Peter Falk used his fake eye to become the ultimate pool shark

A true character - onscreen and off!

It's well-known that the character of Columbo was a special concoction of quirky mannerisms only Peter Falk could've ever dreamed up. The actor himself was a true character, just as the characters he played on TV and in movies, and of the many colorful stories we've heard, one of our most recent favorites comes from an unusual source: the legendary sci-fi writer Harlan Ellison.

In an interview with the Archive of American Television, Ellison recalled the many hours he spent whiling away at a regular pool game between four players: himself, the actor Omar Sharif (Doctor Zhivago), the notorious baseball player/manager Leo Durocher (who mouthed off so much, he once got suspended from the sport for a year), and Peter Falk, the actor most folks know as Columbo. “Peter was a dynamite pool player," Ellison confirmed, describing games were he said they'd bet up to $30,000 against each other, but also against anyone game enough to accept their challenge.

Ellison said that while Durocher and Falk were highly skilled, he and Sharif were absolutely not, but what gave both Falk and Durocher the extra confidence their partners may be lacking was that both of them, according to Ellison, had experience rattling and hustling their opponents. Of the two, though, it was Falk whose pool shark behavior was by far the most absurd.

Fans of Peter Falk know that the actor had an artificial eye, and it was this that Falk used to his advantage when securing his winnings running tables. He used it as a distraction, drawing the crowd's eye elsewhere to take his shot unobserved. Ellison said that if "Peter got a bad leave and was leaning over the table like this, you know what Peter would do?" Then he launched into this description:

"He would pop his fake eyeball out of his head onto the pool table and it would spin around, and everybody would be frozen… Everybody in the room would go, ‘Ahh!’ and Peter’s eye is spinning, and he would take his shot, and he would... hit a bank and everybody would go, ‘Great shot!’ And we would go on, and we would win. Every… time.”

Particularly observant fans of Columbo will remember that there was at least one episode that actually featured Peter Falk running a pool table, as he intimidated his suspect in that unique way of Columbo. The episode aired in 1972 and was called "The Greenhouse Jungle." It was a kidnapping case, where a girl has gone missing and the only motive Columbo can find tracks back to her trust fund, which is managed by the man who lives in "The Greenhouse Jungle," Jarvis Goodland, who, by the way, really, really likes orchids. Falk, on the other hand, prefers a game of pool to greenhouse gardening.

In the episode, Falk asks Goodland's forgiveness, picking up the pool stick and saying, “I’m sorry, sir. I happen to love this game. I played it when I was a kid.” He sinks ball after ball, off-camera, but the satisfied twitches in Falk's face lead us to believe he really is running the table.

Then, maybe because the genuine pool shark in him told him to or maybe because it's who Columbo was — fans and folks who collaborated with Falk on the show would likely agree the two became one — Falk says before the pool scene concluded, “I can’t miss a shot.”

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Zira 42 months ago
AND - the second episode. Runs a table in that one also... "ransome of a Dead man"
BarbaraJeanne 67 months ago
i really miss Peter Falk. A true original.
Sadly, when he died he didn't even remember having been Columbo.
ShirleyOlds 67 months ago
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cperrynaples 67 months ago
Another game Falk loved was poker. It was said that when he had to take a break, he would take out his glass eye and put in on his cards, saying "I'm keeping my eye on my cards!"
ClassicLover 67 months ago
In "The Greenhouse Jungle" it wasn't a girl who got kidnapped. It was Jarvices nephew, played by Bradford Dillman. And he wasn't really kidnapped. It was a plot to get at his trust fund. Only Jarvis had other plans
Pacificsun 67 months ago
Let's say you can NOT fake being a Pool Hustler!
Pacificsun 67 months ago
"A bad leave" and "hitting a bank" ... Pool as a very complicated game of skill and assessment. It would've been nice if the article hyperlinked those two terms. But none the less, an average reader needs to understand the definition. Not surprising that Falk (extremely intelligent) would've mastered the game. A perfect blend of his cunning and absolute skill! Let's say, you can fake being a Pool Hustler!!
Outrider 67 months ago
Note: The character of 'Jarvis Goodland' was played by the great Ray Milland of "The Lost Weekend" fame and countless others. He was on at least two or three Columbo episodes as well.
jeopardyhead 67 months ago
There's one story I read about 45 years ago. As I remember it, Falk was still a boy playing organized baseball. When the umpire made a call Peter didn't agree with, he took out his artificial eye, handed it to the umpire, and said something like "You need this more than I do."
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