Peter Falk used his fake eye to become the ultimate pool shark
A true character - onscreen and off!
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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.”