Helaine was born in 1944 and grew up in a Jewish family in Chicago, Illinois. Her parents wanted her to marry a nice Jewish boy and become a senator. “I remember my mother marveling that senators earned $22,500 a year.” Instead, she married an artist from Glasgow. He wore a black leather motorcycle jacket lined with his old kilt. She currently lives in Portland, Oregon.
In 1970 Helaine Garren shot a series of images at Bensinger’s Pool Hall while she was a student at the Art Institute of Chicago. She had a long history with the Art Institute, as her parents sent her there for art classes every Saturday of her childhood. She also had a long history with pocket billiards, as in her words, she “spent many of my bad-girl years learning the game.” The two interests collided when she decided to major in photography.
“While studying photography I chose to shoot a series on Bensinger’s, a classic old-time pool hall that had been the inspiration for The Hustler. I had spent a good deal of time shooting pool there and thought the beautiful side lighting and shady characters would provide an ideal setting. I began shooting with a telephoto lens at first. I didn’t want to disrupt the concentration and social dynamics at the tables. I was there so often, though, that I became a fixture and could sit right next to the tables, and no one seemed to notice me.”
These photographs were taken at Bensinger’s around 1970. According to Chicago magazine in 1971, Bensinger’s was “the best poolroom in the country.”
Bensinger’s was located on the corner of Diversey and Broadway in Chicago. It was the inspiration for the award-winning movies, The Hustler and The Color of Money, as well as David Mamet’s essay, “Pool Halls.” There was nowhere else on earth that so personified the myth of the pool hustler.
Here’s what Artie Bodendorfer had to say about the place. (Artie was a nearly unbeatable 1-pocket hustler in his day):
“Bensinger’s—where pool players and pool hustlers lived. They lived their lives on a green felt cloth table in a dark, dingy basement…with no air and no windows. All you could smell was all the action and an atmosphere of a torture chamber. I am a hustler and I lived my whole life as a hustler. I never had a job and I never will. I lived my life at Bensinger’s. It was the greatest and most exciting pool room to be in, with all the high class, low class, thieves, killers, judges, lawyers, politicians, policemen, gentlemen, pimps, drug addicts, hustlers, con men. You name it—Bensinger’s had it all.”
We are always looking to identify players in the images. Please email Helaine if you are able to provide any information.