It’s being reported that Peter Falk has died. His family released a statement saying, “Falk died peacefully at his Beverly Hills home in the evening of June 23, 2011.”
Mr. Falk, was 83 and will be remembered as one of Hollywood’s finest, with 5 Emmys and two Oscar nominations for Best Supporting Actor in “Murder Incorporated” in 1960, and “Pocket Full of Miracles” in 1961. He was also on Broadway, in Neil Simon’s “The Prisoner of Second Avenue.” Mostly, he will be remembered as the rumpled, crumpled and brilliant, Lt. Columbo, a master at the art of allowing others to underestimate his every move. It was my privilege to have played a bit part in a Columbo episode. My experience was that being a big star didn’t stop him from also being a terrific, likable guy.
According to one of the many obits out there, the rumpled raincoat was actually his. He bought it for himself. According to the AP, the coat was eventually replaced. It got a bit tattered after the first 25 years of the series. I had a similar experience during my one outing with the show. When the studio called about wardrobe I told them I was playing the role of what I already was, a tv news anchor, and if it was okay with them I’d just wear one of the suits I was already wearing in my real-world job. That old suit went to the thrift shop long ago but I still have the tie. It’s not Columbo’s famous raincoat, but for me it’s an interesting coincidence. I wonder if anyone else wore their own clothes on the show?
When I got to the set, I walked over to say hello to Peter, who was seated in a director’s chair. An associate producer/assistant-type was standing next to him, probably waiting for orders to go for coffee. Peter, was great. We had a few laughs and I turned to walk away only to hear the assistant blurt out (loud enough to be heard for some distance), “You’re no Jack Nicholson.” “No I’m not” I responded, “I’ve got more hair.” Falk, broke out laughing. The assistant, smirked.
Later that week I arrived on the lot for my regular job at KTLA-TV in Hollywood, and bumped into Peter, who was there to do a guest spot on the KTLA Morning News. He greeted me like I was an old friend, and told me he and the other producers had finally decided upon a name for the episode we’d just done. They were taking a line from an old love song. “It’s All in the Game,” would be the title. I told him I thought it was a perfect fit, since the script revolved around the relationship between Columbo and the female lead, played by Faye Dunaway, who won an Emmy for the role. Later, I learned that Falk had written the episode himself. Apparently, it was something he did only that one time.
Peter went on to do the Morning News. I was astonished that he referred to me as “a great actor.” He was just being nice. Nevertheless, he was still Peter Falk, and I’ll happily hang onto the recommendation. Gonna hang onto that old tie, too.
It succeeded without non-stop car crashes, explosions, automatic gunfire, bursting bloodbags or foul language. It succeeded because it was written and acted, with intelligence.
Thanks Peter, and may you rest in peace. The world is a poorer place without you.