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History of Ralph Greenleaf - The Rise and Fall of The Showman

The epic story of the rise and fall of one of the original great promoters of cue sports in North America, Ralph Greenleaf.


History of Ralph Greenleaf - The Rise and Fall of The Showman

History of Ralph Greenleaf - The Rise and Fall of The Showman

If you ask most billiards historians who the father of pool was, the majority of them would immediately name a guy so famous for his incredible talent and trick shots that he toured the country making money showing off his skill, that is, when he wasn't busy winning world championships. This man, called "The Showman," was named Ralph Greenleaf, and he's credited with reinvigorating the game of pool and bringing it out of carom's shadow into huge popularity around the country and the world.

Greenleaf's story is epic, if somewhat sad one. Born in 1899 in Monmouth, IL, Greenleaf was an immediate badass at pool, winning his first world championship at the age of 19. Fame and fortune soon followed, as the man became the face of pool all over the world, winning the world title 19 times, 13 of which were him defending the title from the last year.

Greenleaf had the personality to go with his skill, and indeed he became famous for his boisterousness, his flamboyant appearance (he always slicked back his hair with Pomade and was known for floor-length fur coats and fancy suits) and his ability to do trick shots others thought impossible. This ability is one Greenleaf ended up taking on the road to win further fame and money, something he did with his equally outrageous wife, who was a vaudeville actress called "Princess Nai Tai Tai" and "The Oriental Nightingale." The couple would tour the country performing together, and Greenleaf truly did put on a show, even installing a mirror above his pool table to give audiences a better view of his insane shots.

Things weren't all roses for Greenleaf and Nai Tai Tai (real name Amelia Ruth Parker), however, as Greenleaf's fondness for overdrinking caused some seriously rough patches for both husband and wife. Though drinking has always been part of the sport of pool, and indeed Greenleaf was believed to have won many of his championships either drinking or drunk, the man would sometimes take things to such an extreme that he would end up wandering off from his wife for a few months. One such story became a legend, as Greenleaf woke up in Oklahoma after a serious bender and was arrested on charges of vagrancy. The law was a little weird back then, and Greenleaf was luckily able to prove his identity by walking to a pool hall in Okmulgee and running 87 balls consecutively.

Another such story has a man in Boston running into a completely ragged Greenleaf, who was allegedly messed up on more than just booze, though the hair was still Pomaded back. This man had met Greenleaf as a child, when he apparently walked up to the champ and pulled on his coat (at the prodding of his father), but then walked away immediately when Greenleaf turned around and said "Who the fuck are you?" When the man saw Greenleaf in Boston, however, he determined to help him out, as Greenleaf was penniless and sleeping in a house where vagrants would simply fold themselves over a rope hung in the middle of the room to sleep. Greenleaf and this man went around the country for a while, but apparently Greenleaf never really recovered and eventually wandered off.

Not too many years later, Greenleaf sadly passed away at the age of 50 from acute internal hemorrhage in a waiting room in Pennsylvania. Committed to the game he loved until the last, Greenleaf had been sick for a few days, but had refused to seek treatment because he had a tournament in New York in a few more. Greenleaf never made that tournament, and the player considered either the best or second best (to Willie Mosconi, a player who we'll profile soon) of all time at the game of pool passed from this world.

When it comes to titanic personalities in the game, and to folks who were fundamental at bringing it to the point it is at today, nobody stands taller in pool than Ralph Greenleaf. His skill with the stick, his championships and his enormous personality won't be forgotten as long as the game is played, and through the tragedy of the end of his life, we can all be reminded that while drinking is a big part of the fun that is pool, moderation is always key to keeping the fun going. Drink responsibly, and remember Ralph Greenleaf the next time you rack up.

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  • Title: History of Ralph Greenleaf - The Rise and Fall of The Showman
  • Author: (Billiards Forum)
  • Published: 2/28/2017 10:08:01 AM
  • Last Updated: 2/28/2017 10:23:07 AM
  • Last Updated By: billiardsforum

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