by Kevin Cook

Alvin Clarence Thomas came out of rural Arkansas in 1909,

Busted a bad man's skull with a hammer on a riverboat-his first kill-and conned

Capone in Chicago, where Scarface Al's cronies watched him

Drive a golf ball more than 500 yards. "Titanic Thompson" (his road name)

Eyed the distant green on an icy winter day, then turned and smacked his ball onto

Frozen Lake Michigan. Soon he drove west, eluding J. Edgar Hoover's

G-men, as Titanic always would, spending his winnings on a house in

Hollywood. He stalked Howard Hughes, who was too smart to bet with him, and

Insinuated himself into the orbit, and the bed, of film star

Jean Harlow. Her skin, he said, was "scratchy." In San Francisco's

Kingston Club he teamed up with poker legend Nick the Greek, playing

Low-ball, in which 2-3-4-5-7 is the best hand. He won his first

Million, stuffed it in a suitcase and headed for-where else?

New York, where he double-crossed crime boss Arnold "The Brain" Rothstein,

Outsmarting the Brain, who wound up shot in the groin at the

Park Central Hotel. When the bleeding man was

Questioned by police-"Who shot you?"

Rothstein put a finger to his lips:

Sssh! And died. Newsman Damon Runyon turned

Titanic into Sky Masterson, the gambler-hero of Guys and Dolls, while Ti,

Unknown to the public, motored through the desert to

Vegas, a town he hated-too hard to cheat there-and added a fifth

Wife to his previous four. He was 61, she was 18. The groom's

X-rated bachelor party got him thrown in jail. Still clinging to his

Youthful games, Titanic bet high till his bankroll shrank to

Zero, and he ended like all the great gamblers, broke but not broken.