Little Man Popwell
- by Oliver Gaywood
July 23rd, 2007
Despite never playing in a World Series of Poker, Julias Oral Popwell was enshrined into the Poker Hall of Fame posthumously in 1996.
Standing at 5’ 6”, Popwell was better known as ‘Little Man’. He was given the name as a teenager when he would spend his time hustling in pool halls, often beating players twice his age with years of experience playing pool and billiard. However, Popwell did not completely match his nickname – it is reported that he weighed as much as 300 pounds (136kg) at times in his life.
Born in 1912, Popwell is one of the most famous players from the first half of the 20th century. He played cards with the likes of Johnny Moss during his career. His favoured game was five card and he would travel across the country looking for a game to take part in.
His love for gambling led him into the business world where he set up lotteries and card games from his home in Alabama. Unfortunately, gambling of this kind was illegal at the time and the police would regularly raid his premises. In 1954, he was arrested for his crimes, which included tax evasion, and was sentenced to a year in jail and fined $250.
However, he should not go down in history as a hard-nosed business man with a disregard for the law. Whenever he had a debt, Popwell paid it on time. Folklore tells us that the owner of a toy shop once owed Popwell money but could not afford to pay off his debt. Popwell accepted payment in the form of toys which he later gave away to children and donated to charity.
In 1996, aged just 53, poker lost one of its greatest players as Popwell passed away, losing his battle against cancer. Even with his failing health, Popwell stayed at the card tables, such was his love for the game.