Peter Falk Biography
(Peter Michael Falk)
- Born: 16-09-1927
- Died: 23-06-2011
- Birth Place: New York, USA
Peter Falk Biography
Peter Michael Falk, who descends from Eastern European Jewish heritage, had his right eye removed at the age of three after a malignant tumour was diagnosed. It is his glass eye that has come to represent the trademark squint people so commonly associate him with today.
After graduating, Falk joined the United States Merchant Marines as a cook and then went on to complete a BA in Political Science in 1951, following this with a Masters degree in public administration in 1953.
After failing to get a job at the CIA, Falk became a management analyst at Connecticut State Budget Bureau. In his spare time, Falk studied at the White Barn Theatre and it wasn’t long before his hobby began to inspire aspirations to become a professional actor.
Aged 29, Falk resigned from his analyst position and moved to Greenwich Village in New York to pursue the acting dream. Falk made his debut on the boards in Molière's Don Juan in 1956 and swiftly moved onto Broadway heights in Saint Joan the same year. For the next three years, Falk was never to be out of work and switched from one theatre production to the next, earning acclaim from critics and soon making his big screen debut in ‘Wind Across The Everglades’ (1958).
In his early screen roles, Falk often played the thug but his part in 1960s ‘Murder Inc.’ was a major turning point by earning him a Best Supporting Actor Academy Award nomination, coupled with an Emmy nomination for a TV episode of ‘The Law and Mr Jones’.
Remaining on a high, Falk notched up a second Oscar nomination just a year later for his role as a sarcastic bodyguard in ‘Pocketful of Miracles’ (1961). His praise was rewarded with an Emmy win for Outstanding Performance by an Actor in the TV drama, ‘The Price of Tomatoes’ (1961).
The steady stream of accolades established Falk as hot property and a string of film roles followed over the next few years, although the ultimate A-list level of fame still seemed to elude him.
In 1968, Falk first assumed the role of Lt. Columbo, the disheveled police lieutenant in the TV movie ‘Prescription: Murde’r. The character was an immediate hit and after a second TV film, ‘Ransom for a Dead Man’, the first series of Columbo premiered in 1979. The initial series ran for seven years and in this time it earned Falk seven Emmy nominations and three wins for Best Lead Actor.
Falk also continued his film career, most notably with the late independent director John Cassavetes, appearing in his films ‘Husbands’ (1970), ‘A Woman Under the Influence’ (1974), and a cameo appearance at the end of ‘Opening Night’ (1977). Cassavetes himself also guest starred in a Columbo episode in 1972.
In 1971, Falk made a return to his roots back on Broadway for Neil Simon’s play ‘The Prisoner of Second Avenue’ in which he received a Tony award. The play was directed by Mike Nichols and Falk went on to work with him in three more film roles, ‘Murder by Death’ (1976) with Peter Sellers, ‘The Cheap Detective’ (1978) with Stockard Channing and ‘The Sunshine Boys’ (1995) with Woody Allen.
Falk is a rarity in that his acting career has seemingly never suffered any quiet spells, nor has he hit the headlines for any dubious personal scandals. He married Alyce Fayo on 17 April 1960 and the couple had two daughters, Catherine (who is a real life private investigator) and Jackie. After divorcing in 1976, Falk married actress Shera Danese a year later and the pair are still together. Danese is known to have guest-starred in Columbo numerous times.
After touring in David Mamet’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play ‘Glengarry Glen Ross’ in 1986, Falk returned once again to the New York stage in 1998 for an off-Broadway production of Arthur Miller’s ‘Mr Peter’s Connections’. The play sold out for its entire run within two weeks of announcement.
Falk’s flair for comedy is evident from one of his personal favourite films, ‘The In-Laws’ (1979) and his most recent high profile role was providing the voice of Don Brizzi in 2003’s ‘Sharktale’, also starring many other notable actors such as Will Smith and Angelina Jolie.
Away from acting, Falk was also a practicing artist. His passion for drawing was sparked years ago when he began sketching as a way to pass time between scenes while filming on location. Numerous gallery shows and exhibits of his art have been held, including a 2004 exhibition at Bulgari’s in Rome.
Though the first series of Columbo ended in 1977, it began shooting again in 1988 in the format of two-hour TV movies and still continues to this day. Falk won his fourth Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actor in 1990 and has since been nominated for the famed role two more times.
In January 2003 the 69th episode, ‘Columbo Likes The Nightlife’, was shown on ABC.
In 2004, Falk provided his voice for the DreamWorks Animation film ‘Shark's Tale’, which also featured the vocal talents of Will Smith and Robert De Niro. He also starred in the Nicolas Cage science fiction film ‘Next’ in 2007.
However, the actor would make his last appearance in the low-budget independent film ‘American Cowslip’. In 2009, one of Falk's personal physicians announced that he had developed dementia rapidly following a series of dental operations.
Reports stated that his condition had worsened to the point of him not being able to remember his role as Columbo. Falk died peacefully in his Beverley Hills home on 23 June 2011.
Steven Spielberg, who directed Falk in one of the first episodes of Columbo in 1971, said upon hearing of Falk's passing: "He was a blast to work with and I learned more about acting from him at that early stage of my career than I had from anyone else."