Peter Falk

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Peter Falk during an interview (2007)
Signature of Peter Falk

Peter Michael Falk (born September 16, 1927 in New York City , † June 23, 2011 in Beverly Hills ) was an American actor and film producer , who was best known worldwide for his leading role in the crime series Columbo .


Childhood and youth

Peter Michael Falk was repeatedly mistakenly viewed as an American of Italian descent because he grew up in a neighborhood in New York City dominated by Italian immigrants . In fact, his mother Madeline Hochhauser came from Russia and his father Michael Falk from Poland . His parents ran a clothing store. They were Jews , but not particularly religious. According to his own statement, after his bar mitzvah at the age of thirteen, Falk no longer concerned himself with religion.

Peter Falk during his time in high school

At the age of three, Peter Falk was found to have a tumor in his right eye, which was surgically removed; since then, Falk wore glass eyes . This resulted in the characteristic unequal width of the eyelid . In high school, the young man was considered athletic; he was a passable baseball and basketball player , became a class representative, and got a very good degree. He gained his first stage experience at the age of twelve when he took part in the play The Pirates of Penzance .

After his school days, Falk was initially disoriented. He attended college for a short time , applied to the Navy , where he was rejected because of his glass eye, and then spent 18 months at sea as a cook in the Merchant Navy . Back again, Falk decided on a solid education. He graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Literature and Political Science and a Master of Public Administration . Falk applied to the CIA , but was rejected in 1953 on the grounds that he had spent several months in Europe in a “communist country”, namely Yugoslavia . This decision by the CIA was typical of the " McCarthy era " in the USA. Eventually, Falk took a job with a tax authority in Hartford , Connecticut . After work, he played in an amateur drama group and gained further stage experience.

Early years as an actor

Falk developed more and more interest in acting and took classes. His teacher was convinced of his talent, so she advised him to quit his job. He returned to New York and starred in off-Broadway plays as well as in small television productions. A first commitment to cinema at Columbia Pictures failed again because of his "handicap", his glass eye. Studio manager Harry Cohn said laconically: "For the same fee I get an actor with two eyes." In 1958, Falk got his first small film role in a film by the Warner Brothers production company .

In 1960 Peter Falk married his long-time girlfriend, the fashion illustrator and pianist Alyce Mayo. In the same year he played his first major role in the crime film Underworld - the brutal hit man Abe Reles . In 1961 he played "Joy Boy" in Frank Capra's last movie The Lower Ten Thousand . For both roles he was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.

Falk was now seen more and more often on the screen. B. in Sieben gegen Chicago (1964) together with the Rat Pack around Frank Sinatra or in The great race around the world (1965) with Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon . But he continued to play the theater. He got his first role in a television series in 1965 in The Trials of O'Brien , which he co-produced. The attorney-at-law O'Brien's stories did not go down well with the audience despite good reviews and only made 22 episodes.


At the beginning of 1968 Peter Falk played for the first time the role with which he was to be identified in the future, the inspector (in the original: "Lieutenant") Columbo in Murder after a Prescription (1968). It is thanks to the success of this television film that a pilot film for a series under the title "Columbo" was produced in the fall of 1970. In September 1971 “Columbo” started as a series.

Falk was aware of the problem of being committed to one role and was consciously looking for engagements in other film genres. So he played in Why not with my wife? at the side of Jack Lemmon, The Castle in the Ardennes by Sydney Pollack and Zwei in Teufels Küche and Die and Let Live - the last two in a duo with Alan Arkin . It is also worth mentioning his collaboration with John Cassavetes , first in Husbands and later in A Woman Under Influence .

“Columbo” became Falk's trademark, 43 episodes of the series were created for NBC between the beginning of 1971 and the spring of 1978 - an average of six per year. Falk cut the role for himself - with his small height (1.68 m), the trench coat , the old Peugeot 403 (Falk had chosen both props himself and over the heads of the producers), the basset dog who only "Dog" was the name of the slight speech defect and the always sloping posture that the inspector assumed when he asked the perpetrator the very last, convicting key question, which he always answered with "Just one more thing" ("Just one more question!") initiated. “Columbo” didn't have a first name - when asked by reporters what his first name was, he would say “Lieutenant” (inspector). The first Columbo trench coat was Falk's own; he only happened to wear it in the first episode because he was cold. Falk bought it in 1958 and wore it in the series until 1989. Columbo always drove his cabriolet, the Peugeot, with the top closed except for four series.

With the growing success of "Columbo", the actor demanded ever higher fees. He was also known for his moodiness during filming. Both of these caused NBC to discontinue the series. During this time, Falk received two Emmy awards and a Golden Globe for the role of inspector Columbo .

In 1977, Peter Falk separated from his wife Alyce, with whom he had two daughters (Jackie and Catherine, both adopted), had married 22-year younger actress Shera Danese , whom he film the Columbo episode murder in the bistro had met with who he lived together until his death.

In 1987 the film director Wim Wenders brought the American to Germany. Peter Falk played himself (the actor Peter Falk) in Wenders' film Der Himmel über Berlin . During the shooting, Falk was regularly addressed in Berlin as "Inspector Columbo".

At the beginning of 1989 he returned to the screen as "Columbo", surprisingly with the television film Tödliche Tricks - with the concept of the series, but in full-length television film length. The old success came back and another Emmy followed. Another 24 episodes were shot, the last one at the end of 2002.

In total, "Columbo" solved 69 cases over the course of 35 years.

Illness and death

It became known in 2007 that Peter Falk suffered from Alzheimer's disease . In June 2009, therefore, the question arose whether a guardian should be appointed for him. One of his doctors, Stephen Read, diagnosed severely accelerated dementia and suggested that massive doses of narcotics in a number of dental treatments in late 2007 may have accelerated the disease. According to Read, Peter Falk couldn't even remember his character "Columbo" at this point. In June 2009, a Los Angeles court appointed Falk's wife as guardian. Falk's adopted daughter Catherine had also made such a request. On the night of June 23rd to June 24th, 2011, Peter Falk died at the age of 83 in his home in Beverly Hills. Cardiac arrest and pneumonia were given as the primary causes of death . Peter Falk found his final resting place at Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery in Los Angeles. Two years after his death, Falk was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in July 2013 .

German dubbing voices

Uwe Friedrichsen gave Columbo his voice in the first two pilot films that were dubbed in Hamburg . By changing the dubbing studio, Klaus Schwarzkopf became the defining voice of the inspector for many years.

In the first four episodes of the later films (from 1989), which initially appeared on video , Hans Sievers Columbo spoke . When RTL started broadcasting the new episodes, the scenes in which Columbo appeared were dubbed by Klaus Schwarzkopf. (The video synchro of the episode Tödliche Kriegsspiele mit Sievers made it onto DVD and is also broadcast by RTL. The original RTL version with Schwarzkopf is only broadcast by ORF and is therefore almost inaccessible in Germany.)

After Schwarzkopf's death in 1991, a new speaker was found in Claus Biederstaedt , who gave Columbo his voice in the new films as well as in some early episodes that had not yet been broadcast. He was followed by Horst Sachtleben , who synchronized the inspector to the end and was also used in eight old episodes, of which only shortened ARD versions with Schwarzkopf were available and which have now been completely reworked by RTL. Falk is likely to be the only star of the series who was dubbed in one and the same role by five speakers, which was certainly also due to the long running time of Columbo .

Peter Falk was voiced by Harald Juhnke in the (non-Columbo) films A Corpse for Dessert and The Narrow Gauge Sniffer . In other films, Wolfgang Gruner , Wolfgang Völz and others gave him their voices.

Filmography (selection)


Television films

  • 1961: Cry Vengeance
  • 1961: The Million Dollar Incident
  • 1964: Ambassador at Large
  • 1966: Brigadoon
  • 1968: A Hatful of Rain
  • 1971: A Step Out of Line
  • 1976: Love Without Hope (Griffin and Phoenix: A Love Story)
  • 1995: Sonny Boys (The Sunshine Boys)
  • 1997: Pronto
  • 1998: Vig
  • 1999: Summer of Friendship (A Storm in Summer)
  • 2000: From Where I Sit
  • 2001: A Town Without Christmas
  • 2001: The Lost World (The Lost World)
  • 2003: Wild day (Wilder Days)
  • 2003: Who is John Christmas? (Finding John Christmas)
  • 2004: When Angels Come to Town

TV Shows

  • 1958–1962: Merciless City ( Naked City , 4 episodes)
  • 1960-1961: The Untouchables ( The Untouchables , 2 episodes)
  • 1961: Alfred Hitchcock Presents ... (1 episode)
  • 1961: Incredible Tales ( Twilight Zone , 1 episode)
  • 1962: Police Station 87 ( 87th Precinct , 1 episode)
  • 1962: The Alfred Hitchcock Hour (1 episode)
  • 1962: The DuPont Show of the Week (1 episode)
  • 1962–1963: The Dick Powell Show (3 episodes)
  • 1963: Wagon Train (1 episode)
  • 1963–1966: Bob Hope Presents the Chrysler Theater (3 episodes)
  • 1964: Ben Casey (2 episodes)
  • 1965–1966: The Trials of O'Brien (22 episodes)
  • 1968–2003: Columbo (69 episodes)
  • 1971: The Name of the Game (1 episode)


Academy Awards (Oscars)


  • 1960: Best Supporting Actor (Murder, Inc.)
  • 1961: Best Supporting Actor (Pocketful of Miracles)
Golden Globe Awards


  • 1972: Best TV Actor, Drama (Columbo)


  • 1961: Best Young Actor (Underworld)
  • 1971: Best TV Actor, Drama (Columbo)
  • 1973: Best TV Actor, Drama (Columbo)
  • 1974: Best TV Actor, Drama (Columbo)
  • 1975: Best TV Actor, Drama (Columbo)
  • 1977: Best TV Actor, Drama (Columbo)
  • 1990: Best Actor in a Television Series, Drama (Columbo)
  • 1991: Best Actor in a TV Movie, Drama (Columbo and the Murder of a Rock Star)
  • 1993: Best Actor in a TV Movie, Drama (Columbo: It's All In the Game)
Emmy Awards


  • 1961: Best Actor in a Solo Show (The Dick Powell Show: The Price of Tomatoes)
  • 1971: Best Actor in a Television Series, Drama (Columbo)
  • 1974: Best Actor in a Television Series, Drama (Columbo)
  • 1975: Best Actor in a Television Series, Drama (Columbo)
  • 1990: Best Actor in a Television Series, Drama (Columbo: Agenda for Murder)


  • 1960: Best Supporting Actor in a Solo Show (The Law and Mr Jones: Cold Turkey)
  • 1972: Best Actor in a Television Series, Drama (Columbo)
  • 1973: Best Actor in a Television Series, Drama (Columbo)
  • 1976: Best Actor in a Television Series, Drama (Columbo)
  • 1977: Best Actor in a Television Series, Drama (Columbo)
  • 1991: Best Actor in a Television Series, Drama (Columbo and the Murder of a Rock Star)
  • 1993: Best Actor in a Television Series, Drama (Columbo: It's All In the Game)


  • 1976: Best TV Actor, Drama (Columbo)
  • 1993: Best TV Actor, Drama (Columbo)
Peter Falk as Columbo with his dog. Monument in Budapest , Hungary .

On January 12, 2011, an asteroid in the main outer belt was named after Peter Falk: (231307) Peterfalk . In the Hungarian capital Budapest , a monument to Columbo and his basset “dog” was erected on Falk-Miksa-Strasse ( Falk Miksa utca ), named after the Hungarian publicist Maximilian Falk .



  • Armin Block, Stefan Fuchs: Columbo - The big book for fans. Everything about the longest-serving television inspector in the world. Schwarzkopf & Schwarzkopf, Berlin 1998, ISBN 978-3-89602-167-0 .
  • Uwe Killing: Peter Falk or the art of being Columbo. Osburg, Hamburg 2016, ISBN 978-3-95510-103-9 .
  • Michael Striss: Columbo - the man of many questions. Analysis and interpretation of a cult figure. Büchner-Verlag, Marburg 2019, 512 pages, ISBN 978-3-96317-176-5 .

Web links

Commons : Peter Falk  - Collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. 'Columbo' star Peter Falk dies at 83 .; accessed June 24, 2011.
  2. ^ Arthur Marx : Talk with Falk . ( Memento of the original from January 27, 2010 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. November / December 1997 @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /
  4. In the episode "Dead Weight" (Eng. Murder under six eyes ) from the first season, however, his first name can be seen briefly on his police badge: "Frank".
  5. Interview on and newspaper article
  7. jdl / dpa: Peter Falk suffers from Alzheimer's. In: Spiegel Online , December 16, 2008.
  8. ^ A. McCartney: 'Columbo' Actor Peter Falk Placed In Conservatorship . In: The Huffington Post Online, June 1, 2009.
  9. jjc / AP: Columbo star Falk placed under guardianship. In: Spiegel Online , June 2, 2009.
  10. "Columbo" star Peter Falk gets Hollywood star . In: Focus , July 22, 2013; Retrieved July 22, 2013.
  11. Peter Falk in the German synchronous file
  12. Euronews