FALK, PETER

U.S. Actor

Most notable for his role as television's preeminent detective Lt. Columbo, Peter Falk has developed a long and distinguished career in television and film. For his efforts, Falk has received numerous Emmy awards for a detective role which has taken its place alongside other legendary literary sleuths. Since the late 1970s, Falk has continued to appear in feature films as well as reprise his Columbo character on television.

One of Falk's earliest roles was in The Untouchables, a series which launched a number of stars, including Robert Redford. Falk became a popular dramatic actor appearing in several anthology programs, including Bob Hope Presents The Chrysler Theater and The Dupont Show of the Week. He won his first of several Emmy awards in 1962 for his portrayal of Dimitri Fresco in The Dick Powell Show's presentation of the teleplay "The Price of Tomatoes."

In 1965, Falk landed the title role in the CBS series The Trials of O'Brien. A precursor to the Columbo character, O'Brien acted diligently in his professional duties yet slovenly in his personal life. The series lasted one season before cancellation. During the 1960s, Falk also appeared in a number of feature films, including Murder, Inc., which garnered him an Oscar nomination.

The Columbo character, brainchild of veteran television producers Richard Levinson and William Link, came to Falk quite by accident. According to Mark Dawidziak, author of The Columbo Phile, Levinson and Link had experimented with the Columbo persona when they were writing for NBC's Chevy Mystery Theater. In that and subsequent versions, Columbo was always portrayed by an elderly gentleman. Thus, in 1968, when Levinson and Link approached Universal television with the idea for a TV movie based on their stage play "Prescription: Murder," the writers hoped to enlist Lee J. Cobb or Bing Crosby as Columbo. Peter Falk, a friend of Levinson and Link, had seen the script and was interested; when Cobb and Crosby refused, Falk won the part.

NBC was interested in turning the film into a series, but neither Falk nor Levinson and Link wanted to do weekly episodic television at the time. Three years later, when NBC promised to package Columbo in rotation with two other series in the NBC Mystery Movie, Falk and Levinson and Link agreed. The series enjoyed a successful run from 1971 to 1978; much of that success is due to Falk's brilliant portrayal of Columbo. According to Dawidziak, "Everything clicked--the disheveled appearance, the voice, the squint caused by his false right eye. It was all used to magnificent advantage in Falk's characterization."

In 1989, Falk reprised the Columbo role, this time for the ABC Mystery Movie; new Columbo episodes have been produced since. Between 1971 and 1990, Falk won four Emmy awards for his role as Columbo. Since 1978, Falk has also appeared in such feature films as The Cheap Detective (1978), The In-Laws (1979), and Roommates (1994) and, as himself, in Wings of Desire (1987).

-Michael B. Kassel

 


Peter Falk

PETER MICHAEL FALK. Born in New York City, New York, U.S.A., 16 September 1927. Graduated from Hamilton College, Clinton, New York; New School for Social Research, New York, B.A. 1951; Syracuse University, M.A. in public administration 1953. Married: 1) Alyce Mayo, 1960 (divorced, 1976); two daughters; 2) Shera Danese, 1976. Served 18 months as cook in merchant marine, 1945-46. Management analyst with Connecticut State Budget Bureau, 1953-55; began acting career with Mark Twain Maskers in Hartford, Connecticut; studied acting under Eva La Gallienne, White Barn Theater, Westport, Connecticut, 1955; moved to New York to pursue theatrical career, 1955; professional stage debut in Moliere's Don Juan, New York, 1956; studied acting with Jack Landau and Sanford Meisner, 1957; made film debut in Wind Across the Everglades, 1958; considered for Columbia contract, but rejected because of glass eye; formed Mayo Productions company in mid-1960s; created character of Lieutenant Columbo in made-for-television movie Prescription: Murder, 1968; starred in television series Columbo, 1971-77; directed several Columbo episodes. Recipient: Emmy Awards, 1962, 1972, 1975, 1976, and 1990.

TELEVISION SERIES

1965-66 The Trials of O'Brien
1971-77 Columbo (also directed several episodes)

MADE-FOR-TELEVISION MOVIES

1961 Cry Vengeance
1966 Too Many Thieves
1968 Prescription: Murder
1971 Ransom for a Dead Man
1976 Griffin and Phoenix: A Love Story
1989 Columbo Goes to the Guillotine
1990 Columbo Goes to College
1991 Columbo: Grand Deception
1991 Caution: Murder Can Be Hazardous to Your Health 1992 Columbo: A Bird In the Hand
1992 Columbo: No Time to Die
1993 Columbo: It's All in the Game
1994 Columbo: Butterfly in Shades of Grey
1995 Columbo: Strange Bedfellows

TELEVISION SPECIALS

1961 The Million Dollar Incident
1966 Brigadoon
1971 A Hatfull of Rain
1986 Clue: Movies, Murder and Mystery

FILMS

Wind Across the Everglades, 1958; Pretty Boy Floyd, 1959; The Bloody Broad, 1959; Murder, Inc., 1960; The Purple Reef, 1960; Pocketful of Miracles, 1961; Pressure Point, 1962; The Balcony, 1962; It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, 1963; Robin and the Seven Hoods, 1964; Italiana brava gente, 1964; The Great Race, 1965; Penelope, 1966; Luv, 1967; Lo sbarco di Anzio, 1968; Gli Intoccabili, 1968; Castle Keep, 1969; Rosolino paterno, soldato, 1969; Husbands, 1970; Step Out of Line, 1970; Machine Gun McCann, 1970; The Politics Film (narrator), 1972; A Woman Under the Influence, 1974; Mikey and Nicky, 1976; Murder by Death, 1976; Opening Night, 1977; The Cheap Detective, 1978; The Brink's Job, 1978; The In-Laws, 1979; The Great Muppet Caper, 1981; All the Marbles, 1981; Sanford Meisner: The Theater's Best Kept Secret, 1984; Big Trouble, 1986; Happy New Year, 1987; Duenos del silencio, 1987; Wings of Desire, 1987; The Princess Bride, 1987; Rattornas Vinter, 1988; Vibes, 1988; Cookie, 1989; In the Spirit, 1990; Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter, 1990; Tune in Tomorrow, 1990; My Dog Stupid, 1991; The Player, 1992; Roommates, 1995.

STAGE

Don Juan, 1956; The Changeling, 1956; The Iceman Cometh, 1956; St. Joan, 1956; Diary of a Scoundrel, 1956; Bonds of Interest, 1956; The Lady's Not for Burning, 1957; Purple Dust, 1957; Comic Strip, 1958; The Passion of Josef D, 1964; The Prisoner of Second Avenue, 1971; Light Up the Sky, 1987; Glengarry Glen Ross, 1985.

FURTHER READING

Dawidziak, Mark. The Columbo Phile: A Casebook. New York: Mysterious, 1989.

"Peter Falk." In, Shay, Don. Conversations. New York: Kaleidoscope, 1969.

"Interview." Photoplay (Chicago, Illinois), January 1979.

 

See also Columbo