Peter Falk 1928-2011

Written by  //  June 24, 2011  //  Arts and culture  //  No comments

How we loved Columbo! Beyond the entertainment value, it seems that many individuals and organizations have adopted the ‘Columbo interrogation technique’ to a number of very different uses – try Googling the phrase.

(BBC) With his rumpled raincoat, battered car and never-seen wife, Columbo was one of television’s most popular detectives. As the un-ironed but appealing lieutenant, Peter Falk was on our screens for more than 30 years and one of the world’s most recognised actors.
The star was brought up in New York, the son of a Polish shop-keeper and his Russian wife. He worked as a cook in the merchant marine and earned a degree in political science.
He even worked as a public accountant, but his mind had been set on becoming an actor since standing in for the lead in a high school play.
Falk’s theatrical agent told him to forget his chances of appearing on screen, particularly as his client had lost his right eye to a tumour at the age of three. Despite his agent’s prediction, Falk soon found work both on stage and on television.
Oscar-nominated
Further confounding his agent, the actor eventually made his mark in movies and was even Oscar-nominated twice, once for Murder Confidential in 1960 and again for A Pocketful of Miracles a year later.
He turned up to the Academy Awards the first time in a battered old Volkswagen and a rented tuxedo. His dishevelled appearance would later serve him well.
In 1968, Falk got his biggest break when Bing Crosby turned down the role of Columbo, a detective created for television some years before.
Instead, Falk stepped into the part, bringing with him his own patched-up raincoat and battered shoes that would become internationally familiar accessories.
The series differed from other police dramas in that viewers always knew from the outset the villain’s identity. Nonetheless, they stayed to enjoy Lieutenant Columbo’s quiet ruminations over a cheap cigar, his ability to engage his prime suspect in idle chat, and his final entrapment over a tiny detail that had been “troubling me all along”.
The show ran for more than 30 years, earned Falk four Emmy awards in all and also made him a multi-millionaire. The series finished its regular run in 1977, but its repeats enjoyed huge ratings and Falk was still making Columbo specials well into his seventies.
He made his mark on the big screen, too, proving his versatility in a range of character roles. Respected director John Cassavetes cast him in Husbands in 1970 and A Woman Under the Influence in 1974.
‘Affection for raincoat’
Even so, films ranging from The Princess Bride in 1987, Wim Wenders’ Wings of Desire the same year, The Player in 1992 and Roommates in 1995, did little to dispel his self-inflicted type-casting.
And, although he even returned occasionally to the New York theatre of his youth, Falk reflected himself: “I would probably be a better actor if I hadn’t spent so much time playing Columbo.”
His role in the BBC’s 2001 adaptation of The Lost World, a Sir Arthur Conan Doyle story, took Falk to New Zealand and gave the actor the opportunity to indulge in his favourite hobbies of charcoal-drawing and painting.
Back at home in Beverly Hills, he had a studio in the grounds of his vast estate and his work was later exhibited in galleries.
Sadly, in more recent years Falk succumbed to dementia and withdrew from public life.
But, to his wide audiences across the world, he will always be the rumpled, crumpled Columbo, the policeman with no first name.
Bemused by the success of his enduring character, Peter Falk was even grateful to his worn-out wardrobe. He once said: “I have a great affection for the original raincoat and put out a saucer of milk for it every night.”

ABC News
Toronto Star
(ABA Journal) The Best Way to Interrogate: Think Columbo
New research shows that police interrogating suspects would do better to focus on what people say rather than how they act.
The traditional wisdom is that liars avert their eyes and that guilty people fidget and sweat when being questioned. But new research says these behaviors are no different between people who lie and those telling the truth, the New York Times reports. There are small fleeting changes in expression when people are lying, but researchers aren’t sure how useful it would be to analyze them.
Instead researchers are suggesting a better method is to ratchet down confrontational styles and focus on gathering information. Ray Bull, a professor of forensic psychology at the University of Leicester, has reviewed scores of interrogation tapes. He told the Times that British police now use an investigative interviewing technique, rather than an interrogation style of questioning, and there are no fewer confessions and no major miscarriages of justice from false confessions.
“These interviews sound much more like a chat in a bar,” Bull told the Times. “It’s a lot like the old Columbo show, you know, where he pretends to be an idiot but he’s gathered a lot of evidence.”

PBS Newshour ‘Just One More Thing’: Remembering Peter Falk, TV’s ‘Columbo’
Charlie Rose interview with Peter Falk

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