Peter Falk (1927-2011) certainly led an interesting life. Educated, having earned a Master’s degree in Public Administration from Syracuse University, he quickly left public service for the stage and later the screen. He landed film roles starting in the late 1950’s like Murder Inc., Pocketful of Miracles, It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, and Robin and the 7 Hoods.
From 1968 through 1978, Peter Falk appeared as the disheveled, raincoated detective Lt. Columbo. Those 45 original episodes are available for checkout on DVD.
The show had three elements to its popular formula:
- Peter Falk brought the character to life with his acting skill, sense of humor and spontaneity. He recalls in his book adding to Columbo’s confused aura by improvising bits not in the script, asking others in the scene nonsensical questions like, “How much did you pay for those shoes?” or “What do you think the property taxes run on a place like this?”
- Columbo fit the times. In the 70’s, crime dramas and unusual detectives were very popular. Mannix, Cannon, Barnaby Jones and Kojak were a few others.
- Guest stars. If you were anybody in the 1960’s and 1970’s, you probably appeared on detective shows like Columbo and Mannix. A few notables include Patrick McGoohan, Robert Culp, Jack Cassidy, Janet Leigh, Blythe Danner, Myrna Loy, George Hamilton, Robert Vaughn, Ida Lupino, Eddie Albert, Lee Grant, Ray Milland, Ruth Gordon, Patrick O’Neal, Trish Van Dervere and Leonard Nimoy.
Étude in Black (Season 2, Episode 1). Peter Falk’s real-life longtime friend, actor/director John Cassavetes, stars as an increasingly irritated orchestra conductor who murdered his paramour.
Fade in to Murder (Season 6, Episode 1). In a surreal episode, William Shatner chews scenery (and a tray of vegetables) playing actor Ward Fowler who, in a show-within-a-show, portrays quirky television police Detective Lucerne. Fowler murders his television show’s producer then, in split-personality mode as the fictional Lucerne, helps Columbo catch himself. Confused?