Peter Michael FALK - AKA COLUMBO - 1927 - 2011
A TRIBUTE to PETER FALK
Peter FALK & KERMIT the Frog
Peter Michael FALK was born in New York City on 16 September 1927 to Michael Peter Falk, owner of a clothing and dry goods store and his wife, Madeline HOCKHAUSER, an accountant and buyer.
- He was raised in Ossining, New York
His family was Jewish, his father of Russian ancestry and his mother of Polish descent with Hungarian and Czech roots
Peter's right eye was surgically removed when he was three because of a retinoblastoma; he wore a glass eye for most of his life. Despite this, he participated in team sports, mainly baseball and basketball, as a boy.
In a 1997 interview in Cigar Aficionado magazine with Arthur Marx, Falk said, "I remember once in high school the umpire called me out at third base when I was sure I was safe. I got so mad I took out my glass eye, handed it to him and said, 'Try this.' I got such a laugh you wouldn't believe
... Despite his stage success, a theatrical agent advised Falk not to expect much film acting work because of his glass eye. He failed a screen test at Columbia Pictures and was told by studio boss Harry Cohn that "for the same price I can get an actor with two eyes." He also failed to get a role in the film Marjorie Morningstar despite a promising interview for the second lead.
His first film performances were in small roles in Wind Across the Everglades (1958), The Bloody Brood (1959) and Pretty Boy Floyd (1960)
Falk's performance in Murder, Inc. (1960) was a turning point in his career. He was cast in the supporting role of killer Abe Reles, in a film based on the real-life murder gang of that name, that had terrorized New York in the 1930s. The New York Times film critic Bosley Crowther, while dismissing the movie as "an average gangster film", singled out Falk's "amusingly vicious performance."
Crowther wrote: ... Mr. Falk, moving as if weary, looking at people out of the corners of his eyes and talking as if he had borrowed Marlon Brando's chewing gum, seems a travesty of a killer, until the water suddenly freezes in his eyes and he whips an icepick from his pocket and starts punching holes in someone's ribs. Then viciousness pours out of him and you get a sense of a felon who is hopelessly cracked and corrupt.
The film turned out to be Falk's breakout role. In his autobiography Just One More Thing (2006), Falk said that his selection for the film from thousands of other Off-Broadway actors was a "miracle" that "made my career", and that without it he would not have gotten the other significant movie roles that he later played. Falk, who played Reles again in the 1960 TV series The Witness, was nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Academy Award for his performance in the film
Falk first appeared on television in 1957, in the dramatic anthology programs that later became known as the
* "Golden Age of Television."
He appeared in one episode of
* Robert Montgomery Presents in 1957, and also appeared in
* Studio One
* Kraft Television Theater
* New York Confidential
* Naked City
* Have GunWill Travel
In 1961, Falk was nominated for an Emmy Award for his performance in the episode "Cold Turkey" of James Whitmore's short-lived series The Law and Mr. Jones on ABC. On September 29, 1961, Falk and Walter Matthau guest-starred in the premiere episode, "The Million Dollar Dump," of ABC's crime drama Target: The Corruptors!, with Stephen McNally.
He won an Emmy for The Price of Tomatoes, a Dick Powell TV drama in 1962.
Falk's first television series was in the title role of the drama The Trials of O'Brien, in which he played a lawyer. The show ran in 1965 and 1966 and was cancelled after 22 episodes
Although Falk appeared in numerous other television roles in the 1960s and 1970s, he is best known as the star of the TV series Columbo, "everyone's favorite rumpled television detective", writes historian David Fantle. His character was a shabby and ostensibly absent-minded police detective lieutenant, who had first appeared in the 1968 film Prescription: Murder. Falk described his role to Fantle:
... "Columbo has a genuine mistiness about him. It seems to hang in the air ... [and] he's capable of being distracted ... Columbo is an ass-backwards Sherlock Holmes. Holmes had a long neck, Columbo has no neck; Holmes smoked a pipe, Columbo chews up six cigars a day."
Television critic Ben Falk adds that Falk "created an iconic cop ... who always got his man (or woman) after a tortuous cat-and-mouse investigation." He notes also that the idea for the character was "apparently inspired by Dostoyevsky's dogged police inspector, Porfiry Petrovich, in the novel Crime and Punishment.
Falk tries to analyze the character and notes the correlation between his own personality and Columbo's: ... "I'm a Virgo Jew, and that means I have an obsessive thoroughness. It's not enough to get most of the details, it's necessary to get them all. I've been accused of perfectionism. When Lew Wasserman (head of Universal Studios) said that Falk is a perfectionist, I don't know whether it was out of affection or because he felt I was a monumental pain in the ass."
With "general amazement", Falk notes that "the show is all over the world". He added, "I've been to little villages in Africa with maybe one TV set, and little kids will run up to me shouting, 'Columbo, Columbo!'"
Singer Johnny CASH recalled acting in one episode, and although he was not an experienced actor, he writes in his autobiography, "Peter Falk was good to me. I wasn't at all confident about handling a dramatic role, and every day he helped me in all kinds of little ways."
The debut episode in 1971 was directed by 25-year-old Steven SPIELBERG in one of his earliest directing roles. Falk recalled the episode to Spielberg biographer Joseph McBride: ... "Let's face it, we had some good fortune at the beginning. Our debut episode, in 1971, was directed by this young kid named Steven Spielberg. I told the producers, Link and Levinson, This guy is too good for Columbo ... Steven was shooting me with a long lens from across the street. That wasn't common twenty years ago. The comfort level it gave me as an actor, besides its great look artistically well, it told you that this wasn't any ordinary director."
The character of Columbo had previously been played by Bert FREED in a single TV episode and by Thomas MITCHELL on Broadway. Falk first played Columbo in Prescription: Murder, a 1968 TV-movie, and from 1971 to 1978 Columbo aired regularly on NBC as part of the umbrella series NBC Mystery Movie. All episodes were of TV-movie length, in a 90 or 120 minutes slot including commercials. The show returned on ABC in the form of a less frequent series of TV-movies, still starring Falk, from 1989 until 2003.
Falk won four Emmys for his role in Columbo.
The series was so popular that co-creator William LINK wrote a series of short stories published as The Columbo Collection (Crippen & Landru, 2010) which includes a drawing by Falk of himself as Columbo, and the cover features a caricature of Falk/Columbo by Al Hirschfeld
Peter Falk married Alyce MAYO, whom he had met when they were both students at Syracuse University, on April 17, 1960. They adopted two daughters, Catherine (who is a private investigator) and Jackie.
They divorced in 1976.
On December 7, 1977, Peter married actress Shera DANESE, who guest-starred on the Columbo series on numerous occasions.
Falk was an accomplished artist, in October 2006 he had an exhibition of his artwork at the Butler Institute of American Art. He took classes at the Art Students League of New York for many years. Examples of his sketches can be seen on his official website
Falk was also a chess aficionado and was a spectator at the American Open in Santa Monica, California, in November 1972, and at the U.S. Open in Pasadena, California, in August 1983.
His memoir, Just One More Thing, was published by Carroll & Graf on August 23, 2006 (ISBN 978-0786717958).
Of death, he once said: "It is just the gateway."
FAILING HEALTH & DEATH
At a two-day conservatorship trial in Los Angeles in June 2009, one of Falk's personal physicians, Dr. Stephen Read, reported Falk rapidly slipped into dementia after a series of dental operations in 2007. Dr. Read said it was unclear whether Falk's condition had worsened as a result of anesthesia or some other reaction to the operations. He went on to add that Falk's condition was so bad he could no longer remember the character of Columbo.
Shera Danese Falk was appointed as her husband's conservator.
Falk died at his Beverly Hills home on June 23, 2011 at the age of 83.
He was survived by his wife and two daughters
Peter's DRAWINGS & ARTWORK
his PHOTO ALBUMS
HIS FILMS & TELEVISION