Couple of interesting tidbits:
- Lost his right eye as a kid to a malignant tumor. He had a plastic/glass one ever since. He even used it to great effect during a baseball game, “I remember once in high school the umpire called me out at third base when I was sure I was safe. I got so mad I took out my glass eye, handed it to him and said, ‘Try this.’ I got such a laugh you wouldn’t believe.”
- He was a star athlete and president of his senior class in high school.
- He’s a pretty decent artist. His idea of a dream day would be to get up and draw all day long. He used to go to nude/live drawing classes – even after some of his normal days of shooting.
- He was a terrible drifter after high school, yet even during his wanderings and school, he acted and played in local stage roles:
He left high school with little direction and entered the merchant marine as a cook since his eye disqualified him from war service. After a year and a half in the Merchant Marine, he returned to Hamilton College and also attended the University of Wisconsin. He transferred to a school in New York City, where he got a bachelor’s degree in literature and political science – for no apparent reason other than he liked to read. He then traveled to France to meet up with a girlfriend, and when Yugoslavia revolted from Russia, they ran down on a whim and helped build a railroad in Yugoslavia for six months.
The relationship on the rocks, he returned to New York, enrolling at Syracuse University, where he obtained a masters in public administration. It was a new program designed to train future workers in the federal bureaucracy, a career that he said he had “no interest in and no aptitude for.” He applied for a job with the CIA on a whim from his helpful instructor, but didn’t even make it through the first screening because of his membership in a union while serving in the Merchant Marine, his work in Yugoslavia and his other wanderings.
He then became a management analyst with the Connecticut State Budget Bureau as an efficiency expert. He joked about being so efficient he actually showed up at the post office by mistake on his first day. He hated his day job so much that he lived for each night of acting at local shows – until he finally quit and went for acting full-time.
- He got his start at lots of local stage shows.
- He played a bartender in a revival of “The Ice Man Cometh”, and in the play actors were at individual tables passed out until they stood up individually to tell their stories. Well, often the actors really DID fall asleep during the 3 hour show, and Falk had to go over and whack their tables with a broom to wake them up on queue.
- He talks of the few times in his life he was arrested and has interesting stories behind each one. One was because he was working on a film and went to Cuba still in his scraggly beard and camos, and was mistaken for a guirrilla due to his appearance looking so close to Fidel Castro and his followers. Most of the rest were also overseas for various funny infractions.
- He did so well in his early roles as a gangster that he almost got type-cast and had to work hard to get other acting jobs.
- Columbo’s trademark raincoat was still in his closet after all these years – despite rumors it’s in the Smithsonian. Though by the final two seasons, the directors were becoming worried that the trademark coat’s quickly degrading condition would become a real problem.