Friday, June 24, 2011

Peter Falk, Rest In Peace

By Gary P Jackson

One of our great actors has passed away. From

Actor Peter Falk, known to millions as the rumpled star of television crime drama "Columbo," has died, reports. The actor was 83.

He reportedly was suffering from Alzheimer's disease.

Falk first played Lieutenant Columbo (his first name was never clearly announced, though one badge image lists it as "Frank") in a 1968 TV movie. Its popularity led to a second film and then to the series, which ran from 1971 to 1978. Even after the show was canceled, Falk would play the laid-back detective in "Columbo" TV movies.

"He looks like a flood victim," Falk once said of his famous character. "You feel sorry for him. He appears to be seeing nothing, but he's seeing everything. Underneath his dishevelment, a good mind is at work."

Columbo's trademark was an ancient raincoat Falk had once bought for himself. After 25 years on television, the coat became so tattered it had to be replaced.

Peter Michael Falk was born Sept. 16, 1927, in New York City and grew up in Ossining, N.Y., where his parents ran a clothing store. At 3 he had one eye removed because of cancer. "When something like that happens early," he said in a 1963 Associated Press interview, "you learn to live with it. It became the joke of the neighborhood. If the umpire ruled me out on a bad call, I'd take the fake eye out and hand it to him."

When Falk was starting as an actor in New York, an agent told him, "Of course, you won't be able to work in movies or TV because of your eye." Falk would later win two Oscar nominations ("Murder, Inc.," 1960; "Pocketful of Miracles," 1961) and collect five Emmys.

Read more here.

Peter Falk was one of my favorite actors. I grew up with Columbo, never missing an episode, but also remember some of his other great performances quite fondly. The Internet Movie Data Base has a listing of the movies and television shows Peter was in here.

Also listed at IMDb is some interesting trivia:

One of his greatest passions is drawing and sketching; has studio on grounds of Beverly Hills estate.

Graduated from Ossining High School.

President of his class.

Worked as an efficiency expert for the Budget Bureau of the state of Connecticut before becoming an actor. Studied acting with Eva Le Gallienne and Sanford Meisner.

Was a certified public accountant.

Falk puts damper on rumor that his trademark Columbo raincoat has been placed in the Smithsonian Institution: says it's in his upstairs closet.

In his first foray into acting, he took the role of detective in a high school play when original student-actor fell sick. He left college to serve as a cook in the Merchant Marines. He later received political science degree from NY's New School, then graduated from Syracuse University. He applied at the CIA, but was turned down. He took state budget department job in Hartford, CT. Five years after he started taking acting lessons, he earned first Oscar nomination.

His father was of Russian Jewish ancestry and his mother was of Polish Jewish, with a mix of Hungarian and Czech Jewish ancestry further back. So, contrary to Falk's public image, he is not an Italian but a mixture of very hardy Jewish Eastern European stock.

Once when he was playing in a Little League game, the umpire called him out. Falk thought that he was safe. He pulled his glass eye out of its socket and handed it to the umpire, telling him, "Here, I think you might need this."

His daughter, Catherine Falk, is a private detective in real life.

Lt. Columbo's first name is explicitly and even doggedly never revealed in the series (i.e. "What's your first name? Lieutenant...") However, with modern freeze-frame capabilities, when Columbo flashes his badge in the episode "Dead Weight" (Season 1 Episode 3), the name 'Frank' can clearly be seen on his ID.

Columbo's wife, who he speaks of often, is never seen in the series. Interestingly, most of the facts that are supposedly known about Lt. Columbo's private life are up in the air and sometimes contradictory. This may be due to his character being somewhat forgetful or may be due to him leading a suspect with a 'likely story' hoping they will trip up and reveal a clue. His car, a 1959 Peugeot 403 Cabriolet, is in most every episode and is treated almost as a character.

Read more here.

One of my favorite movies Peter was in, is an ensemble affair that features an all-star cast: It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World. This must see movie from 1963 features a who's who of great comedic actors, many playing small but wonderful roles, like Falk's part as "third cab driver," much of which Peter improvised.

A little trivia:

In-And-Out Burger restaurants feature a pair palm trees forming a "Big X" as an homage to this movie, the favorite movie of founder Harry Snyder.

This was Spencer Tracy's last movie until 1967's Guess Who's Coming To Dinner.

Go rent [or better yet, buy] the movie!

Peter Falk gave his many fans years of enjoyment. He will be sorely missed.

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