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.
About the Author
I received his Masters at the USC School of Film (before it was the George Lucas School). His essays and books on cinema have been published worldwide. He Lertzman lives with his wife, publicist Diana C. Lertzman, in Moreland Hills, Ohio.
William J. Birnes holds a JD with a specialty in entertainment and literary law and a PhD in Medieval Literature. He is currently the Chairman of the Board at Sunrise Community Counseling Center where he is in charge of auditing the center’s operational and management budget as well as the budgets for its federal and state grant programs.
A New York Times bestselling author, a former writer/consulting producer/host at the History Channel, Dr. Birnes was a member of the English Department faculty at Trenton State College, now The College of New Jersey, from 1968 to 1983.
With backgrounds in public and private administration and having worked as a data and financial analyst under a Bureau of Justice Administration grant at the United States Department of Justice, Dr. Birnes was also a grants-award administrator and judge for the National Endowment for the Arts as well as a Fellow in the National Endowment for the Humanities.
He is currently the author of Psychiatric Criminology, a professional reference text for medical and law students, published at the CRC Press of Taylor and Francis.