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Peter Falk

Peter Michael Falk was born in New York City on September 16, 1927 and raised in Ossining, New York.  When he was twelve years old he made his first stage appearance in a production of The Pirates of Penzance at Camp High Point in upstate New York. 


After graduating from Ossining High School, where he was a star athlete and president of his class, Falk served as a cook in the Merchant Marine, then studied at Hamilton College in Clinton, New York, where he completed his work for a B.A. degree in political science at the New School for Social Research in 1951.  He earned a Masters degree in public administration at Syracuse University in 1953.  After applying unsuccessfully for a job with the Central Intelligence Agency, he became a management analyst with the Connecticut State Budget Bureau, in Hartford.  In his spare time he acted with the Mark Twain Maskers in Hartford and studied at the White Barn Theatre in Westport, and for the first time began to consider the possibility of becoming a professional actor.  In 1956 at the age of 29 he left his job with the Budget Bureau, moved to Greenwich Village in New York, and declared himself an actor.


In New York he made his professional debut Off Broadway in Moliere’s Don Juan at the Fourth Street Theatre on January 3, 1956, and the following season he was in the Circle in the Square’s highly successful revival of The Iceman Cometh with Jason Robards.  For the next three years Falk was never out of work, bouncing from one Off-Broadway theatre to another. 


Although Falk was enjoying success onstage, a theatrical agent advised him not to expect much work in motion pictures because of his glass eye.  Surgeons had removed his right eye, along with a malignant tumor, when he was three years old. 


In 1960 Falk left New York and moved to Hollywood where he landed his first movie, Murder Incorporated, and was nominated for an Oscar.  On a roll, he was nominated that same year for an Emmy playing a drug addict in The Law and Mr. Jones.  Frank Capra’s A Pocketful of Miracles with Bette Davis and Glenn Ford was Falk’s second feature in 1961 and with it, his second Oscar nomination.  Also that year he got a second Emmy nomination in The Dick Powell Playhouse’s presentation of The Price of Tomatoes -- and this time took home the prize. 


After rejecting several other television series offers, in 1965 Falk undertook The Trials of O’Brien, a weekly one-hour comedy whodunit that ran to low ratings and complaints from the American Bar Association, but also to high critical praise.  The producer of the show, Richard Alan Simmons, called Falk a “comedic genius.”


But it was as the inimitable character of Lt. Columbo that the actor started being a serious collector of the Emmy statuettes, picking up a total of four for the Lieutenant.  What started out as a TV movie in 1968, Prescription: Murder, was followed in 1971 with another, Ransom For A Dead Man.  They resulted in a series with three alternating 90-minute shows, The NBC Mystery Wheel, one of which was called Columbo.  Columbo quickly climbed to the top five in the Nielson Ratings.  Though the series ended in 1977, it began shooting again in 1988 in the format of 2-hour TV movies and continues to this day.


Also in 1971 Falk returned to Broadway for Neil Simon’s play, The Prisoner of Second Avenue, directed by Mike Nichols, for which he received a Tony Award.  The love affair with Neil Simon continued with three starring roles in the films Murder by Death with Peter Sellers, The Cheap Detective with Stockard Channing, and The Sunshine Boys with Woody Allen.  He also toured in David Mamet’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play Glengarry Glen Ross with Joe Mantegna in 1986.


Falk’s film career includes three with his close friend, the late John Cassavetes:  A Woman Under The Influence with Gena Rowlands, Husbands with Cassavetes and their mutual friend Ben Gazzara, and Mikey and Nicky teaming up with Cassavetes, written and directed by Elaine May.  Falk’s flair for comedy is most evident in his personal favorite The In-Laws with Alan Arkin, directed by Arthur Hiller.  In the fantasy The Princess Bride, Falk plays the beloved grandfather, directed by Rob Reiner.  Falk’s heavenly performance in Wings of Desire, playing an ex-angel, didn’t need a miracle for Wim Wenders’ “Best Director” award in Cannes in 1987.  Falk has been praised for his work in many films including Cookie in 1989, Tune In Tomorrow in 1990, Faraway, So Close! in 1993, Roommates in 1994, and Vig in 1998.


Falk returned to the stage in spring 1998 to star in Arthur Miller’s new play Mr. Peter’s Connections at the Signature Theatre in New York, which sold out for the entire run within two weeks of announcement.  In the summer of 1999 Peter gave a heartfelt performance in the film A Storm in Summer directed by veteran filmmaker Robert Wise and written by master author Rod Serling.  Later in autumn of 1999 Falk appeared in Joe Mantegna’s directorial debut, Lakeboat, which also starred Joe Mantegna, Andy Garcia, John Turturo, and George Wendt.  In the new millennium Falk appears in the Artisan mobster drama Made which stars Jon Favreau, Vince Vaughn, and Sean”Puffy” Combs.   In spring of 2000 Falk starred on the Los Angeles stage, in a sold-out performance opposite Jason Alexander in the suspenseful, dramatic, and often comedic play Defiled at the Geffen Playhouse. 


In Disney’s 2001 Corky Romano he played opposite Saturday Night Live star Chris Kattan.  Then he traveled to New Zealand to star in the two-part miniseries adaptation of the classic The Lost World with Bob Hoskins for the BBC and A&E Networks.  Falk ended the year in A Town Without Christmas starring with Patricia Heaton playing an angel in CBS’s highest rated movie of 2001.  In 2002 Falk starred in the feature Undisputed directed by Walter Hill with Wesley Snipes and Ving Rhames. 


In January 2003 the 69th Columbo episode, "Columbo Likes The Nightlife," aired on ABC.  In April the 2003 5th Annual Method Fest Independent Film Festival honored him with the festival’s Lifetime Achievement Award.  In Wilder Days, a TNT/Johnson & Johnson Spotlight Presentation film, which aired in October 2003, Peter played father to Tim Daly and grandfather to Josh Hutcherson on a road trip examining the emotions among three generations of males.  Then Falk reprised his role of an angel, from 2001’s highly rated CBS movie, A Town Without Christmas, co-starring with Valerie Bertinelli in Finding John Christmas which aired in November 2003.


During 2003/2004 Peter provided the voice of Don Brizzi in Sharktale with many notable co-stars.  In April, 2004, he received a Lifetime Achievement Award at the annual David Di Donatello Awards in Italy (equivalent to our Academy Awards).  He starred in Checking Out in June, 2004, a movie version of the Tony award-winning play of the 70s.  Falk played the leading character, a family patriarch who calls his family together to celebrate his decision to "check out" while he was still healthy and happy. 


Also in 2004 he played the angel, Max, for the third time for producer Daniel Blatt's CBS Christmas movie, When Angels Come to Town.  He then rounded out the year with The Thing About My Folks, playing father to Paul Reiser.  Although Reiser wrote the movie about his own dad, he always pictured Falk in the role because he spent many hours watching his dad enjoy Columbo on TV.


In early 2005 Peter starred in Retirement along with George Segal and Rip Torn.  At this time the 70th Columbo MOW is currently in development.


Beyond his busy schedule as an actor, Falk is an artist; he prefers drawing with charcoal pencil, but lately is enjoying experimenting with watercolors.  A passion for drawing was sparked years ago when he began sketching as a way to pass time between scenes while filming on location.  Aside from numerous gallery shows and exhibits of his art, including a 2004 exhibition at Bulgari’s in Rome, Peter shares several of his drawings on this website,


Peter and Shera Danese have been married for over 25 years and live in Beverly Hills.  He and first wife Alice Mayo have two daughters,  Catherine who is married with two children and Jackie who received her Masters degree in Psychology.

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