Pool Party

Billiards promoters shoot to move the game from the barroom to the family room.

 Eddie Felson (Paul Newman) and Charlie Burns (Myron McCormick) enter the Ames Billiard Hall, a seedy New York City pool establishment.

Burns (reverently): It's quiet.

Felson: Yeah, like a church. Church of the Good Hustler.

Mike Gorman

Burns: It looks more like a morgue to me. Those tables are the slabs where they lay the stiffs.

Felson: I'll be alive when I get out, Charlie.

-- The Hustler (1961)

A bright June day in Colorado, in the downstairs family room -- call it a den -- in a freshly built model home of the beige, nondescript variety in a new, upscale subdivision on the eastern edge of Colorado Springs. Lauren, a perky ten-year-old in pressed jeans, stands at the edge of a home-sized pocket billiards -- more commonly known as pool -- table, trying to hit the cue ball. She takes a swipe and misses.

The sound man on the set gives her a tip. "Hold it tight," he says. Lauren brushes her blond hair out of her face and leans down. She sets her mouth and tries again. This time she hits it off center; the ball angles off toward a green cushion.

"You're giving her too much to think about," says Arch, adjusting his camera.

"Arch Bryant," explains Dawn Dawson, a creative type with Reflections, a Colorado Springs advertising agency. "He's done a lot of work nationally for us."

"I worked as director of photography for the Perry Masons filmed in Denver," Arch says. "I've also directed for America's Most Wanted and the Discovery Channel --mostly dramatic reenactments."

Arch looks around the room. An assistant is pulling new beer and martini glasses out of a box and setting them on the bar, in view of the camera; there are billiard balls built into their stems. "Those glasses are great," he says.

"Aren't they?" the assistant agrees.

Today's script is simple: It's a thirty-second television commercial that will air in mid-July on ESPN during a pocket-billiards tournament. It opens with a closeup of a number of fantastic pool shots -- combinations, banks, so on. The camera switches back and forth between the caroming pool balls and Lauren, who is startled and amazed. Soon another camera shows who she is playing against: her grandmother, who finally misses a shot. "You're going down, grandma," the girl says as she settles in for her first attempt.

As the commercial ends, a tagline will appear on the screen: "To star in your family tournament, see your local BCA dealer today. Pool: Everybody's Game."

There's only one problem so far: Neither grandma nor Lauren can play pool particularly well. They are just the actors -- the talent hasn't arrived yet.

"When's the shooter going to be here?" Arch demands.

"Any minute," the assistant calls.

Angela (Elizabeth Taylor) approaches George (Montgomery Clift), who has wandered off from the party to be by himself. He has found a pool table and is taking skilled shots.

Angela: I see you had a misspent youth.

George: Yes, it was.

-- A Place in the Sun (1951)

Almost five years ago, the BCA -- the Billiard Congress of America -- decided that something should be done. "They thought they had to rehabilitate the image of pool from hustlers and smoky pool halls to what it really is -- a family-oriented activity," explains Amy Long, a BCA marketer who has been working on the campaign since the start. (Although BCA officials estimate that there are 17 million pool tables in the U.S., they don't exactly know how many are in homes and how many are in taverns.)

The billiards trade group relocated its headquarters to Colorado Springs as part of an effort to convince the U.S. Olympic Committee to consider putting pool on the path to becoming a full-fledged Olympic sport.

And in 1998, the BCA coughed up $500,000 to change the public's perception of billiards. "We didn't totally want to make the sport wimpy," Long adds. "But the BCA represents the table manufacturers, and they wanted to sell more tables for the home."

"We're creating awareness," explains Jeremy Cox, an ad executive with Barnstorm, a Colorado Springs firm that ended up with the account. "I mean, bowling has exploded. Bowling is perceived as a family-oriented activity.

"But billiards," he adds, "is not. Billiards is The Color of Money. Billiards is The Hustler."

Father Jerry (Pat O'Brien) walks into the sleazy pool hall. The young punks are drinking beer and throwing around dough.

Father Jerry (to the group): A life of crimes is nothing to envy.

Gang member: Look, Father, we don't fall for that 'pie-in-the-sky' stuff anymore, see."

Father Jerry starts to leave.

Scornful Punk: Can't you get them to go to heaven with ya?

Father Jerry turns around and punches him in the face.

-- Angels With Dirty Faces (1938)

First to get his marching orders from the BCA was Ernie Paicopolos, a researcher at Opinion Dynamics in Cambridge, Massachusetts. "We ran a series of focus groups around January 2000, and then a thousand-person telephone survey," he says. "What we found was a definite desire on the part of families to have a more friendly environment and that pool lent itself to a more family-friendly situation.

Next Page »
My Voice Nation Help