Friday, June 24, 2011

Deceased--Peter Falk

Peter Falk
September 16th, 1927 to June 23rd, 2011

I suppose he will be best remembered as the rather unkempt and slightly eccentric detective in the television series Columbo, but I remember him for his role in John Cassavetes' Husbands .



Peter Falk was also an accomplished artist...

"Peter Falk dies at 83; actor found acclaim as 'Columbo'"

In a more than 50-year acting career that spanned movies, stage and TV, Falk's disheveled Lt. Columbo became one of TV's most memorable characters.


Dennis McLellan

June 24th, 2011

Los Angeles Times

Peter Falk, the gravel-voiced actor who became an enduring television icon portraying Lt. Columbo, the rumpled raincoat-wearing Los Angeles police homicide detective who always had "just one more thing" to ask a suspect, died Thursday. He was 83.

Falk, who reportedly suffered from dementia, died at his home in Beverly Hills, according to a statement from Larry Larson, a friend and an attorney for Falk's wife, Shera.

In a more than 50-year acting career that spanned Broadway, movies and television, Falk appeared in more than 50 feature films, including "A Woman Under the Influence," "Husbands," "Luv," "Mikey and Nicky," "The In-Laws," "Wings of Desire," "The Great Race," "The Cheap Detective," "Cookie" and "The Princess Bride."

"Husbands" (1970) and "A Woman Under the Influence" (1974), both of which were written and directed by Falk's close friend, John Cassavetes, provided Falk with two of his best-known dramatic film credits.

But it was his role as the blue-collar family man trying to deal with his mentally unstable wife (played by Gena Rowlands) in "A Woman Under the Influence" that he created what former Times film critic Charles Champlin called "one of the most complex and contradictory portraits in his career."

Through a spokesman, Rowlands told The Times on Friday: "Today we lost someone who was very special and dear to my heart. Not only a wonderful actor but a very great friend."

Early in his film career, Falk received two Academy Award nominations for best supporting actor — for playing a vicious mob assassin in "Murder, Inc." (1960) and for his portrayal of a gangster's right-hand man in Frank Capra's comedy-drama "Pocketful of Miracles" (1961).

Falk's on-screen combination of toughness and gentleness prompted Hollywood columnist Hedda Hopper to label the native New Yorker "another James Cagney or John Garfield — a man to replace irreplaceables."

In 1962, Falk won his first of five Emmys by playing a truck driver who befriends a lonely, pregnant girl in "The Price of Tomatoes," a segment of "The Dick Powell Show."

A decade later, he received raves on Broadway as the frazzled New York advertising account executive in Neil Simon's hit comedy "The Prisoner of Second Avenue."

But nothing Falk did came close to matching the acclaim and popularity he found playing the title role in "Columbo," the crime-drama for which he won four of his Emmys.

Launched with two TV-movies starring Falk — "Prescription: Murder" in 1968 and "Ransom for a Dead Man" in 1971 — "Columbo" began in the fall of 1971 as one of three 90-minute shows on the "NBC Sunday Mystery Movie," alternating with "McMillan and Wife," starring Rock Hudson and Susan Saint James, and "McCloud," starring Dennis Weaver.

"Columbo," however, became the stand-out show. "There isn't a detective on television who can touch him, either in style or ratings," one critic wrote of Falk.

The format of the series, created by Richard Levinson and William Link, inverted the classic detective formula: The TV audience already knew whodunit when Columbo arrived on the scene of the crime. The enjoyment for viewers was in seeing how Columbo doggedly pieced the clues together. As he said in one episode, "I have this bug about tying up loose ends."

Columbo, who was never given a first name, became one of the most memorable TV characters in television history — ranked No. 7 in TV Guide's 1999 list of "TV's Fifty Greatest Characters Ever."

With his tousled dark-brown hair, a cheap cigar wedged between his fingers and his lived-in tan raincoat, the endearingly likable lieutenant was as unprepossessing as the faded old Peugeot he drove.

Indeed, when Columbo brought up the subject of men's clothing and male vanity in one early episode, guest star Suzanne Pleshette, as the segment title's "Witness to a Murder," pointedly looked at the disheveled detective and remarked: "Some men, Lieutenant, do not want to look like an unmade bed."

The show often made light of Columbo's lack of fashion sense. Taking note of the detective's tatty attire, a suspect once asked him, "Are you undercover?" Replied Columbo, "No, underpaid."

In another episode, a nun at a soup kitchen where Columbo was interviewing a witness took one look at his worn raincoat, mistook him as a vagrant and insisted on finding him a better coat in the shelter's used-clothing collection.

Columbo: "Y'know, I appreciate what you're doin', I really do, but I've had this coat for seven years."

Sister: "Oh, you poor man!"

Admonished by the nun not to feel ashamed of his shabby raincoat, Columbo said: "No, I'm very fond of it."

But beyond his rumpled exterior, disarmingly childlike curiosity and seeming disorganization — he'd frequently lose his pencil and have to borrow a pen to jot down notes — there was no question Columbo was the right man for the job.

Head cocked, slightly hunched and his hand occasionally rubbing his furrowed forehead, he may have appeared to be absorbing nothing, but he missed nothing.

For the prime suspect, that was never more clear than when Columbo headed to the door, stopped and, in his gravelly voice, said, "Oh, there's just one more thing …"

Falk had the best take on Columbo, a character he never tired of portraying.

"I love him," he told TV Guide in 2000. "He's eccentric, oblivious to the impression he makes on people. His obsessiveness is hidden by his graciousness. He has a sly sense of humor, is by nature polite and totally devoid of pretension. But God help anyone who commits murder in Los Angeles."

In 1989, Falk returned in new "Columbo" dramas as part of the "The ABC Mystery Movie," a new series of three rotating two-hour dramas. After that series ended in 1990, he continued to turn up periodically in "Columbo" TV movies until 2003.

In 2000, after more than three decades of playing his famous TV character, Falk acknowledged that only slight changes had been made.

"It's tougher to bum a match; there are a few more ketchup stains on the raincoat," he told TV Guide. "Other than that, we're still dying to know what he's thinking."

Falk was born in New York City on Sept. 16, 1927, and grew up in Ossining, N.Y., where his parents owned a clothing store. (Decades later, Ossining named a street after him — Peter Falk Place — which he unveiled by pulling a Columbo-style raincoat off the street sign.)

At age 3, Falk underwent surgery to remove a malignant tumor that cost him his right eye. He later recalled dreading having anyone ask him what was the matter with his eye. But by the time he was a teenager, his self-consciousness disappeared after he realized he could get a laugh with it.

Once, when he was unfairly called out at third base during a high school baseball game, Falk is said to have taken out his glass eye and offered it to the umpire saying, "You need this more than I do."

In high school, he was a three-letter athlete (baseball, basketball and track), a debating-team member and senior class president.

Falk, who first appeared on stage in a summer-camp musical, also played small parts in high school stage productions.

"But," he told People magazine in 1991, "I could never tell any of the guys I was knockin' around with I wanted to be an actor. It was too strange."

After graduating from high school in 1945, Falk began a year-long post-war stint as a cook in the merchant marines. He attended Hamilton College in Clinton, N.Y., from 1946 to 1948, then transferred to the New School for Social Research in New York City, where he earned a bachelor's degree in political science in 1951.

Two years later, he earned a master's in public administration from Syracuse University and went to work as an efficiency expert for the Connecticut State Budget Bureau in Hartford.

In his spare time, he joined a community theater group in Hartford, the Mark Twain Maskers, and studied with renowned actress Eva Le Gallienne at the White Barn Theatre in Westport.

Encouraged by Le Gallienne to become a professional actor at 28, Falk quit his job and moved to New York City.

Falk, who continued to study acting in New York, first gained attention playing the bartender in the 1956 Off-Broadway revival of Eugene O'Neill's "The Iceman Cometh," starring Jason Robards.

He made his Broadway debut playing the English solider in "Saint Joan" in 1956 and appeared on television shows such as "Studio One" and "Naked City."

Although Falk made a screen test for Columbia Pictures in the late '50s, studio boss Harry Cohn turned him down, saying, "For the same money I can get an actor with two eyes."

But his glass eye proved to be no handicap.

In the wake of his two Oscar-nominated film performances and Emmy Award in the early '60s, Falk was offered — and turned down — a number of potential TV series.

But he accepted "The Trials of O'Brien," a legal drama in which he played a talented New York attorney with a less-successful personal life. Although a critical success, the show fared poorly in the ratings and was canceled in 1966 after one season.

For Falk, who had played his share of heavies over the years, "Columbo" was a welcome change of pace.

"I'd done too many shows where I'd walk into a hospital room where a man was in bed and I'd go over and turn off the oxygen," he told TV Guide in 1972. "I've shot, knifed and beat people in too many bloody scenes. There's no fun in doing that. I like to do something optimistic, where the people try to live, not die."

During his long run as Columbo, Falk received a lot of fan mail from police officers.

"You get cops saying, 'I use the Columbo technique,'" he told The Times in 1990. "Or you go somewhere and a cop will come up and say, 'We have got a Columbo on the force who we call Columbo, and on his birthday we bought him a raincoat.' They send me pictures of cops dressed as Columbo. So they get a kick out of it."

While it is hard to imagine anyone else playing the character, "Columbo" creators Levinson and Link originally offered the role to 67-year-old Bing Crosby, who turned it down.

As Falk often said: "Thank God he had a golf tournament."

Falk married his first wife, Alyce, in 1960, and adopted two daughters, Catherine and Jackie. A year after the couple divorced in 1976, he married actress Shera Danese.

Catherine Falk had filed for conservatorship of her father in late 2008, contending that she had not been allowed to see him since his hip-replacement surgery earlier that year. She later withdrew a petition to take control of his finances.

In 2009, the court allowed his wife to remain in control of his personal care and affairs but ordered that his daughter be allowed to see her father for 30 minutes every other month, a mandate that remained in place at the time of his death.

Falk's survivors include his wife and his two daughters.

"Peter Falk, Rumpled and Crafty Actor on ‘Columbo,’ Dies at 83"


Bruce Weber

June 24th, 2011

The New York Times

Peter Falk, who marshaled actorly tics, prop room appurtenances and his own physical idiosyncrasies to personify Columbo, one of the most famous and beloved fictional detectives in television history, died on Thursday night at his home in Beverly Hills, Calif. He was 83.

His death was announced in a statement from Larry Larson, a longtime friend and the lawyer for Mr. Falk’s wife, Shera. He had been treated for Alzheimer’s disease in recent years.

Mr. Falk had a wide-ranging career in comedy and drama, in the movies and onstage, before and during the three and a half decades in which he portrayed the slovenly but canny lead on “Columbo.” He was nominated for two Oscars; appeared in original stage productions of works by Paddy Chayefsky, Neil Simon and Arthur Miller; worked with the directors Frank Capra, John Cassavetes, Blake Edwards and Mike Nichols; and co-starred with the likes of Frank Sinatra, Bette Davis and Jason Robards.

But like that of his contemporary Telly Savalas, of “Kojak” fame, Mr. Falk’s prime-time popularity was founded on a single role.

A lieutenant in the Los Angeles Police Department, Columbo was a comic variation on the traditional fictional detective. With the keen mind of Sherlock Holmes and Philip Marlowe, he was cast in the mold of neither — not a gentleman scholar, not a tough guy. He was instead a mass of quirks and peculiarities, a seemingly distracted figure in a rumpled raincoat, perpetually patting his pockets for a light for his signature stogie.

He drove a battered Peugeot, was unfailingly polite, was sometimes accompanied by a basset hound named Dog, and was constantly referring to the wisdom of his wife (who was never seen on screen) and a variety of relatives and acquaintances who were identified in Homeric-epithet-like shorthand — an uncle who played the bagpipes with the Shriners, say, or a nephew majoring in dermatology at U.C.L.A. — and who were called to mind by the circumstances of the crime at hand.

It was a low-rent affect that was especially irksome to the high-society murderers he outwitted in episode after episode. In the detective-story niche where Columbo lived, whodunit was hardly the point; the murder was committed and the murderer revealed in the show’s opening minutes. How-it-was-done was paramount. Typically, Columbo would string his suspects along, flattering them, apologizing profusely for continuing to trouble them with questions, appearing to have bought their alibis and, just before making an exit, nailing them with a final, damning query that he unfailingly introduced with the innocent-sounding phrase “Just one more thing. ...” It was the signal to viewers that the jig was up.

It was also the title of Mr. Falk’s anecdotal memoir, published in 2006, in which he summarized the appeal of the show.

“What are you hanging around for?” he wrote, referring to the viewer. “Just one thing. You want to know how he gets caught.”

Mr. Falk had a glass eye, resulting from an operation to remove a cancerous tumor when he was 3 years old. The prosthesis gave all his characters a peculiar, almost quizzical squint. And he had a mild speech impediment that gave his L’s a breathy quality, a sound that emanated from the back of his throat and that seemed especially emphatic whenever, in character, he introduced himself as Lieutenant Columbo.

Such a deep well of eccentricity made Columbo amusing as well as incisive, not to mention a progenitor of later characters like Tony Shalhoub’s Monk, and it made him a representative Everyman, too. Off and on from 1968 to 2003, Mr. Falk played the character numerous times, often in the format of a 90-minute or two-hour television movie, and each time Columbo, the ordinary man as hero, brought low a greedy and murderous privileged denizen of Beverly Hills, Malibu or Brentwood, it was an implicit victory for the many over the few.

“This is, perhaps, the most thoroughgoing satisfaction ‘Columbo’ offers us,” Jeff Greenfield wrote in The New York Times in 1973: “the assurance that those who dwell in marble and satin, those whose clothes, food, cars and mates are the very best, do not deserve it.”

Peter Michael Falk was born in Manhattan on Sept. 16, 1927, and lived for a time in the Bronx, near Yankee Stadium, but grew up mostly in Ossining, N.Y, where his father owned a clothing store and where, in spite of his missing eye, he was a high school athlete. In one story he liked to tell, after being called out at third base during a baseball game, he removed his eye and handed it to the umpire.

“You’ll do better with this,” he said.

After high school, Mr. Falk went briefly to Hamilton College, in upstate New York, before dropping out and joining the Merchant Marine as a cook. He later returned to New York City, where he earned a degree in political science from the New School for Social Research before attending Syracuse University, where he received a master’s degree in public administration.

He took a job in Hartford as an efficiency expert for the Connecticut budget bureau. It was in Connecticut that he began acting, joining an amateur troupe called the Mark Twain Masquers in Hartford and taking classes from Eva Le Gallienne at the White Barn Theater in Westport. He was 29 when he decided to move to New York again, this time to be an actor.

He made his professional debut in an Off Broadway production of Moliere’s “Don Juan” in 1956. In 1957 he was cast as the bartender in the famous Circle in the Square revival of “The Iceman Cometh,” directed by José Quintero and starring Jason Robards; he made his first splash on screen, as Abe (Kid Twist) Reles, a violent mob thug, in the 1960 film “Murder, Inc.” That performance earned him an Oscar nomination for best supporting actor and a moment of high embarrassment at the awards ceremony. When the winner was announced — it was Peter Ustinov for “Spartacus” — Mr. Falk heard the first name and stood, only to have to sit back down again a moment later.

“When I hit the seat I turned to the press agent and said, ‘You’re fired!’ ” Mr. Falk wrote in his memoir. “I didn’t want him charging me for another day.”

The next year, newly married to a Syracuse classmate, Alyce Mayo — they would have two daughters and divorce in 1976 — Mr. Falk again earned a supporting-actor Oscar nomination for playing a mobster, though this time with a more light-hearted stripe, in the final film to be directed by Frank Capra, “Pocketful of Miracles,” starring Bette Davis and Glenn Ford.

From then on, Mr. Falk, who was swarthy, squat (he was 5-foot-6) and handsome, had to fend off offers to play gangsters. He did take such a part in “Robin and the 7 Hoods”, alongside Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Bing Crosby and Sammy Davis Jr., but fearful of typecasting, he also took roles in comic japes like “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World” and “The Great Race.”

He returned to the stage as well, as Stalin, the title role, in Paddy Chayefsky’s “Passion of Josef D,” which earned him solid reviews in spite of the show’s brief run (less than two weeks). Mr. Falk played Stalin “with brilliant, unsmiling ferocity,” Howard Taubman wrote in his largely positive review in The Times.

His life was forever changed in 1967 when, reportedly after both Bing Crosby and Lee J. Cobb turned down the role, he was cast as Columbo in the television film “Prescription: Murder.” The film, about a psychiatrist who kills his wife with the help of one of his patients, was written by Richard Levinson and William Link; they had adapted it from their stage play, which opened in San Francisco and Boston in 1964, and which itself was an adaptation. Mr. Levinson and Mr. Link first wrote the story in 1960 for a series called “The Chevy Mystery Show.” It was in that show — the episode was titled “Enough Rope” — that Columbo made his debut as a character, played by Bert Freed.

But it was Mr. Falk who made him a legend. During the filming it was he who rejected the fashionable attire the costume shop had laid out for him; it was he who chose the raincoat — one of his own — and who matched the rest of the detective’s clothes to its shabbiness. It was he who picked out the Peugeot from the studio motor pool, a convertible with a flat tire and needing a paint job that, he reflected years afterwards, “even matched the raincoat.”

And as the character grew, the line between the actor and the character grew hazier. They shared a general disregard for nattiness, an informal mode of speech, an obsession with detail, an irrepressible absent-mindedness. Even Columbo’s favorite song, “This Old Man,” which seemed to run through his mind (and the series) like a broken record, was one that Mr. Falk had loved from childhood and that ended up in the show because he was standing around humming it one day, in character, when Columbo was waiting for someone to come to the phone.

Three years passed between the first “Columbo” movie and the second, “Ransom for a Dead Man,” which became the pilot that launched the show as a regular network offering. It was part of a revolving wheel of Sunday night mysteries with recurring characters that appeared under the rubric “NBC Mystery Theater.” The first set included “McCloud,” with Dennis Weaver, and “McMillan and Wife,” with Rock Hudson and Susan St James.

In between, Mr. Falk made “Husbands,” the first of his collaborations with his friend Mr. Cassavetes. The others were “A Woman Under the Influence” in 1974, a brutally realistic portrayal of a marriage undermined by mental illness, directed by Mr. Cassavetes, for which Mr. Falk’s co-star and Mr. Cassavetes’s wife, Gena Rowlands, was nominated for an Academy Award; and “Mikey and Nicky” in 1976, a dark buddy comedy directed by Elaine May in which the two men played the title roles.

In 1971 he once again returned to Broadway, in Neil Simon’s angry comedy “The Prisoner of Second Avenue.”

In later years, Mr. Falk starred in several notable films — among them “Murder by Death” (1976), “The In-Laws” (1979), “The Princess Bride” (1987), “Tune In Tomorrow” (1990) and “Wings of Desire” (1987), in which he played himself, contemplating his acting career — and in 1998 he opened Off Broadway in the title role of Arthur Miller’s play “Mr. Peters’ Connections,” a portrait of an older man trying to make sense out his life as it comes to an end. By that time, however, Mr. Falk and Columbo had become more or less interchangeable as cultural references. Mr. Peters, Ben Brantley wrote in his review of the play in The Times, “is as genuinely perplexed as Columbo, his aggressively rumpled television detective, only pretends to be.”

Mr. Falk, who began sketching as a way to while away time on movie sets, has had many gallery shows of his charcoal drawings and watercolors. He is survived by his second wife, the former Shera Danese, and two daughters, Jackie and Catherine.

For all the mysteries Columbo solved, one remains. Many viewers claim that in one or more episodes Columbo’s police identification is visible with the first name “Frank” visibly scrawled on it. However, the character was initially created without a first name; an exhaustive book about the television show, “The Columbo Phile,” does not give a first name, and Mr. Falk, for his part, was no help in this regard. Whenever he was asked Columbo’s first name, his response was the same.

“Lieutenant,” he said.

Peter Falk [Wikipedia]

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