A sad farewell to actor Peter Falk, who died this week at age 83. Perhaps best remembered for his long-running television show, Columbo, his passing reminds us of his wide-ranging work as everything from a singing gangster to an animated shark. He was the story-telling grandfather in The Princess Bride, the spy who created pre-wedding chaos in the original (and far better) “The In-Laws” (1979), the neglected gem inspired by a true story about a grandfather who raises first his grandson and then his great-grandchildren in Roommates, and an essential contributor to the ground-breaking naturalism of pioneering indie-film director John Cassavetes in films like Husbands. His live theater work included a Tony award- winning performance in Neil Simon’s “The Prisoner of Second Avenue” and he was twice nominated for an Oscar, for “Murder Inc.” and “Pocket Full of Miracles.” Many of his fans never realized that he had a glass eye because of cancer when he was a child or that he was a CPA.
The unusual structure of the “Columbo” detective series revealed the murderer (almost always someone wealthy and powerful) at the beginning. Lt. Columbo (Falk) would come in, lull the culprit into feeling safe by appearing obsequious and bumbling, and then solve the crime in the last act. The fun was in watching him outsmart the people who believed they had thought of everything. As a producer of the show, Falk helped to ensure top quality guest stars and directors. Steven Spielberg (pre-“Jaws”) directed one of the first episodes. He said, “Peter was the same kind of digger as an actor as his character Columbo was in finding the truth in that great tv series. 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.”
The PBS NewsHour shared a scene from “Columbo” with William Shatner as an television actor who plays a Columbo-like character and mistakenly thought he could get away with murder.