Jack Klugman plays a small-time pool player named Jesse Cardiff. He is bitter that even fifteen years after the death of pool master Fats Brown everyone still considered Fats the greatest pool player. And he rails at a photo of Fats on the wall of his local pool hall and says, “I’d give anything, anything to play him one game!”
In the next scene we see Fats Brown (played by Jonathan Winters), apparently up in Heaven, and he’s being summoned by some kind of celestial appointment intercom. He heads down to Earth and appears in Jesse Cardiff’s pool room and tells him his wish has been heard and Fats is there to grant it. The catch is that the stakes for winning and losing are life and death. Now Jesse is taken aback. Sure, he’s anxious to prove his skill but betting his life seems nuts. But Fats goads him and mocks him until he agrees to the bet.
They now engage in a long, skillful and fiercely fought game of pool. At last it comes down to one ball and it is obvious that Fats has thrown the point and he tries to give Jesse one last chance not to take the crown of being the greatest pool player in the world. But Jesse sinks the ball and wins. Fats congratulates Jesse and leaves with a mysterious smile. Jesse revels in his victory but then seems almost deflated by the anticlimax of having won.
In the next scene we’re back in heaven and Jesse is dejectedly sitting next to the celestial pool table waiting for the next challenge to take. Being the champ is a grueling existence and Jesse must be envying Fats who Serling announces has gone fishing.
This is one of those goofy fantasy episodes. Heaven arranges pool rivalries and allows life or death stakes on the outcome? But who cares! Jack Klugman and Jonathan Winters ham it up to the hilt.
In my family, pool was a bizarre fetish. My paternal grandfather had a pool table in his basement. But we, his poor grandsons were anathema and weren’t even allowed to hold a cue near “the felt.” There was a shrine where an autographed photo of Willie Mosconi presided over the pretty terrible players that my grandfather surrounded himself with. So, pool had the reputation of being a boring waste of time. We preferred street football or stickball. Watching these two pool players agonize over fractions of a millimeter and an invisible degree of angle is strangely familiar in its futility. Funny thing is there was a full sized pool table in my basement when I bought this house so I make a point of letting the grandsons play on it any way they please. “The felt” is starting to look less than pristine but I don’t mind and neither do they.
Obviously, I have no objectivity about this subject but I find myself always enjoying this episode immensely. I’ll call it an A.