We knew him as Lieutenant Columbo, showing up at a crime scene behind the wheel of an iconic Peugeot 403 convertible and wearing a rumpled trench coat, tie often at half mast from an open collar, and smoking a cigar. He was meticulous, though, in his search for clues, focusing on things that didn’t add up and homing in on a person whom he suspected as he tightened the web around his prey until, in a final reveal, he got the suspect to cough up a confession.
This was Peter Falk, who inhabited the role of Lieutenant Columbo after a successful career playing gangsters in feature films opposite the likes of Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, and Glen Ford. And the new biography of Peter Falk, Beyond Columbo, is an in-depth look at the actor’s life, his place in history, and his artist’s life.
Authors Richard Lertzman and Bill Birnes (Dr. Feelgood and The Life and Times of Mickey Rooney) cover not just the details of Falk’s life and the influences upon him, they talk about his range as a performer who could inhabit roles as tough as gangster Abe Reles in Murder, Inc., slapstick comedy in It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World and The Great Race, and as benevolent as the kindly grandfather in Princess Bride. The authors reveal that there was much more to the real-life Peter Falk than the characters he played. Falk tried to join the Marines, applied to be an agent for the CIA, sailed as a cook in the Merchant Marine, worked for Marshal Tito in Communist Yugoslavia, got himself arrested in Italy over a restaurant bill, and was followed around by Soviet intelligence agents.
The authors delve into the basic psychological conflict that drove Falk from the time he grew up in a well-to-do merchant family in Ossining, New York, where his father wanted him to get a steady job at a steady income instead of “painting his face” and making a spectacle of himself. This drove Falk, listening to the inner voices of his parents to question himself often, even as he tried to live the life of a vagabond performer looking for the perfect role, the role he ultimately found in Columbo.
The book includes in-depth and exclusive interview with many of Falk’s co-stars, Joe Mantegna, Dabney Coleman, Paul Reiser, George Segal, Kevin Pollak, Dan Lauria, Steven Bochco, and Ed Begley, Jr. as well as from Columbo’s first director, Steven Spielberg.