Meeting One of a Kind, Peter Falk by Tony Piazza
I’ve always liked PETER FALK. He was a brilliant actor playing usually less than intelligent characters- mainly sidekicks to mob bosses. His throw away lines were a riot. He had other roles, more serious and handled those with a deft hand. And who could forget “Columbo”- the series that put a twist on the classic mystery story and introduced the seemingly lame-brained Lieutenant who wasn’t what he seemed. Falk did it perfectly.
I met Peter Falk in 1970. He was filming a television movie entitled, “A Step Out of Line.” His co-stars on that show were PETER LAWFORD and VIC MORROW. Peter Lawford of course needs no introduction, and Vic Morrow was the star of the 1960s television series “Combat” and the unfortunate victim of a helicopter accident that took his life on the set of “Twilight Zone the Movie (1983).
Peter Falk, my mother, and me in 1970.
The plot of “A Step Out of Line” was fairly simple; a trio of Korean War buddies (Falk, Lawford, and Morrow) are overcome by a run of bad luck. With creditors literally knocking at their doors, Falk, Morrow and Lawford decide to resort- just this once- to crime. Combining their skills as honed by their military experience, the men plot to knock over a bank safe.
I was sixteen at the time, and drove down with my mother to the location which was the Taraval Police Station on 24th Avenue in San Francisco. We were introduced to both Lawford and Falk at the station’s entrance by my father who shot this article’s photographs. Both men were gracious. Falk spent a fair amount of time, first exchanging pleasantries and then talking about some of his roles. We told him how much we enjoyed his characters, especially in films such as “Pocket Full of Miracles” and “Robin and the Seven Hoods.” He seemed humbled by our complements. My mother asked if he was part Italian, having read that he spoke the language. He laughed and said no, but that his wife was.
Later we went inside to watch the filming. It was an interrogation scene, with a manacled handed Falk under the spotlight. As the camera started to role, the actor playing a detective slams Falk’s head down onto the table. Suddenly a voice from behind the sidelines shouts out, “No…you can’t do that!” It was my father. The camera and action stopped. As an advisor, my father (another of his many roles as liaison) said that it was a misrepresentation of how police were to conduct an interrogation. They would not manhandle a prisoner- it was not lawful or ethical and would lead to immediate dismissal of the officer. This display would only play into the myth that this was a usual and accepted procedure of the SFPD. The director immediately agreed, and Falk asked my dad if the detective were to just push him slightly, would that be okay? My father reluctantly agreed, and that was how they shot it. My mother was impressed by my dad’s input, and so frankly was I.
Falk with Victor Buono in Robin & the 7 Hoods.
The details regarding my visit with Peter Lawford, I’ll save for another post, but I will only add that both Lawford and Falk had the highest regard for my father and what he had to contribute to the production.
Falk & friend.
Peter Falk died in 2011 at the age of 83. He was certainly one of a kind…they sure don’t make them like they use to! Ya, know wat I mean?
Tony Piazza (Courtesy of Charlotte Alexander)
Tony Piazza is author of the 1930s Hollywood murder mystery novel, “Anything Short of Murder,” which had its roots on the TCM fan website. His second novel, “The Curse of the Crimson Dragon” was published next in early 2012, and in November of 2013 his second Tom Logan Mystery, “A Murder Amongst Angels was released.” In July of 2015 his latest Logan mystery, “Murder Is Such Sweet Revenge” was made available for purchase, and has since been an instant bestseller. All are available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble websites. He was an actor/extra during the 1970s and worked with such legends as Steve McQueen, Paul Newman, and Karl Malden. His non-fiction e-book “Bullitt Points” is an in depth look at the making of “Bullitt” from a person who was there. Look for it on Amazon and Barnes and Noble websites, or at the link posted below. All profits go to the Boys Republic charity: www.bullittpoints.com.
Tony Piazza is a member of Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, and SLO NightWriters.
The novels that started it all. The first and second novel in the Tom Logan mystery series have become audio books- read by actor James Romick, and is available on Audible, Amazon, and I-tunes.
The NEW Tom Logan mystery, “Murder is Such Sweet Revenge” is available in print, e-book, AND NOW audio book on Amazon and Barnes & Noble websites. For audio- Audible, Amazon, and I-tunes.
My earlier bestselling novels, “The Curse of the Crimson Dragon” and “Anything Short of Murder” now joins “A Murder Amongst Angels” and “Murder is Such Sweet Revenge” on Amazon’s Kindle at a new, low price of $2.99. Now you can have hours of adventure, thrills, mystery, and romance for the price of a cup of coffee- and just as stimulating! Look for it on Amazon. Print versions have also been reduced.
Also: The new Tom Logan mystery thriller, A Murder Amongst Angels .
Find them all on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and wherever fine books are sold. Also available for $2.99 on Kindle.
Love Columbia. I still hunt for old episodes.
James Ostmann says
Ahh,just one more question, sir ….
I’m so glad to see someone write an article about Falk that concentrates on some other aspect of his career besides just Columbo! Falk was so much more, and I find myself fighting a losing battle with people who seem to refuse to look beyond that character to see that he could play almost any kind of role he wanted to, convincingly. Limiting him to only one role is doing Falk a real injustice. It seems so many of his fans are not so much Peter Falk fans as they are “Peter Falk as Columbo” fans, and that’s so frustrating. They don’t even bother looking past his portrayal of the Lieutenant to see a multifaceted actor who was capable of making the viewer laugh or cry. I mean, some people will see him in a movie and say, “Oh look, there’s Columbo!” No, it’s Peter Falk, the consummate actor.
Well said, Dixie. Type casting is an actor’s biggest enemy. Some, didn’t even get a chance to establish themselves before falling into that trap. Peter was a fine actor, and it is a disservice to only remember him for his Columbo role. Thank you again for reading and commenting!
Thank you, Tony. My favorite Falk roles are Guy Gisbourne (Robin and the 7 Hoods), Joy Boy (Pocketful of Miracles), Vince Recardo (The In-Laws), and THEN Columbo. Throw in Abe “Kid Twist” Reles from Murder, Inc. and Mikey from Mikey and Nicky, and you have an actor that could do it all! I cried buckets when I watched him as Griffin in Griffin and Phoenix, one of the saddest films I have ever seen. I don’t know of too many actors who challenged themselves with so many varied roles so successfully. Very underrated actor.