Monday, July 11, 2011

"One More Thing"


Murder Inc.

The Twilight Zone

A Pocketful of Miracles

It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World

Robin and the Seven Hoods

The Great Race


The Cheap Detective

Shera & Peter

I'm afraid it's my sad duty to write another memorial piece for one of my all time favorite actors who died June 23 of unspecified causes, although it was known that he was suffering from dementia due to Alzheimer's Disease, Peter Falk. He was 83 years old.
If you read many accounts of this most versatile actor's life it is often stated that he was most famous for his portrayal of the police detective Frank Colombo (Didn't know his first name was Frank, did you? Not many do), on the television show "Colombo," which ran from 1971 to 1978 on NBC, then moved to ABC in 1989 and ran infrequently until 2003. The character was internationally famous, and Falk would be recognized and associated with that character since it's inception. However that was never true for me, and I'll always remember him for his work in films rather than the television show, which I found to be exceptionally repetitive (almost every show ran the exact same format, a murder is committed, we see it and therefore know who the antagonist is from the beginning, they attempt to cover it up, Colombo comes on the scene, acts friendly to the perpetrator, makes repeated visits, and basically annoys that person until they give themselves up, or something close to it), long (every show was either 90 minutes or 2 hours in length), and somewhat irritating. But that's just me. The show and character were very successful, and the title of this post is taken from it (as the detective apparently had finished asking his questions to the guest murderer of the week (the list of guest stars is quite impressive), Colombo would start to leave, turn around and and say "One more thing," and ask one more annoying question).
Peter Michael Falk was born in New York City on September 16, 1927 at the age of zero, the son of Michael Peter Falk (not too much imagination in the naming here) and Madeline (formerly Hochhauser). Dad owned a clothing store and mom was an accountant. They were Jewish, and Peter was of Russian, Polish, Hungarian, and Czech ancestry.
One couldn't help but notice that Peter's right eye was a little off throughout his career. I had no idea why until I researched this post and discovered that when he was three it had been removed due to a rare form of cancer, retinoblastoma, and for most of his life he wore a glass eye. However, this condition did not hamper his ability to play sports.
"I remember once in high school the umpire called me out at third base when I was sure I was safe. I got so mad I took out my glass eye, handed it to him and said, 'Try this.' I got such a laugh you wouldn't believe."
Peter had an early interest in acting, appearing on stage the first time at the age of twelve in Gilbert and Sullivan's "The Pirates of Penzance," in summer camp, where one of his counselors was Ross Martin, who we've talked about before...
( )
the future actor, and Artemus Gordon of the 1960's television show "The Wild Wild West," among many other roles. As a matter of fact Falk and Ross would work together again in Blake Edwards "The Great Race."
After graduating from high school as the President of his class, he briefly attended college before attempting to join the armed services as World War II ended. They rejected him due to his eye, so he joined the United States Merchant Marines, and worked for a year as a cook. He returned briefly to college after that and eventually received a bachelor's degree in literature and political science. This was in 1951. He then traveled to Yugoslavia where he worked constructing a railroad for six months. Hey, you got do something, right? He then returned to New York and college, unsure of what it was he wanted to do exactly with his life (so of course he became an actor).
He obtained a Master of Public Administration Degree, which is training to become a civil servant. He applied to the CIA to become a spy, but they turned him down, not because of his eye, but because he had been in the Marine Cook and Stewards Union while in the Merchant Marines, an organization famous for it's Communist and subversive activities... I guess.
He then became an "efficency expert" for Connecticut State Budget Bureau in Hartford. This is when he got back into acting.
Peter joined a community theater and began acting in several plays, and he joined an acting class for professional actors in Westport run by the well known English actress, producer, and director Eva Le Gallienne. Peter was not a professional actor, so he had to lie to get in.
He had to drive from Hartford to Westport (approximately 55 miles) to attend the school and had a tendency to be late for class. "One evening when I arrived late, she looked at me and asked, 'Young man, why are you always late?' and I said, 'I have to drive down from Hartford.'" She looked down her nose and said, "What do you do in Hartford? There's no theater there. How do you make a living acting?" Falk confessed he wasn't a professional actor. According to Falk, she looked at him sternly and said, "Well, you should be."
He received a recommendation from Gallienne to the William Morris Agency, the huge talent management concern in New York, quit his job in Hartford and moved to Greenwich Village.
His first Off Broadway performance was in Molières' "Don Juan," which opened and closed the same night. He did a little better the next time though scoring a role with Jason Robards, On Broadway, in Eugene O'Neill's "The Ice Man Cometh," (I tend not to care for O'Neill's plays. They're so torturous to sit through).
He continued to act on Broadway, and began to get small roles in films as well. His breakout role came in 1960's "Murder Inc." in which he played a syndicate hit man who terrorizes a young couple. Here's a clip:
What a mean guy that Peter was!
It's called acting.
For those of you old enough, or who were fans of the old "The Dick Van Dyke Show," the guy who was killed in the clip was the actor, comedian, Morey Amsterdam, who played Buddy Sorrell, one of Dick's writing partners.
Peter was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his performance. He said himself that it was a miracle that he was picked for the role from thousands of other Off-Broadway actors, and that this gave him the opportunity he needed to continue his career.
Peter got married that year to Alyce Mayo who he had met in college. They adopted two daughters, Catherine and Jackie. They remained married for 16 years before divorcing. One year later he married again, to actress Shera Danese, who had guest starred on "Colombo."
He got another big break, and another nomination for Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, the next year in Frank Capra's ("It's a Wonderful Life") last film, the comedy "A Pocketful of Miracles," also starring Superman's dad, Glenn Ford and Bette Davis ("The Petrified Forest"). This is what Capra wrote about Peter: "The entire production was agony ... except for Peter Falk. He was my joy, my anchor to reality. Introducing that remarkable talent to the techniques of comedy made me forget pains, tired blood, and maniacal hankerings to murder Glenn Ford (the film's star). Thank you Peter Falk."
Peter continued acting in small roles in both television and films throughout the 1960's, including an episode of "The Twilight Zone," and was nominated for an Emmy Award, for a guest starring role on "The Law and Mr. Jones," a James Whitmore ("The Shawshank Redemption" "Them") vehicle. In 1963 he was one of the many stars in the epic comedy "It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World," along with my very own dear mother, who was an extra in this scene right here:
My mother was the one on the left.
That clip contained a comedic performance by my favorite American actor, Mr. Spencer Tracy (the guy with the white hair).
In 1965 Peter appeared with Jack Lemon, Tony Curtis, and Natalie Wood (all sadly gone from us now), in one of my favorite movies, "The Great Race," as I've mentioned before, directed by the late, great Blake Edwards ( ) Here's a clip that involves one of, if not the greatest pie fight in cinematic history (my apologies to Soupy Sales and The Three Stooges):
We've previously mentioned "Colombo." Peter won four Emmy Awards playing the detective.
Oh, and I do need to note that the debut episode was directed by a young kid by the name of Steven Spielberg. He went on to become moderately successful the business.
Some of my other favorite film and TV roles Mr. Falk appeared in are: "The Princess Bride," "Murder by Death," with Alec Guinness, David Niven, and Peter Sellers, "The Cheap Detective," with Madeline Kahn, Ann Margret, and Louise Fletcher, "Vibes," with Cyndi Lauper, "The In-Laws," with Alan Arkin, and "Robin and the Seven Hoods," with the Rat Pack.
There are so many other shows he's appeared in. He was one of those actors who could make any show or film better just by being in it, and he will be sorely missed.
Fortunately we do have his great body of work recorded so we can visit and remember this so talented man.
Goodbye Peter.
Mr. Falk was an accomplished artist as well, his great passion was drawing and sketching. You can see some of his work here at his website:

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