Oscar Actors: Falk, Peter–Talented, Oscar Nominee, Dies at 83 (Cumulative Advantage)

Peter Falk, best known for his role as TV’s Columbo, died on Thursday after long suffering from Alzheimer’s.  He was 83.

One of TV’s most enduring stars, playing his signature role for decades, Falk was a versatile actor on stage, and on the small and big screen.

Cassavetes Collaborator

His long, half-a-century screen career included major roles in John Cassavetes intense indie dramas, such as “Husbands” (1970) and “A Woman Under the Influence” (1974). Cassavetes once referred to Falk as the man “everybody falls in love with.”

Falk earned four Emmys for his role as Columbo, the rumpled, cigar-smoking Los Angeles police detective who never disclosed his first name.  The telepics, which ranged over the years from 90 minutes to 2 hours, became a worldwide phenomenon.

In the “Columbo” telepics that Universal produced for NBC and ABC from the 1970s through 2003, Lt. Columbo was assigned high-profile homicide cases. With his rumpled raincoat and beat-up Peugeot car, he was underestimated by conniving murders, allowing his hero to piece together the evidence and make his move.

The series was known for its casting of guest stars, which included Ray Milland, Myrna Loy, Don Ameche, Janet Leigh, Anne Francis, Roddy McDowell, Jackie Cooper, Ida Lupino, Faye Dunaway and Lee Grant. “Columbo” alos served as key training ground for young writers and directors, such as Spielberg, Stephen J. Cannell and Steven Bochco.

By the mid-1970s, Falk was earning $500,000 for each of the two-hour telepics.  During “Columbo’s” peak in the mid-1970s, Falk assembled a company of supporting players and crew members, who worked on the show for decades. Falk directed several segments, in which he employed friends and colleagues like Cassavetes, Ben Gazzara, Patrick McGoohan and Nicholas Colasanto.

Falk also found success onstage, particularly in Neil Simon’s Tony-winning “The Prisoner of Second Avenue,” and received two Oscar nominations early in his career (see below).

Born in Manhattan, he was raised in Ossining, N.Y. After serving in the merchant marine as a cook following WWII, he studied at Hamilton College, got B.A. in political science at the New School for Social Research in 1951 and M.A. in public administration at Syracuse University.

He began acting in community theatre, and moved to New York to study under Jack Landau and Sanford Meisner. Falk made his Off Broadway debut in 1956 in Moliere’s “Don Juan” and Broadway debut in “St. Joan,” after an Off Broadway run.

He also played the bartender in the revival of Eugene O’Neill’s “The Iceman Cometh” and roles in “Diary of a Scoundrel,” “The Lady’s Not for Burning,” “Purple Dust,” “Bonds of Interest” and “Comic Strip.”

He was discouraged from screen acting due to his glass eye; his eye was removed at the age of 3 due to tumor. Columbia’s Harry Cohn turned him away when he heard of the artificial eye, which caused Falk to squint, a gesture that later became a trademark.

Oscar Nominations

In 1960, he appeared in the film “Murder, Inc.” playing a vicious gangster, for which he earned his first Supporting Oscar nomination.

The following year he was cast with Bette Davis in Frank Capra’s “Pocketful of Miracles,” showing a flair for comedy that brought a second Supporting Oscar nomination.

He worked steadily in movies over the next decade, in “Pressure Point,” “The Balcony,” “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World,” “Robin and the Seven Hoods,” and others.

Meanwhile, he made an impression on TV, in such programs as “Studio One,” “Robert Montgomery Presents” and “Omnibus” as well as “The Untouchables,” “Alfred Hitchcock Presents,” “Twilight Zone” and “Naked City.”

He was nominated for Emmys for the “Cold Turkey” episode of “The Law and Mr. Jones,” and he copped the award for “The Dick Powell Theatre” presentation “The Price of Tomatoes” in 1962.

He also appeared in special presentations such as “Brigadoon” (1966) and “A Hatful of Rain” (1971).

Falk starred in his first TV series, playing a New York lawyer in the short-lived “The Trials of O’Brien” during the 1965-66 season.

He first took on the role of Lt. Columbo in 1968 in the NBC TV movie “Prescription Murder,” which featured Gene Barry as a murderous psychiatrist. The character, created by Richard Levinson and William Link, was such a hit that by the early 1970s, “Columbo” was part of NBC’s Mystery Movie rotation of 90-minute crime programs.

Falk’s long collaboration with Cassavetes began when the two co-starred, along with Cassavetes’ wife Gena Rowlands, in a gangster film, “Machine Gun McCain.” Falk, Cassavetes and Gazzara were known for their on-and off-screen camaraderie adventures.

Falk helped co-finance “A Woman Under the Influence,” which also featured Rowlands and Gazzara. Falk had a cameo in Cassavetes’ 1977 film “Opening Night,” and appeared in the helmer’s last film “Big Trouble” (1986). The two co-starred in Elaine May’s 1976 feature “Mickey and Nicky.”

Falk appeared in crime comedies like “Murder by Death” (1976) and “The Cheap Detective” (1978), and with Alan Arkin in the comedy “The In-Laws” (1979).

Falk’s other feature credits included “The Brink’s Job” (1978) “All the Marbles” (1981), “Wings of Desire” (1987), “Vibes” (1988), “Cookie” (1989), “Tune in Tomorrow” (1990), “In the Spirit” (1990) and “Roommates” (1995) “Made” (2001) and “Next” (2007).

He returned to “Columbo” in 1989, and ABC aired multiple segments a year through 1993, and then sporadically for another decade. The final episode, “Columbo Likes the Night Life,” aired in 2003,