Childhood & Early Life
Peter Michael Falk was born on September 16, 1927, in New York City, U.S., to Madeline and Michael Peter Falk. Both his parents were European Jewish immigrants. Peter was raised in a middle-class household. His father worked as the owner of a clothing and dry goods store. His mother was an accountant.
With both parents working, Peter grew up in a comfortable environment. He became interested in sports quite early in his life and was especially drawn toward baseball and basketball. He contracted an eye illness when he was 3 years old. As a result, his right eye was surgically removed and was replaced with an artificial eye. Peter wore the artificial eye for the rest of his life.
He became interested in performing arts at some point in his childhood. At 12, he made his stage debut with the play titled ‘The Pirates of Penzance,’ staged at ‘Camp High Point’ in upstate New York.
While studying at the ‘Ossining High School,’ he excelled in athletics. He graduated high school in 1945, when the Second World War was coming to an end. He joined ‘Hamilton College’ but dropped out soon after.
Peter wished to join the armed forces but his artificial eye led to him being disqualified. However, he was successful in securing a job in the ‘United States Merchant Marine.’ There, he began working as a mess boy and a cook.
After working in the ‘Marine’ for a year and a half, Peter joined college again and resumed his studies. He later attended the ‘University of Wisconsin.’ He eventually joined the ‘New School for Social Research,’ from where he obtained his degree in political science and literature.
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In the early 1950s, Peter moved to Yugoslavia in Europe, for 6 months. He then returned to the United States. He was not aware of what he was going do in his life and thus enrolled at ‘Syracuse University’ to resume his studies. He earned a Master of Public Administration degree at the university and moved to Hartford to work as a management analyst.
It was in Hartford that he reignited his childhood passion of acting when he joined a community theater there. Peter later claimed that he had lied about being a professional actor to join the theater. He appeared in many plays, such as ‘The Country Girl.’
In 1956, he made his ‘Broadway’ debut with the play titled ‘Diary of a Scoundrel’.’ He somehow loved acting more than anything else and decided to quit his job to pursue acting full-time.
He eventually moved to Los Angeles to try his luck in films and TV projects. He faced many initial rejections, owing to his eye problem. However, he was eventually successful in bagging a small role in his debut film, ‘Wind Across the Everglades,’ in 1958. The same year, he made his TV debut with the series titled ‘Kraft Suspense Theatre.’
He then appeared in small roles in the films titled ‘The Bloody Brood’ and ‘Pretty Boy Floyd’ in the late 1950s. The first turning point of his acting career arrived in 1960, when he earned a supporting role in the gangster film titled ‘Murder, Inc.’
In 1961, Peter appeared in legendary director Frank Capra’s last feature film, ‘Pocketful of Miracles.’ Peter played the supporting role of ‘Joy Boy’ in the film. However, it was a critical failure. Nevertheless, his performance was largely appreciated and he ended up winning an ‘Academy Award’ nomination for his supporting role in the film.
He spent the rest of the 1960s appearing in supporting/small roles in films such as ‘It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World,’ ‘The Great Race,’ and ‘Robin and the 7 Hoods.’
In the late 1950s, Peter also began his TV career in what is now known as the “Golden Age of Television” in America. He appeared in small/supporting roles in series such as ‘Studio One,’ ‘New York Confidential,’ ‘The Twilight Zone,’ and ‘Alfred Hitchcock Presents.’
In 1961, he received huge critical acclaim and an ‘Emmy Award’ nomination for his role in an episode of the series ‘The Law and Mr. Jones,’ titled ‘Cold Turkey.’
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In 1965, he appeared in a significant role in the series ‘The Trials of O’Brien,’ playing a lawyer in 22 episodes. He received critical acclaim for his portrayal.
However, the biggest breakthrough of his acting career happened in 1968, when he began appearing in the crime-drama series ‘Columbo.’ He was signed to play the titular role of a homicide detective in the series. The show popularized the inverted detective story format, which later inspired many such series.
‘Columbo’ became a huge success and turned out to be one of the longest-running series on American TV. The show was regarded as one of the best American shows of all time.
Peter’s performance received many national and international honors. He won four ‘Primetime Emmy’ awards and one ‘Golden Globe’ award for his role in the series.
He also appeared in many TV films, such as ‘A Storm in Summer’ and ‘A Town Without Christmas.’
He was featured in many films directed by John Cassavetes, such as ‘A Woman Under the Influence’ and ‘Opening Night.’ He appeared in small/supporting roles in films throughout the 1980s, the 1990s, and the 2000s. The last feature film of his career was the 2009 movie ‘American Cowslip.’
Family, Personal Life & Death
Peter Falk married Alyce Mayo, his long-term girlfriend from his university years, in 1960. The couple adopted two daughters later but divorced in 1976.
A year after his divorce, Peter married actor Shera Danese.
In December 2008, Peter was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. He passed away on June 23, 2011, at his house in Beverly Hills. He was 83 years old at the time of his death.