Our Favorite Jews | Peter Falk


“Our Favorite Jews” is a new series of short stories about, well, our favorite Jews. If you have “A favorite Jew” whose story you’d like to read, email me at [email protected]

Peter Michael Falk was born on September 16, 1927, in New York City, New York.

At the age of 3, his right eye was surgically removed due to cancer. He graduated from Ossining High School, where he was president of his class. His early career choices involved becoming a certified public accountant, and he worked as an efficiency expert for the Budget Bureau of the state of Connecticut before becoming an actor.

Falk wore a glass eye most of his life after losing his right eye to a tumor at the age of three. The glass eye prevented him from joining the armed services during World War II,  Instead,  he enlisted in the U.S. Merchant Marines.  Later, he signed up to go to Israel to fight Egypt in the War of Independence.

“I just wanted more excitement,” he wrote in his 2006 autobiography “Just One More Thing.” “Joining the Israeli Army was illegal for American citizens, but I found out you could sign up at the Hotel Roosevelt in Manhattan. I did get assigned a ship and a departure date. However, the war was over in the blink of an eye – eight days to be exact. The ship never sailed.”

According to articles written about Falk, he lied his way into a class for professional actors taught by Broadway legend Eva Le Gallienne. When he eventually conceded to Le Gallienne that he wasn’t a professional, she, according to Falk, said he should be. That was enough to convince the budding actor to quit his job and move to Greenwich Village to pursue his new passion full-time.

By the the late 1950s, the roles started to come in. In 1961, Falk became the first actor to be nominated for an Oscar and an Emmy in the same year. He received nominations for his supporting roles in Murder, Inc. and television program The Law and Mr. Jones. Incredibly, Falk repeated this double nomination in 1962, being nominated again for a supporting actor role in Pocketful of Miracles and best actor in “The Price of Tomatoes,” an episode of The Dick Powell Theatre, for which he took home the award.

In 1965, Falk landed his first leading role in a television series with CBS’s The Trials of O’Brien. The show ran from 1965 to 1966, its 22 episodes featuring Falk as a Shakespeare-quoting lawyer who defends clients while solving mysteries.

But, his most famous role of the detective Columbo came in 1971.  Columbo aired on NBC from 1971 to 1978. According Decades.com “Falk personally supplied his character’s shabby clothes. One anecdote purports that when asked whether Columbo’s trademark raincoat was in the Smithsonian, the actor retorted that the garment was in his upstairs closet. Falk also ad libbed extensively as the character, throwing adversaries (and fellow actors) off balance with improvised misdirection.”

He was diagnosed with dementia in 2008, which was most likely brought on by Alzheimer’s disease, from which he died on June 23, 2011.