There was nothing outwardly graceful about television’s iconic policeman, Lt. Columbo, who shuffled around in a trademark rumpled trench coat chomping on a cigar and nagging his prey with the query, “There’s just one more thing.”
The moment of elegance came when he clamped down on the killer, which he unfailingly did.
Peter Falk, who made the character famous over more than three decades of “Columbo” TV movies and specials, saw the beauty through the grime.
“He looks like a flood victim,” Falk once said, according to reports. “You feel sorry for him. He appears to be seeing nothing, but he’s seeing everything. Underneath his dishevelment, a good mind is at work.”
Falk, who won four Emmys for playing the coffee-stained crime-solver, was himself an example of the don’t-judge-a-book adage. Short in stature with an unruly mop of brown hair, he had a speech impediment and a glass eye, a result of cancer when he was a child. Show business veterans had told him he’d never have an on-screen acting career because he didn’t look the movie-star part.
The New York City native proved them wrong with a string of noteworthy stage performances including “The Iceman Cometh” that led to Broadway parts in Paddy Chayefsky’s “The Passion of Josef D.” and Neil Simon’s “The Prisoner of Second Avenue.”
His early film roles cemented his place as an ambitious actor, who didn't take up the profession until age 29 after a stint in the merchant marine and a state government job. His part as a mob assassin in “Murder, Inc.” and a gangster’s right-hand-man in Frank Capra’s comedy “Pocketful of Miracles” earned him supporting-actor Oscar nominations.
He appeared in mainstream and independent films, including “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World,” “The Princess Bride,” “Wings of Desire” and “The In-Laws.” He worked with close friend, filmmaker John Cassavetes, in “Husbands” and “A Woman Under the Influence.”
But it was “Columbo” that brought him into TV fans’ living rooms, starting in 1971. Falk described his unconventional character as “an ass-backwards Sherlock Holmes,” who memorably drove a battered Peugeot and had a dumpy basset hound named Dog. The role had such a deep influence on Falk that he titled his 2006 memoir, “Just One More Thing.”
|1960||Best Supporting Actor||Murder, Inc.||Nomination|
|1961||Best Supporting Actor||Pocketful of Miracles||Nomination|