Nationality: American. Born: Peter Michael Falk in New York City, 16 September 1927. Education: Attended Ossining High School, New York, graduated 1945; Hamilton College, Clinton, New York; New School for Social Research, New York, B.A. 1951; Syracuse University, M.A. in public administration, 1953. Military Service: Merchant marine, 1945–46: cook. Family: Married Alice Mayo, 1960, daughters: Katherine and Jackie. Career: At age three, right eye removed during surgery for malignant tumor; 1953–55—management analyst (efficiency expert) with Connecticut State Budget Bureau, Hartford; began acting with Mark Twain Maskers, Hartford; studied under Eva Le Gallienne, White Barn Theatre, Westport, Connecticut; 1955—moved to New York to pursue theatrical career; 1956—professional stage debut in Molière's Don Juan, New York; studied acting with Jack Landau and Sanford Meisner; 1958—film acting debut in Wind across the Everglades; considered for Columbia contract but rejected because of glass eye; 1965–66—in TV series The Trials of O'Brien; mid-1960s—formed Mayo Productions; 1968—created character of Lieutenant Columbo in made-for-TV movie Prescription: Murder and starred in the TV series Columbo, 1971–77, also directed some of the episodes; 1970—co-financed and acted in John Cassavetes film Husbands (also helped finance A Woman under the Influence); late 1980s—Columbo character revived for TV movies. Awards: Five Emmy Awards for Outstanding Lead Actor, for Columbo; Chevalier of Arts and Letters, 1996. Address: 1004 North Roxbury Drive, Beverly Hills, CA 90210, U.S.A.
Films as Actor:
Wind across the Everglades (Nicholas Ray) (as writer)
The Bloody Brood (Roffman) (as Nico)
Pretty Boy Floyd (Leder) (as Shorty Walters); Murder, Inc. (Rosenberg and Burt Balaban) (as Abe "Kid Twist" Reles); The Secret of the Purple Reef (Witney)
Pocketful of Miracles (Capra) (as Joy Boy)
Pressure Point (Cornfield) (as young psychiatrist)
It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (Kramer) (as second cab driver); The Balcony (Strick) (as police chief)
Robin and the Seven Hoods (Gordon Douglas) (as Guy Gisborne); Italiani brava gente (Italiano brava gente; Attack and Retreat) (De Santis) (as medic captain)
The Great Race (Edwards) (as Max)
Too Many Thieves (Biberman—for TV, two Trials of O'Brien eps.); Penelope (Hiller)
Luv (Clive Donner) (as Milt Manville)
Lo sbarco di Anzio (Anzio; The Battle for Anzio) (Dmytryk) (as Cpl. Rabinoff); Gli intoccabili (Machine Gun McCain) (Montaldo) (as Charles Adamo); Prescription: Murder (Irving—for TV) (as Columbo)
Castle Keep (Pollack) (as Sgt. Orlando Rossi)
Husbands (Cassavetes) (as Archie); Operation Snafu (Situation Normal All Fouled Up; Rosolino paternò, soldato . . .) (Loy); Step Out of Line (McEveety—for TV)
Ransom for a Dead Man (Irving—for TV) (as Columbo)
The Politics Film (Miller—short) (as narrator)
A Woman under the Influence (Cassavetes) (as Nick Longhetti)
Mikey and Nicky (Elaine May) (as Mikey); Murder by Death (Robert Moore) (as Sam Diamond); Griffin and Phoenix: A Love Story (Today Is Forever) (Duke—for TV) (as Geoffrey Griffin)
Opening Night (Cassavetes) (as guest)
The Cheap Detective (Robert Moore) (as Lou Peckinpaugh); The Brink's Job (Friedkin) (as Tony Pino)
The In-Laws (Hiller) (as Vince Ricardo)
The Great Muppet Caper (Henson) (as a tramp); . . . All the Marbles (The California Dolls) (Aldrich) (as Harry Sears)
Sanford Meisner: The Theatre's Best Kept Secret (Doob—doc)
Big Trouble (Cassavetes) (as Steve Rickey)
Rattornas Vinter (Hellberg); Vibes (Kwapis) (as Harry Buscafusco)
Cookie (Susan Seidelman) (as Dino Capisco); Columbo Goes to the Guillotine (for TV) (title role)
In the Spirit (Seacat) (as Roger Flan); Motion and Emotion (Paul Joyce); Columbo Goes to College (for TV) (title role); Columbo: Grand Deception (for TV) (title role); Tune in Tomorrow (Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter) (Amiel) (as Pedro Carmichael); Plates (for TV) (as Columbo)
My Dog Stupid (Berri); Columbo and the Murder of a Rock Star (for TV) (title role, + co-exec pr); Columbo: Murder Can Be Hazardous to Your Health (for TV) (title role, + co-exec pr); Death Hits the Jackpot (for TV)
The Player (Altman); No Time to Die (for TV) (as Columbo, + exec pr); Columbo: A Bird in the Hand (for TV) (title role, + exec pr)
In Weiter Ferne, So Nah! (Faraway, So Close) (Wenders) (as himself); Columbo: It's All in the Game (McEveety—for TV) (title role, + exec pr, sc)
Columbo: Undercover (for TV) (title role, + sc); Columbo: Butterflies in Shades of Grey (for TV) (title role, + exec pr)
Roommates (Yates) (as Rocky); Columbo: Strange Bedfellows (for TV) (title role, + exec pr)
Pronto (McBride—for TV) (as Harry Arno); Columbo: A Trace of Murder (for TV) (title role + exec pr); Columbia: Ashes to Ashes (for TV) (title role + exec pr)
Vig (Theakston—for TV) (as Vinnie)
A Storm in Summer (Wise—for TV); Lakeboat (Mantegna); Columbo: Murder with Too Many Notes (for TV) (title role); Enemies of Laughter (Joey Travolta) (as Mr. Halpern); 3 Days of Rain (Meredith) (as Waldo)
Made (Favreau); Corky Bonono (Pritts)
By FALK: articles—
Interview in Kaleidoscope, vol. 2, no. 3, 1967.
"Peter Falk," in Conversations, by Don Shay, New York, 1969.
Interview in Photoplay (London), January 1979.
Interview with Simon Kinnersly, in TV Times (London), 23 February 1991.
On FALK: articles—
Current Bigraphy 1972, New York, 1972.
Hobson, Dick, in TV Guide (New York), 25 March 1972.
Marill, Alvin H., in Films in Review (New York), January 1975.
"Peter Falk," in Film Dope (London), September 1978.
Ciné Revue (Paris), 30 April 1987.
Simms, Paul, "Back in the Raincoat Again," in Rolling Stone (New York), 9 March 1989.
Collins, G. "Falk's Career Strategy: Who Needs a Strategy?," in New York Times, 28 November 1990.
Leahy, Michael, "Raincoat Man," in TV Guide (Radnor, Pennsylvania), 14 December 1991.
Allis, Tim, and Robin Mitchell, "A Wrinkle in Time," in People Weekly (New York), 16 December 1991.
* * *
Everything about the on-screen Peter Falk bespeaks lived-in disarray—his raspy voice, slumping posture, ill-fitting clothes, even his squinty, slightly cockeyed look (the result of losing an eye as a child). In combination with an ingratiatingly ironic style of delivery, Falk's physiognomy makes him especially effective in comedies and in dramas with strong comedic undercurrents.
Bored with his career as an efficiency expert, Falk turned to stage acting in the 1950s, gaining valuable experience in several off-Broadway productions, including Eugene O'Neill's The Iceman Cometh. Television and film work followed quickly, his feature debut coming in Nicholas Ray's Wind across the Everglades. For his fourth film role, that of Abe Reles, the mob assassin who blew the whistle on the Organization's professional hit squad Murder, Inc. only to become a victim of it himself before he could take the stand, he deftly combined the two aspects of his acting persona by making the weaselish Reles a confused and slightly comic figure who is nevertheless chilling given the nature of his job. Falk earned an Academy Award nomination as Best Supporting Actor for his standout performance in the otherwise undistinguished gangland docudrama. Years later, he showed similar acting dexterity in Friedkin's gangland comedy-drama The Brink's Job as the goofball mastermind behind the "crime of the century" who is done in by a pathetic, losing nature.
Falk's hilarious performance as a Damon Runyon character in Frank Capra's Pocketful of Miracles unwrapped his gift for comedy and paved the way for a string of farcical roles, many of which crossed over into slapstick—in Stanley Kramer's It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, as a taxi driver; Gordon Douglas's Robin and the Seven Hoods, as another Runyonesque hoodlum; Blake Edwards's The Great Race, as the riotously inept assistant to frustrated villain Jack Lemmon; and The Cheap Detective, as a bumbling, Bogart-like gumshoe named "Peckinpaugh."
By the 1970s Falk was elevated to starring or co-starring roles in such dramas as Husbands and A Woman under the Influence, written and directed by his close friend John Cassavetes, as well as various comedies. But he achieved actual stardom with the popular television series Columbo, the vehicle with which he is most closely associated. As the disheveled, dumb-like-a-fox police lieutenant of the title, a character the show's creators Levinson and Link patterned after Charles Vanel's detective in the classic Clouzot chiller Diabolique, he brought a sly, rumpled, earthy charm which was chiefly responsible for the series' success and which remains its trademark. Falk continues to play the part in occasional made-for-television Columbo movies and shows up on the big screen now and then either in cameos or substantive character parts such as that of the irascible old guy who raises his orphaned grandson in Yates's sentimental Roommates.
—Bill Wine, updated by John McCarty