“I'm just as sloppy as the lieutenant but not nearly as smart.” Peter Falk about “Columbo”
American character actor Peter Falk is well-associated with his Emmy and Golden Globe-winning portrayal of the understanding Lt. Columbo on the popular television series “Columbo” (1971-1977), a role he reprised for a number of successful television movies during the late 1980s and the 1990s. In total, Falk won four Emmy awards and a Golden Globe Award in addition to two TP de Oro (Spain) Awards for his work on the project. A five-time Emmy award-winning actor, Falk took home his first Emmy Award for his appearance in “The Price of Tomatoes” (1962), an episode of the short-lived series “The Dick Powell Show.” His more recent TV credits include the TV films “A Storm in Summer” (2000, received a Daytime Emmy nomination), “Finding John Christmas” (2003) and “When Angels Come to Town” (2004). Also a strong presence in movies, Falk is a two-time Academy Award-nominated performer thanks to his scene-stealing roles in the drama “Murder, Inc.” (1960) and the comedy “Pocketful of Miracles” (1961). Other impressive credits include “Wings of Desire,” “The Princess Bride” (both also 1987), “Tune in Tomorrow” (1990), “Roommates” (1995), “Vig” (1999) and “The Thing About My Folks” (2005, received a Milan International Film Festival Award). Falk is also known for his collaboration with the innovative independent filmmaker John Cassavetes, most notably in “Husbands” (1970) and “A Woman Under the Influence” (1974).
“The first time I ever spoke to John Cassavetes was at a Lakers game. I got up to go for a hot dog and he was coming in the opposite direction. I don't know who said hello first, but we started talking and it turned out that he went to high school with my first wife, Alice. So we talked about his high-school days. That was the whole conversation. The second half was about to start and I still hadn't gotten my hot dog.” Peter Falk
In the entertainment industry since the mid 1950s, Falk has been honored with the Lifetime Achievement Awards from the Method Fest (2003), the Ft. Lauderdale International Film Festival (2003), the reputable David Di Donatello in Italy (2004) and the Florida Film Festival (2005). He published an autobiography called “Just One More Thing: Stories from My Life” in 2006.
As for his personal life, Falk has been married twice. He was married to first wife Alice Mayo from 1960 to 1976 and they have two daughters, one of whom was a private investigator. He married present wife actress Shera Danese in 1977. Falk enjoys sketching and drawing and his work has been exhibited in a gallery in Rome.
Childhood and Family:
Peter Michael Falk was born on September 16, 1927, in New York, New York. The son of Michael Falk and Madeline Falk was raised in Ossining, New York, where his parents owned a clothing and dry goods store. At age 3, he suffered from a malignant tumor that caused his right eye to be surgically removed and replaced by a glass prosthetic. A popular pupil, Peter enrolled at Ossining High School in Westchester County, New York, in which he became president of his class and was an excellent athlete. He left college to join the United States Merchant Marines as a cook, but later returned and earned a Bachelor of Arts in political science at the New School for Social Research in 1951. He also spent three years at Hamilton College in Clinton, New York. After receiving a Masters degree in Public Administration from Syracuse University in 1953, he applied to the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), but was declined. He then got a job as a management analyst for the Connecticut State Budget Bureau in Hartford.
On April 17, 1960, Peter married Alice Mayo. He became the father for a first time two years later when his wife gave birth to a lovely baby girl named Jackie Falk. His second daughter, Kathyrn Falk, was born in 1971. Peter divorced his wife in 1976 after having been together for sixteen years. He then married actress Shera Danese on December 7, 1977.
New York native Peter Falk made his stage debut at age 12 in a production of “The Pirates of Penzance” at a local summer camp, but did not have the intention of becoming a professional actor until after college. While working in Hartford, CT, the former cook with the Merchant Marines joined Mark Twain's Maskers of Hartford and perfected his craft with the White Barn Theatre in Westport. Before he reached his thirties, Falk officially announced himself a full-time actor and relocated to New York City. Shortly thereafter, he made his Off-Broadway debut in “Don Juan” (1956) and subsequently worked on Broadway in a revival of “Saint Joan,” where he played an English soldier. It was in the next year that Falk first gained attention with his performance in the successful off-Broadway production of Eugene O'Neill's “The Iceman Cometh,” opposite Jason Robards. He stayed active on the New York stage for the next three years.
Making his debut into feature film in 1958 with the Nicholas Ray-directed “Wind Across the Everglades,” Falk moved on to a bigger part in the following year's crime/thriller “The Bloody Brood,” costarring Jack Betts and Barbara Lord and by 1960, he had made his way to Los Angeles to seek further opportunities. After a part in the independent biopic “Pretty Boy Floyd” (1960), the newcomer received a significant boost when his portrayal of real life hit man Abe “Kid Twist” Reles in the based-on-book “Murder, Inc.” (1960) won him a 1961 Academy Award nomination for Best Actor in a Supporting Role. Falk bolstered his success by nabbing an Emmy nomination for playing a drug addict named Sydney Jarmon in an episode of the ABC short-lived drama series “The Law and Mr. Jones” (1961).
Falk went on to have episodic parts in television series and also appeared in several television films before again attracting the attention of moviegoers in “A Pocketful of Miracles” (1961), a comedy film directed by Frank Capra and starring Bette Davis and Glenn Ford. Playing Joy Boy, Ford's edgy right hand man, he was handed his second Oscar nomination. The next year saw Falk begin his recurring role as Dimitre Fresco in the comedy/drama series “The Dick Powell Show,” where he was handed an Emmy for Outstanding Single Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role for his fine acting in the episode “The Price of Tomatoes.” Also in 1962, he was named Top Male New Personality at the Laurel Awards.
A regular in movies and on television during the 1960s, Falk appeared in various films like the drama “The Balcony” (1963, with Shelley Winters) and “Too Many Thieves” (1966), the comedies “It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World” (1963, starred Spencer Tracy) and “The Great Race” (1965, with Jack Lemmon, Tony Curtis and Natalie Wood) as well as the musical “Robin and the Seven Hoods” (1964, opposite Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin). During 1965 to 1966, he played the starring role of attorney Daniel O'Brien on the CBS comedy/drama “The Trials of O’Brien,” his first venture as a regular in a TV series. Falk next could be seen in such films as Clive Donner's “Luv” (1967), reunited him with Jack Lemmon), the Italian-produced crime/drama “Machine Gun McCain” (1968), where he costarred with John Cassavetes and his wife Gena Rowlands, the war film “Anzio” (1968) and Sydney Pollack's “Castle Keep” (1969), starring Burt Lancaster.
It was in 1967 that NBC/Universal Studios decided to adapt the William Link/Richard Levinson stage play “Prescription Murder” for television that featured a police detective named Columbo. Originally, the role was offered to Lee J. Cobb and Bing Crosby, but when both actors declined, Falk was chosen as a replacement. Airing in 1968, “Prescription Murder” was a hit and when it returned for a second “Columbo” mystery in 1971 titled “Ransom for a Dead Man,” Falk reprised his role as the eccentric investigator and again received good responses. This led NBC to include “Columbo” as one of the three series to be aired on “The NBC Sunday Mystery Movie.” “Columbo” ran from 1971 to 1977 and was a massive hit and Falk was handed three Emmys in the categories of Outstanding Continued Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Dramatic Series (1972), Outstanding Lead Actor in a Limited Series (1975) and Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series (1976) and a Golden Globe for Best TV Actor – Drama (1973).
In addition to the role, Falk also found time to pursue other projects. He resurfaced on Broadway after 1964's “The Passion of Josef D.” to portray Mel Edison in Neil Simon's “The Prisoner of Second Avenue” in 1971. Three years later, he was cast as Gena Rowland's husband in John Cassavetes' drama “A Woman Under the Influence” (1974), which marked Falk's second project with Cassavetes. He also starred as Geoffrey Griffin in the cancer-themed TV film “Griffin and Phoenix: A Love Story” (1976), offered a memorable comic turn as Sam Diamond in the Neil Simon-written film “Murder By Death” (1976), costarred with Cassavetes in the Elaine May mob drama “Mikey and Nicky” (1976) and made a cameo appearance in the Cassavete drama “Opening Night” (1977). Falk closed out the decade by starring as Lou Peckinpaugh in the comedy “The Cheap Detective” (1978), again penned by Neil Simon, teamed up with Peter Boyle for the crime/comedy “The Brink’s Job” (1978) and played a varlet CIA agent named Vincent J. Ricardo in Arthur Hiller’s “The In-Laws” (1979), opposite Alan Arkin.
Falk spent much of his time during the early 1980s out of the limelight. He returned to film after 1981's “All the Marbles” to play Steve Rickey in the John Cassavetes-directed comedy “Big Trouble” (1986), the long-anticipated installment to “The In-Laws.” Also in 1986, he toured the U.S. as part of David Mamet’s “Glengarry Glen Ross.” He then starred in John G. Avildsen's “Happy New Year” (1987) and enjoyed some popularity among young audiences with Wim Wenders’ hit “Wings of Desire” and Rob Reiner’s adorable fantasy “The Princess Bride” (both also 1987). He also had a supporting role opposite Jeff Goldblum in the adventure/comedy “Vibes” (1988), playing Harry Buscafusco.
In the late 1980s, Falk revived the character of Lieutenant Columbo for a series of triumphant TV films for ABC, starting with “Columbo: Columbo Goes to the Guillotine” (1989). Falk, who also served as co-executive producer and occasional writer, picked up an Emmy in 1990 for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series for “Columbo: Agenda for Murder” and three Golden Globe nominations (1991, 1992, 1994).
The respected actor also supported Barbara Hershey and Keanu Reeves as a bizarre radio actor named Pedro Carmichael in the comedy/romance “Tune in Tomorrow” (1990), costarred with Woody Allen in the TV film version of Neil Simon's play “The Sunshine Boys” (1995) and starred in “Roommates” (1995). In 1999, he gave a notable turn as a shrewd, but corrupt, bookmaker in the Graham Headstone-helmed drama “Vig” (1999).
Entering the new millennium, Falk was cast in the TV film “A Storm in Summer” (2000) and netted a Daytime Emmy nomination for Outstanding Performer in a Children's Special for his work in the drama. The same year, he also had a noted turn as The Pierman in Joe Mantegna’s feature directorial debut, “Lakeboat,” recreated his coveted role for “Columbo: Murder with Too Many Notes” as well as played the father of David Paymer in the comedy film “Enemies of Laughter.” Follow-up projects included Jon Favreau’s comedy “Made” (2001), Rob Pritts's “Corky Romano” (2001), “A Town Without Christmas” (2001, TV), “Undisputed” (2002), Michael Meredith's “Three Days of Rain” (2003), “Finding John Christmas” (2003, TV) and “Columbo: Columbo Likes the Nightlife” (2003, TV).
From 2004 to 2007, Falk maintained his screen presence by playing roles in the popular TV film “When Angels Come to Town” (2004), the acclaimed indie-comedy “Checking Out” (2005), the festival darling “The Thing About My Folks” (2005), in which he won a Milan International Film Festival award for Best Actor for portraying the father of Paul Reiser, and Charlie Picerni's “Three Days to Vegas” (2007). He also appeared with Nicolas Cage, Julianne Moore and Jessica Biel in Lee Tamahori's action/thriller “Next” (2007).
The 81-year-old performer will portray Father Randolph in the film “American Cowslip” (2008), for director Mark David. Among his costars in the upcoming comedy are Ronnie Gene Blevins, Diane Ladd, Rip Torn, Cloris Leachman, Bruce Dern and Val Kilmer.
Milan International Film Festival: Best Actor, “The Thing About My Folks,” 2006
Florida Film Festival: Lifetime Achievement Award, 2005
David di Donatello: Golden Plate, 2004
Method Fest: Lifetime Achievement Award, 2003
Ft. Lauderdale International Film Festival: Lifetime Achievement Award, 2000
Emmy: Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series, “Columbo: Agenda for Murder,” 1990
TP de Oro (Spain): Best Foreign Actor (Mejor Actor Extranjero), the “Columbo” series, 1978
Emmy: Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series, “Columbo” series, 1976
Emmy: Outstanding Lead Actor in a Limited Series, “The NBC Mystery Movie,” “Columbo” series, 1975
TP de Oro (Spain): Best Foreign Actor (Mejor Actor Extranjero), the “Columbo” series, 1975
Hasty Pudding Theatricals: Man of the Year, 1974
Golden Globe: Best TV Actor – Drama, the “Columbo” series, 1973
Emmy: Outstanding Continued Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Dramatic Series, “The NBC Mystery Movie,” the “Columbo” series, 1972
Golden Apple: Male Star of the Year, 1972
Emmy: Outstanding Single Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role, “The Dick Powell Show,” For episode “The Price of Tomatoes,” 1962
Laurel: 3rd place, Golden Laurel, Top Male New Personality, 1962