When Fast Eddie prepares for his first matchup against Minnesota Fats, his manager sits down in front of a poster depicting Willie Mosconi, 14-time world champion in billiards from 1941 to 1957. About ten minutes later, Willie himself makes a cameo as the guy who holds onto the bet money. His character name is also Willie.
All the pool shots in the movie are performed by the actors themselves (Paul Newman and Jackie Gleason) except one: the massé shot (cue ball sends two object balls into the same pocket), performed by Willie Mosconi.
While at the Kentucky Derby, the race announcer lists some of the horses racing. One of the horses named is "Stroke of Luck". "Stroke of Luck" was one of the titles considered for the film as a result of studio fears that the title "The Hustler" would create negative connotations with prostitution.
There's a misconception that the character Minnesota Fats is based on the real Minnesota Fats (Rudolf Wanderone Jr.). Actually, the character appeared in the book and the film before Wanderone, who up until this time had called himself "New York Fats", appropriated the name.
During the filming, one of the production days happened to fall on St. Patrick's Day. Prior to Jackie Gleason's arrival to the shoot at the pool hall, the lighting crew took out all the clear gels, and replaced them with green ones. Upon seeing this, Gleason was so impressed he said, "Boys! This looks beautiful! Take the rest of the day off!". He left, and production was shut down for that day!
Prior to the premiere, Richard Burton hosted a midnight screening for the casts of various broadway shows. This generated a lot of positive word of mouth, forcing 20th Century Fox - who hadn't been actively promoting the film - to step up their promotional activities.
When George C. Scott lost the Best Supporting Actor Oscar to George Chakiris in West Side Story (1961), it essentially started the actor's longstanding feud with the Academy over the fact that political decisions were involved in the choice of who won. This ultimately led to Scott rejecting the Oscar he won in 1970 for his performance in Patton (1970).
Piper Laurie didn't make another film for the next 15 years, devoting the time to her marriage and raising her only daughter. She returned to the screen in 1976 in 'Brian de Palma''s Carrie (1976), earning her second Oscar nomination.
According to editor Dede Allen, an entire scene from this film was omitted after much deliberation between Allen and her director Robert Rossen. Even though both agreed that the scene, an impassioned speech by Paul Newman in the pool room, was possibly the best part of his entire performance, they had to throw it out because "...it didn't move the story." Newman, though Oscar-nominated, later claimed that the deleted scene most likely cost him the Academy award.
Paul Newman had never held a pool cue before he landed the role of Fast Eddie Felson. He took out the dining room table from his home and installed a pool table so he could spend every waking hour practicing and polishing up his skills.
When first approached to play the role of Fast Eddie Felsen, Paul Newman couldn't accept it because he was scheduled to begin filming Two for the Seesaw (1962) with Elizabeth Taylor. When Taylor was held up with the filming of Cleopatra (1963), "Seesaw" was postponed and Paul was able to do this film.
The Hustler (1961) while nominated for many awards, lost all the major ones and the main competition at the Oscars were the films Judgment at Nuremberg (1961) and West Side Story (1961) . In the scene when Eddie takes Sara out to a restaurant just before the Louisville trip, Sara has a line "I feel pretty" which, of course was the title to a major song in West Side Story.
An aficionado of acting, George C. Scott told interviewer Lawrence Grobel in his December 1980 "Playboy" magazine interview that his The Hustler (1961) co-star Paul Newman's performance in that film was nothing special (both actors were nominated for Academy Awards for their performances). However, he found Newman's performance as the eponymous Hud (1963) to be a superb piece of acting.
Initially Paul Newman turned down the part of Fast Eddie Felson, as he was unavailable, having committed to star alongside Elizabeth Taylor in the film version of "Two for the Seesaw". Robert Rossen then offered the part to Bobby Darin. However, shooting overruns on Taylor's Cleopatra (1963) meant that she had to drop out of "Seesaw". Newman was then offered the part of Felson again; he accepted it after reading only half of the script. Nobody thought to tell Bobby Darin though, who found out from a member of public at a charity horse race.
The trivia item below may give away important plot points.
In the first big game, Eddie uses massé to change the cue ball direction and pocket two balls on a single shot. In the final game of the movie, he does it again. This is actually the same shot filmed from different angles. Although the shot is impressive, it is very risky and would give Eddie no discernible advantage.