Tom Nolan's fine piece on the late Walter Tevis (The Book Review, March 29) stirred recollections of a pre-"Hustler" pool story by Tevis that I purchased in my capacity as executive editor of Playboy, three years before the publication of his most well-known novel. The short story, which Tevis called "The Actor," attracted me because of its excellent writing and sharp character delineation of a pool hustler. Before buying it, however, I checked out its accuracy with the most skillful pool player I knew, my father. Dad gave the story a clean bill of health, poolwise, and I bought it for the magazine's January, 1957, issue. But first, I changed the title--to "The Hustler."
A couple of years later, Tevis appropriated that title for his 1959 pool novel, and the same title eventually was used for the 1961 Paul Newman movie, as well. The film earned Newman such acclaim that he became enamored of the letter "H" and insisted that his future films must also bear the good luck initial "H" in their titles--so the story goes, at any rate--thus leading to "Hud" and "Harper" (a character called Archer until Newman demanded a name-change). Little did I suspect, when I changed the title of the Tevis short story, that I was creating a whole new superstition.