While the world of pool both in Europe and across the Pond has had its fair share of heroes like Minnesota Fats, Raymond Ceulemans and Steve “Romford Slim” Davis , the accessibility and enjoyment of the game, far extends from professional tournaments.
Wander into any bar, any pub and you will likely see a pool table sitting in the corner, laughs being shared and bets being wagered. But away from the heady light of pool stardom on the international stage, and the dingy pub setting with stained baize and poor lighting, there is a world of celebrity surrounding the game of pool, one which stretches far back in to the annals of the game’s history.
We all know the famous pool movies, The Hustler and the Colour of Money, which helped to bring the beautiful game into the public eye, largely thanks to the sadly departed Paul Newman. He is the tie between the two movies, the archetypal epitome of cool, but Newman’s love of the game went beyond on-screen set ups and special effects, he actually was a keen pool player.
Newman actually got lessons from Willie Mosconi (yes, the name given to the Mosconi Cup which pits the US against Europe) and current Hollywood giant Tom Cruise, who stared alongside Newman in the Colour of Money, is also a pretty adept player. Not many people may know this, but Mr Katie Holmes is ambidextrous, and while there were obvious continuity errors in the movie (not to mention a huge fashion faux-pas with his adopted hairstyle), Cruise is apparently a pretty dab hand at the sport.
You can scour Hollywood for pictures of famous stars shooting pool, from Brad Pitt, to Nicolas Cage, to Julia Roberts, to John Wayne and Keith Richards (which surely would have been a treat to experience). One of the most famed and revered of all celebrity pool players, was Jerry Orbach of Law and Order fame. There are many tales about his pool and billiards playing, taking money off players in challenges, including an encounter where he beat famed player Cornbread Red without knowing it.
Actor and director Woody Allen is also purportedly a massive fan and player of the game of billiards too. You can just picture him bustling around the table, while Bob Dylan’s sitting in the corner of the room, whistling a tune, as the songster is reportedly a fan of the game as well. The list really does just go on and on, with American Fear Factor presenter Joe Rogan being an avid participant of the game. That image just fits, it really does and it doesn’t even take sheep’s eyeballs to make it work. Just Rogan, a beer, a cigar and a pool table. The list goes on, and some even suspect that the late, great Vincent Van Gogh may have even been partial to a game, but there is no record of it. The rumours are abound because he painted The Night Café, capturing the game in its raw, unadulterated form, a pool table sitting in a dingy bar.
So popular is the game of Pool, that not even the White House can escape its addictive clutches, highlighted in a famous picture involving current incumbent Barack Obama. There is actually a Billiard Room in the White House, which was put there by James Monroe (who was the fifth President of the United States for those counting). So, even the vastness of Pennsylvania Avenue’s most famous address is not without it’s pool hall charm.
There is a certain sense of a President being just a regular Joe as he lines up the nine ball into the corner pocket, brow sweating, heart palpating, all budget problems falling by the wayside. Pool, the great political humbler.
Taking a step further back into history, John Adams, who was the President before Monroe, was so desperate to have a game of billiards that he would be seen knocking his balls around on the floor, just to get some action in. That is the power of pool and billiards, long steeped in history, from Presidents to Hollywood, the click of the ball, the rattling of the pockets is just too irresistible to pass up. Recreational or competitive the allure of game is just hard to deny. The sport in one fashion or another has been around since the 1600’s and long will it remain.