"Fast" Eddie Parker, pool player extraordinaire, says the novel and movie "The Hustler" was great fiction but actually bears little resemblance to his life.
"The movie was about 70 percent fiction in regards to me (as Fast Eddie Felson) and 30 percent fact. As depicted in the film role played by Paul Newman, I did have one finger broken by a gang. In the movie, they broke both of Newman's thumbs. In real life, thugs broke my right index finger. It took me six weeks for my finger to heal. After that, my game was a good as ever."Parker entertained more than 75 people recently with his pocket billiard skills at the Cushion N Cue, 2865 S. State.
Parker, 57, a native of Springfield, Mo,. and a straight pool, play-for-money-only champion for more than 30 years, told his audience he quit playing for high stakes in 1971 when he began having eye problems, which, he said, "gave the kids too much of an edge on my game."
He started giving exhibitions in 1980 and since then has toured Europe and Japan. Now, with his wife, Peggy, as his companion, he visits 200 to 250 cities a year demonstrating how to put small, hard balls into the six pockets on a pool table with a cue stick and cue ball.
Among his demonstrated feats are putting 12 balls at once in separate pockets on the table, jumping balls to hit others and wild looking bank shots that seem to defy geometry.
The world's record holder for sinking the most balls - 22 - at one time, Parker is the author of a pocket billiard course and has produced video films demonstrating his skills and the art and science of pool.
Times have changed, Parker says, and while there are still a few smoky, second-floor billiard parlors, the trend is to brightly lit entertainment centers featuring pool as a family recreation.
Of those in the audience at the Cushion N Cue recreation center Friday night, more than a dozen were women.
Parker says pocket billiards is a great game for women and children. "It is more a game of skill than muscle, and women can do as well in it as men."
The game has become so popular, he said, that it has out-distanced golf and tennis and, he predicts, will outstrip bowling in the number of its adherents by the late 1990s.
The pool shark said he met the author of "The Hustler" while playing pool in Kentucky. "I related many of my experiences to the writer, never dreaming that a book or much less a movie would ever come of it.
Except for a hitch in the U.S. Navy during the Korean War, Parker said he has never done anything in his life except play pool.
His biggest winning game? "I won $30,000 once."
His longest string of balls sunk? "Once somebody bet me $1,000 I couldn't sink 200. I sank 204, picked up the money and stopped shooting. I can't say how far that string might have gone."