In Memory of Peter Falk

The Late Peter Falk as Lt. Columbo

A Tribute to my Favorite TV Detective

Peter Falk passed away June 23, 2011. He was 83. Born in 1927, he'd been in many films and TV shows but he is best remembered for his role as the quirky detective Columbo. I am personally of the belief that "Columbo" is the greatest of the TV sleuths. Several years ago, when TV guide made their list of the 50 Best TV characters of all-time, Lt. Columbo was in the top five. The character's popularity was due in no small part to the amazing performance by Falk. He won four Emmy Awards for his portrayal of the detective in the rumpled raincoat. But there was more to Peter Falk than just that one role. He was a very talented man who'd had a very long and versatile career.

Falk didn't have the easiest life, losing his eye at the age of three due to a tumor. He used a glass eye ever since. Falk had to overcome that handicap all through his life, trying to play sports and later to be an actor. He wanted to join the Marines but was turned down because of his eye. Falk was turned down for an early acting role by Harry Cohn (of Columbia pictures) who said, "For the same money, I can get an actor with two eyes!" (That guy needed some sensitivity training.) Ironically, Falk's first acting role was as a detective in a high school play.

After trying different careers, he returned to acting years later. Despite his missing eye and the fact that he was not classically handsome, he was persistent. He managed to get some fairly steady TV work in the late 1950s. His big break-out year was in 1960, when he became the first actor to ever get an Oscar and an Emmy nomination in the same year. He was nominated for Best Supporting actor in the film Murder Incorporated, and an Emmy nomination for his appearance on the TV show The Law & Mrs. Jones. He didn't win the Oscar but he did win the Emmy. It was the first of many.

After that, Falk became a popular character actor on many TV shows, and soon got steady film work. His gift for humor allowed him to give some wonderfully hilarious performances in several comedy films. Some of his more popular films were It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963), Robin and the Seven Hoods (1964), and The Great Race (1965). And then in 1968 came the role that would define his career and change his life.

Prescription Murder started out as a play, starring Thomas Mitchell as an unorthodox detective named Columbo. The writers of the play, Levinson and Link, sold the rights to NBC to make a made-for-TV film out of the stage show. When Mitchell wasn't available for the shooting, NBC tried hard to get the legendary Bing Crosby for the role, but Crosby wanted to play in a golf tournament and the shooting schedule conflicted with that, so he passed. It was Levinson and Link who suggested Peter Falk for the role. Falk auditioned and everyone was so impressed by his unusual and unexpected interpretation of the character that he was hired on the spot. Falk's erratic portrayal of the character won over everyone and soon the two writers were refining the script to give the Columbo character a bigger part. The original script--like the play--focused more on the killer, but after seeing what Falk did with the character of Columbo, everyone knew they had a winner on their hands and so the script was re-written to focus on Columbo instead of the murderer.

The trademark raincoat was actually one of Peter Falk's old raincoats, but Levinson and Link loved the look of it. Falk was a heavy cigarette smoker, so smoking was added to the Columbo character. The writer's decided that he should smoke cigars instead. (Which led to Falk becoming a cigar smoker for the rest of his life.) The trademark phrase, "Oh, there's just one more thing" was never intended to be a catchphrase but somehow ended up being the detective's most often used line. (Later gimmicks were added to the series, such as Columbo's dog and his beaten-up old Peugeot.) Strangely,the character was never given a first name. He's never referred to by anything other than Lt. Columbo.

Prescription Murder got good ratings and was a critical hit. Falk's performance received universal acclaim. NBC knew a good thing when it saw one, so they immediately made a second Columbo TV film, which was equally successful. The very happy executives at NBC signed Peter Falk to a long-term contract as the star of the Columbo TV series. The show, which debuted in 1971, was part of the Sunday Night Mystery Movie anthology, which had rotating detective shows each week. Columbo was by far the most popular of the regular anthologies, and consistently got the highest ratings. The show would become internationally popular, and Falk would go on to win four Emmy's for his work.

Falk was so popular with the fans and the critics that he decided to use his new clout to play hardball with the NBC brass. He demanded a huge raise and when he didn't get it, he refused to film any further Columbo episodes. The game of chicken lasted for two weeks until NBC folded. They didn't want to lose their cash-cow and so Falk became the highest paid actor on television, ($500,000 per episode) despite only making six or seven episodes per-year.

Falk decided to quit the show in 1978, despite the ratings still being strong. He would continue to work steadily in films. He won a new generation of young fans by playing the story-telling grandfather in The Princess Bride (1987). In 1989, Falk was lured back to TV, reprising his most famous role as Lt. Columbo, as part of an ABC version of the Mystery Movie anthology. The new episodes aired sporadically. There were several per-year at first but then they became less and less frequent. The last one aired in 2003. There was never a conscious decision made to halt the Columbo series but the aging Falk was working less-and-less and kept putting off his return to the role, until health problems caused him to retire. His last role was in American Cowslip in 2009.

Falk's health took a major downturn after a car accident in 2009. He was later diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease and was placed under the conservator-ship of his long-time wife Shera Danese. He died at home.

Falk never complained about being so closely linked to the Columbo character. He was always willing to discuss the character in interviews and never ruled out another appearance in the raincoat. Because of Columbo, Falk will be remembered through the generations as the eccentric homicide detective with the cigar, the dog and the raincoat.

RIP Peter Falk.


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Comments 47 comments

Alastar Packer profile image

Alastar Packer 5 years ago from North Carolina

Thanks for this very fine hub and tribute Rob. Back in the seventies I believe it was called ABCs..anyway it had McMillian & Wife w/ Rock Hudson & Susan St. James- McCloud w/ Dennis Weaver and of course Columbo which was the only one I liked and watched. Peter Falk was one of a kind in it and it had some amazing guest stars as the murderers Columbo would always out-wit. RIP Peter.


Alastar Packer profile image

Alastar Packer 5 years ago from North Carolina

Yes, you got it right Rob-ABCs Sunday Night Mysterys, the three of course alternated. One that was particularly memorable had Johnny Cash as the villain. The very first one had David Cassidy's dad as guest star and immediately hooked me and so many other folks.


Robwrite profile image

Robwrite 5 years ago from Bay Ridge Brooklyn NY Author

Hi Alastar; I loved Columbo but I was never a fan of the others. (McCoud, McMillian and Hec Ramsey who was later replaced by Qunicy). I remember the Johnny Cash episode well. David Cassidy's father Jack Cassidy actually appeared as a killer three times. (He was tied with Robert Culp as the most frequent guest star.) My personal favorite was Patrick McGoohan. (Who appeared in two episodes and directed a third.)

The ABC mystery movie was the comeback series in 1989, which alternated with Burt Reynolds as B.L. Stryker and Louis Gossett as Gideon Oliver.

Good to hear from you,

Rob


Francesca27 profile image

Francesca27 5 years ago from Hub Page

Thank you for telling me about this. He was one of my favorite actors.


Robwrite profile image

Robwrite 5 years ago from Bay Ridge Brooklyn NY Author

I wish I had better news, francesca. He was one of my favorites, too.


dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 5 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

I do think Falk was a break through for the police procedural. Much like Jack Webb in Dragnet. I believe both got imitated to some extent. I see a bit of Dragnet in "Law and Order."

I'm sorry to hear of his death. I guess he falls in the age group of actors and singers who were getting established when I was in high school and college-such as Elvis, James Dean , Clint Eastwood etc.

Nice tribute.


Robwrite profile image

Robwrite 5 years ago from Bay Ridge Brooklyn NY Author

Hi dahoglund; Falk was a groundbreaker, and he's been imitated, in one way or another, many times. I was in elementary school when Falk was doing Columbo and he was the first TV detective I ever enjoyed watching.

Rob


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 5 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

His part in The Princess Bride was small, but it was great.


Robwrite profile image

Robwrite 5 years ago from Bay Ridge Brooklyn NY Author

Yes, that was his introduction to a lot of young fans who weren't familiar with his work in 'Columbo' and other things.

Rob


Cogerson profile image

Cogerson 5 years ago from Virginia

Very nicely done, his autobiography is a nice read, I was sorry to see him pass. My favorite Peter Falk performance was in The In-Laws....he is very funny. Thanks for writing a nice tribute to him....voted up and useful.


Robwrite profile image

Robwrite 5 years ago from Bay Ridge Brooklyn NY Author

Hi Cogerson; Falk could be very funny. He made a lot of comedies, such as "the In-Laws". "Columbo" allowed him to mix comedy and drama together. He did both well. I think he was very under-rated as an actor.

Always good to hear from you, cogerson.

Rob


Christopher Price profile image

Christopher Price 5 years ago from Vermont, USA

A very nice tribute to well-loved actor.

When I think of Peter Falk playing Columbo I get a little misty...it was a Sunday night pleasure to sit on the couch with my father and enjoy the humble detective in the rumpled raincoat outwit the bad-guys.

Funny, how such precious memories can be evoked by the passing of someone we've never met, yet find so familiar.

Thanks.

CP


Robwrite profile image

Robwrite 5 years ago from Bay Ridge Brooklyn NY Author

True, CP; It's amazing how these distant figures become part of our lives.

Thanks for reading,

Rob


Greensleeves Hubs profile image

Greensleeves Hubs 5 years ago from Essex, UK

Columbo was my favourite TV detective when I was growing up. I think there were two things that appealed.

1) Most of his 'victims' were overly self-important people and there was an appeal in seeing them cut down to size by a seemingly humble little policeman.

2) I think Falk once said himself that he thought people envied Columbo's total lack of self-consciousness. Columbo didn't care what anyone else thought of him. He just carried on doing his job seemingly oblivious to the contempt or irritation he created in some of the people he encountered.

A unique character played by a really engaging actor.

Great informative tribute to Peter Falk's career Robwhite. Thanks.


Robwrite profile image

Robwrite 5 years ago from Bay Ridge Brooklyn NY Author

Hi greensleeves; I agree that a big part of Columbo's appeal was seeing the pompous rich guy getting taken down by the lower-middle-class working stiff. And I think Falk had a good point about Columbo's lack of pretension or self-consciousness. He was a guy who was really comfortable in his own skin, no matter what anyone else said or thought.

One of the greatest TV characters ever. Falk deserved those four emmys.

Rob


Hello, hello, profile image

Hello, hello, 5 years ago from London, UK

You wrote a splendid tribute to the memory of Peter Falk. Thank you.


Robwrite profile image

Robwrite 5 years ago from Bay Ridge Brooklyn NY Author

Hi HH; Just today, I was watching Peter Falk in "Wings of Desire" where he was communicating with Angels. It's an appropriate film to see just now, I think.

Rob


Multiman 5 years ago

Loved Colombo, and Peter faulk was a great character actor. Voted Up.


Robwrite profile image

Robwrite 5 years ago from Bay Ridge Brooklyn NY Author

Hi Multi; He was great, no doubt. At least we still have the DVDs.

Thanks for stopping by,

Rob


prasetio30 profile image

prasetio30 5 years ago from malang-indonesia

Nice hub and thanks for share with us. Very well written and you have done a good job here. Rated up!

Prasetio


Robwrite profile image

Robwrite 5 years ago from Bay Ridge Brooklyn NY Author

Thanks prasetio; I appreciate the nice feedback.

Rob


agvulpes profile image

agvulpes 5 years ago from Australia

Great tribute and like most of the others and yourself I was a big fan of Columbo and still watch the occasion replay on Foxtel. Thanks for sharing! Shared out:-)


Robwrite profile image

Robwrite 5 years ago from Bay Ridge Brooklyn NY Author

Hi; It's good to see all the love for Peter. He was the king of the TV detectives. Thanks for reading my little hub.

Rob


JamaGenee profile image

JamaGenee 5 years ago from Central Oklahoma

Wow, I need to turn on the news more often. This hub is the first I'd heard that the wonderful Peter Falk had left us. Columbo was my favorite detective show! Can't imagine anyone else in the role of Lt. Columbo. (Thank you, Bing, for passing on it!) It was such a delight to watch Falk turn, cigar in hand, and say "Oh, there's just one more thing", rattling the perp just a tad even if he/she pretended it didn't. Columbo picked up on it anyway.

Does anybody remember the episode where they actually showed his wife?

R.I.P, Mr. Falk. You will be missed.


Fiddleman profile image

Fiddleman 5 years ago from Zirconia, North Carolina

Always enjoyed watching this man whose character seemed to be a perfect fit for his skills. Yes he will be remembered for that raincoat and cigar and those conversations and subtle interrogations where he always nailed the crook.


Robwrite profile image

Robwrite 5 years ago from Bay Ridge Brooklyn NY Author

Hi Jamagenee; He was my favorite, too. I always loved those little moments when he would poke and prode at the bad guys, never actually accusing them, but dropping hints that he knew.

There never was a "Columbo" episode where they actually showed his wife on screen. She was mentioned every episode and he spoke to her over the phone a few times (we never got to hear her voice) but she was never shown. There was a spin-off series called "Mrs. Columbo" (1978-9) starring Kate Mulgrew as Columbo's wife. The show flopped and Columbo's creator's Levinson and Link hated it. It was taken off the air mid season. It returned for a few weeks with a new title ("Kate Loves a Mystery") and was cancelled again.

Thanks for reading.

..

Hi Fiddleman; He was perfect for the role. Tailor made for him. Columbo had the most entertaining interrogation technique of all the TV detectives.

Thanks for commenting;

Rob


mandybeau1 profile image

mandybeau1 5 years ago from Out there

He was cool. Gee 83


Robwrite profile image

Robwrite 5 years ago from Bay Ridge Brooklyn NY Author

Yes he was, Mandy.


freelancewriterva profile image

freelancewriterva 5 years ago

My wife and I love the show. Thank you writing this article


Robwrite profile image

Robwrite 5 years ago from Bay Ridge Brooklyn NY Author

I loved it, too. Thanks for reading.


cindyvine profile image

cindyvine 5 years ago from Kyiv, Ukraine

He was iconic!


Robwrite profile image

Robwrite 5 years ago from Bay Ridge Brooklyn NY Author

Indeed he was, cindyvine.


ruffridyer 5 years ago from Dayton, ohio

I remember my wife and I watching Quincy when he got married just to find out his full name. The show screwed us over by having the preacher say,"Do you Quincy," what a jip that was.

Columbo's suspects were rich, Intellegent well groomed and always underestimated him.

Columbo also had heart.


JamaGenee profile image

JamaGenee 5 years ago from Central Oklahoma

Drats! Then my memory IS finally failing! I was certain there was one episode when we got an ever-so-brief GLIMPSE of C's wife. ;D


Robwrite profile image

Robwrite 5 years ago from Bay Ridge Brooklyn NY Author

Hi Ruffridyer; I didn't see the "Quncy" wedding episode. Sounds disappointing.

Columbo's adversaries were always conceited, rich and superior. That was part of the appeal--watching the average working man get the best of the corrupt and wealthy.

Rob

..

Hi JamaGenee; there was an episode where they teased the audience with an appearance of Mrs. Columbo. It was the one where columbo and his wife were on a cruise ship and the captain asked Columbo to help him investigate a murder on board. Columbo kept mentioning that his wife was nearby and the writers taunted the audience with the idea that she might really show up, but we never do actually see her.

Thanks for reading;

Rob


SUSIE42 profile image

SUSIE42 5 years ago

Thanks for a really good hub. I loved Peter Falk, especially as columbo. My favorite movie was "Pocket Ful Of Miracles".


Robwrite profile image

Robwrite 5 years ago from Bay Ridge Brooklyn NY Author

Hi Susie; I haven't seen "Pocket Full of Miracles". I'll have to catch it someday. Thanks.


FloraBreenRobison profile image

FloraBreenRobison 5 years ago

Hi, I love Columbo and Peter. McGoohan actually appeared in four mysteries:

Ashes to Ashes

Agenda to Murder

Identity Crisis

By Dawn's Early light

He directed:

Agenda for Murder

Ashes to Ashes

Identity Crisis

Last Salute to the Commodore

Murder With Too Many Notes

I loved Peter's movies too.

I'm writing a hub about my favourite Columbo episodes-not finished yet- and have included this hub as a link


Robwrite profile image

Robwrite 5 years ago from Bay Ridge Brooklyn NY Author

Hi Flora; You're right about Patrick Mcgoohan. I was just counting the episodes he did for the NBC series but as you point out, he did several more for the ABC revival show. He and Peter were great together. "By Dawn's Early Light" was probably my favorite Columbo episode.

I'm looking forward to seeing your Columbo hub. And thanks for linking it up to this one.

Thanks for reading,

Rob

I'm anx


formosangirl profile image

formosangirl 4 years ago from Los Angeles

I am clueless. I didn't even know he passed away. Great hub.


Robwrite profile image

Robwrite 4 years ago from Bay Ridge Brooklyn NY Author

Hi; Sadly, he is no longer with us, but we still have his work on film to enjoy.

Thanks for stopping by,

Rob


justmesuzanne profile image

justmesuzanne 4 years ago from Texas

I recently put all the episodes of Columbo and all the Columbo movies in my Netflix queue. There are simply NO good mysteries on TV any more. They are all insipid, banal and obvious. I am looking forward to rewatching these as new so many decades after my first viewing. I look forward to actually be surprised by the solutions to the mysteries! Voted up and awesome! :)


Robwrite profile image

Robwrite 4 years ago from Bay Ridge Brooklyn NY Author

Hi; I have the third and fourth season of "Columbo" on DVD but I want to get the rest. I love that show.

Thanks for stopping by to comment,

Rob


Lori 4 years ago

Hello ..well done for this blog

and the hard work thst went into it aswell

you should be proud of yourself..

seriously there a lot of blogs out there on internet that could take a left out of yours

love n light and God bless

Lori

Peter Falk fan


Robwrite profile image

Robwrite 4 years ago from Bay Ridge Brooklyn NY Author

Thank you very much for those kind words, Lori.

Peace,

Rob


Lori Falk 4 years ago

Peter was a brilliant fantastic natural born actor

Emmy Oscar award winner

who so loved and missed by all

love the website


stampschick 2 years ago

Robwrite, I love this article! I hope you don't mind my suggesting a couple of corrections? Falk didn't win the Emmy for the episode of The Law and Mr. Jones, although he was nominated--his first. He did, however, repeat the same feat of an Oscar and Emmy nomination in 1961 for "Pocketful of Miracles and the episode of The Dick Powell Theater called "The Price of Tomatoes" (this one was the one he won the Emmy for) respectively.

Also, the actor with the most Columbo guest appearances as the murderer was Patrick McGoohan, with 4, not 2, appearances. So he beat out both Culp and Cassidy. Culp made 4 appearances, but only 3 times as murderer. The 4th time was as the father of one of 2 murderous college students in "Columbo Goes To College".

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