Peter Falk (1927-2011): Goodbye to Columbo from a fan in Colombo

Peter Falk (1927-2011)
Actor Peter Falk, who just died aged 83, was truly an icon of globalised popular culture. With no props besides his rumpled jacket and raspy voice, he held a whole generation spell-bound with intelligent television (and showed why the term need not be an oxymoron).

Columbo’s creators, Richard Levinson and William Link, modeled the character after the crazy-like-a-fox sleuth in the French classic “Les Diaboliques’’ (1955). But it was Peter Falk who brought the character alive and gave it a unique flavour.

It turns out that Falk didn’t originate the role of Lieutenant Columbo of the Los Angeles police. Bert Freed had first played Columbo in a 1960 teleplay. Falk wasn’t even the front-runner for the part when NBC wanted to revive the character in 1968 for a made-for-television movie, “Prescription: Murder.’’ The network had hoped to cast entertainer Bing Crosby for that program.

“An agent called and said that Crosby was scheduled to play golf and couldn’t turn it down to go over and talk’’ to the show’s creators, Falk told The Washington Post in 1990.

“He did love golf,’’ Mr. Falk said. “I play, too, but I went over and talked to them.’’

‘Just One More Thing’: Remembering Peter Falk, TV’s ‘Columbo’

Columbo could elicit an inadvertent confession from a suspect by prefacing his question with a seemingly harmless, “Just one more thing” – the phrase that became synonymous with his character and the title of the actor’s 2006 memoir.

Falk once described the character he played for 30 years in these words: “He’s unique — if he were up for auction, he would be described as ‘one of a kind, a human with the brain of Sherlock Holmes who dresses like the homeless.’ ’’

Arthur C Clarke once complained, good-naturedly, that Falk was the reason why most Americans couldn’t correctly spell the capital of Sri Lanka. (I have my own theories on geographically challenged Americans, but those can wait.)

Growing up in suburban Colombo in the 1980s, when we had just two (state-owned) TV channels and limited international fare, Columbo gave me hours of stimulating, enriching entertainment. So this is one ardent fan saying Thank You and Goodbye from…Colombo.

Author: Nalaka Gunawardene

A science writer by training, I've worked as a journalist and communication specialist across Asia for 30+ years. During this time, I have variously been a news reporter, feature writer, radio presenter, TV quizmaster, documentary film producer, foreign correspondent and journalist trainer. I continue to juggle some of these roles, while also blogging and tweeting and column writing.

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