

For the West Pittston Ma­chine Gun really found the range.

Moving without hesitation he started to catch the fancy of the crowd.

Nine times after that prac­tice session Lou cued up against the finest array of billiard talent assembled and nine times he accepted the congratulations of the crowd.

Lou wound up with a 10-4 record and third place,

“Boy if I only had found the solution earlier, I might be the World’s titleholder today,” Lou said,

As it was, Lou almost gained a shot in the BRPAA’ s Challenge Match later this year.

Had Cicero Murphy lost his first match to Luther Lassiter, who went on to win the title and had Cicero in the process re­corded less than 77 balls, then Butera would have gained sec­ond place and the shot at Luther.

“I’m not really all that dis­appointed,” Butera said.

“I made a few early mis­takes and it cost me.”

It may have cost him the title but Butera gained the admir­ation of almost every billiard fan in the country.

“The kid never quit,” Mike Bosone, the tournament announ­cer and director, said.

“Believe me it takes a lot of guts to lose four out of the first five and then come back like that.”

Guts and Butera seem to go together.

Let’s take a look back at the Machine Gun’s past–and then maybe a look into what we feel will be his future.

Lou Butera was born in East Pittston – a coal mineing town.

The Buteras lived in what was called “Dago Town”– an area reserved mainly for the Italian workers most of whom toiled in the mines.

Needless to go into descrip­tion, Lou, being of small sta­ture, didn’t have an easy time of it.

“You had to fight to Iive,” Lou recalled while fingering the tuxedo he was wearing.

That tuxedo gives an exam­ple of how far Lou has come from those early days.

When Lou was seven, tragedy befell the family as his mother passed away,

“I was a real wild kid then ” Lou recalls with a glimmer ‘in his eyes. “There was hardly anyone who could really control me,”

Lou’s father had quit the mines when he was 35.

“Man he was spitting black and as any coal miner knows that’s had,” Lou said.

Just when Lou decided to be­come a professional pocket bil­liard player wasn’t exactly known but when his mother died Lou’s father took him to the pool room that he had opened after quitting the mines.

“I just know that from the time I was seven and got start­ed on the pool tables I became pretty sharp.

“When I was 10 I could beat any kid on the pool table.

“By the time I was 14 it was a well established fact in town that Lou Butera wasn’t afraid of anyone on or off the pool ta­ble.”

Not that Lou was boasting but as he says:

“It wasn’t easy being small and having people pick on you. You had to fight back–and be­lieve me there were plenty of times that I fought.”

Lou would visit every pool parlor in the area and would play anyone regardless of the guys age or any other factor.

Because the local school au­thorities insisted that Lou at­tend school he was forced to visit some other establishments.

“My old man wouldn’t let me play in his room when school was in. He wanted me to go to school. But heck there was many a day that I wouldn’t feel like it and then I’d go down and visit my friend Toke LaPorte.”

When Lou mentions Toke La­Porte whose real name is An­thony Francis his eyes light. up and he smiles.

Throughout the history of sports there are relationships between men that stand out and one day the relationship between Lou and Toke will be cemented with the plaque that reads Lou Butera–World’s Champion.

“I owe so much to Toke,” Lou says, “that never will I be able to repay it.”

Toke will settle for one thing in repayment–the world’s title.

At the world’s tournament in 1965 this writer was introduced to Toke, who told some stories about Lou that should be reveal­ed.

”This kid,” he said pointing to Lou,’ would come into the room that I managed (La­Torre’s).

“His father would thing he was in school.

“Every once in a while the school principle would call the room and ask if Lou was around. Being a good friend of Lou’s I would say No.

“After a while the truant of­ficer used to get into the habit of dropping in and boy was Lou busy hiding. Most of the time Lou got away.”

The admiration of the two grew closer when the Joey Chit­wood Dare Devils came into town.

Let’s let Lou describe what happened that day.

“First of all let me explain to you what the group was.

“They drove those hot rods through fire and concrete. Noth­ing soft you see.

“Well one day two of these guys come into LaTorre’s and one who Toke named the Devil because he was a driver is a pretty good player.

“This guy with him worked as a barker for the show and he opens his mouth and says to Toke:

“Who’s the best player. Get him and some money and we’ll have a little stake game.”

As the story goes on Toke decided that the best he had was Lou, who by then was 14 and still wore knickers.

“We bet $400 of just about everyone’s money,” Lou said.

“We got all the people and friends there to put up shares of $5, $10 or whatever they had.

“The action didn’t stop there. Before the first ball was hit my friend Joe Ranelli came in and put up his brand new car against $500–so you see there was a lot of scratch riding on this fame.”

The Devil claimed to be a top­notch player.

So with just about everyone in town looking on the Devil was pitted against Lou.

Toke had told everyone who the Devil’s opponent would be except the Devil himself.

Then a hasty message went out to get Lou.

Here’s how Toke recalls that match,

“Lou walked into the place and said ‘Who do I play?’

The Devil just looked and said: ‘I gotta play a little kid.”

The Devil it is said just start­ed to laugh.

Remember the old saying those who laugh last laugh best –well it happened in this case.

Lou lost the lag and the Devil started to swing into action.

This Devil wasn’t anyone to laugh at when it came to play­ing pool.

Before the overflow crowd knew it Lou was down 73 to nothing.

It’s a 125-point match and Lou finally stepped to the table knowing that not only did his reputation hang on the outcome of the game but lots of hard earned dough of his friends was also riding.

Lou then ran 42 and the Devil more than makes up for that run by running 46 and here he misses.

So Lou walked to the table down 119-42 and it was gloomy in the place.

Lou started to run in his rapid fire style and before you know it he was really catching up, Lou ran and ran and the story goes on to say that he ran 83 and out and the two visitors (The Devil and the Barker) just stood there and watched Lou come over to them and tell them to mark it down that The Devil was now beaten by “One man- – Er­win Rudolph and by one boy- – Lou Butera.”

Lou was treated to a vic­tory celebration right down main street and the town was real proud of the boy in the knicker pants.

Lou eventually got out of the knickers and started to grow up.

He married a beautiful gal named Carrie who he had start­ed courting when he was 15 and she was 13.
“The only trouble was that I couldn’t get her out on a date until she was 17,” Lou recalls. “Her old man just wouldn’t let me take her out.”

The wedding bells chillled for the Buteras while Lou was still in the army.

”I was an Army wife for five years,” Carrie said.

“I really thought that the Army would be my career,” Lou said. “I guess I had more security then than ever before.•’

However, when the Buteras third child Patricia was just three weeks old Lou got shipped out to Korea and as he says:

“All I could think of when I was over there was her growing up while I was gone.”

After his return from Korea Lou decided to give up the Army life.

Now the Buteras who have a home in West Pittston have five children and Lou is happy.

“I really am,” he said while in New York. “I’ve got a good wife and some nice children and I’m really proud,”

When Lou returned from the Army he told Toke that he was going to make pro billiards his life.

“I don’t know who was hap­pier,” Lou said. “Toke or me.”

Lou says that he didn’t play at all while he was in the Army.

No one took to the game with more determination than Lou did when he returned to pri­vate life in 1962.

In ’63 he wrote a letter to the BRPAA saying that he wanted into the World’s.

He never got invited that year and he became more determin­ed than ever.

“Jimmie Caras and Jimmie Moore both came into town and I beat them and my reputation started to spread,” Lou says.

In 1964 Lou won the Pennsyl­vania State Championship and an invitation into the ’65 World’s in New York City.

Lou’s initial World’s Poc­ket Billiard Championship left a lot to be desired.

There was a point in the open­ing days when Lou fouled with his tuxedo jacket.

“l was nervous,” he says. ”But after a short time I straightened my game out.”

Lou finished the tourney with a record of five and eight.

The following year by vir­tue of again capturing the Penn­sylvania State title he was again invited to the World’s.

Prior to that invitation the Buteras were living in Philadel­phia since Lou was managing a room in Upper Darby.

In the ’65 World’s the Ma­chine Gun looked good in stretches, but poor at other times.

Towards the end of the tour­ney he was one of the most fear­ed players in the field. He wound up with a 8-6 mark and a tie with Irving Crane and Ed Kel­ly. On total balls Lou was placed eighth.

Lou’s a determined man and he will travel to tournaments around the country.

Lou wants to see a regular pro tour organized and feels that will definitely put the game on the right footing.

Like many of the other pros he has been burned by some poor promotions and for the time being wants to pick his spots.

The game has been enriched by the presence on the scene of a machine gun-like shooter of Lou’s calibre.

This kid has impressed ev­eryone and as we said before don’t bet that Lou won’t take the title before he’s 30.

For the knicker pants kid from the streets of East Pitts­ton has done a lot more than just move his address across town to West Pittston.

He’s come up the billiard lad­der–but much more import­ant-he has also climbed up the social ladder.

This article originally appeared in the May 1966 issue of the National Billiard News and is reprinted with permission.