Columbo Just one more Thing

Faye Dunaway Recalls Acting With Peter Falk

 Faye Dunaway tells how she became invloved in "Columbo: It's All In The Game", and how it changed her life. She also recalls working with Peter Falk in his first starring TV show, "The Trials of O'Brien". This excerpt from Faye's autobiography, "Looking For Gatsby" (1995), begins after Faye describes her struggle and embarrassment with the failure of her television series, "It Had To Be You".

AT THE SAME TIME, I had another television project in development with NBC. The idea was for a one-hour drama series. It would be about a female sleuth, but more in the tradition of Columbo — with the intellect but minus the wrinkled trench coat— than Angela Lansbury's Murder She Wrote. I called Peter Falk to find out what I could from him about how you develop that sort of franchise character and keep this intelligence there and the approach fresh week after week. I thought he'd been the most successful person I knew at pulling it off.

As it happened, our conversation reminded him of a script he had written ages ago, and kept on the shelf until he could find the actress he felt would be right for the role. Peter decided to ask me to do it. It was for a two-hour movie version of Columbo, one that pits the rumpled detective against a society woman, Lauren. There is, as always, a murder, with Columbo slowly circling his prey. As Columbo and Lauren go at a sort of mental chess game, they begin a flirtation that is really quite sweet. In the end, Columbo gets his woman, but not without a certain sadness that her arrest ends their promise of a romance.

When I read the script I was struck by the real affection between these two, and she was vulnerable and romantic. They had serious moments, but a lot of the interaction between Columbo and Lauren was playful, whether they were buying him a tie or eating peanuts together at his favorite bar. It was there in the acting, but it was also there in the writing.


PETER'S COLUMBO MOVIE was titled It's All in the Game. In every respect, the experience turned out to be the polar opposite of my experience with It Had to Be You. Peter was wonderful to work with, another mensch who is so incredibly smart about what he does. With his script, he had given me a character who could be sweet and funny and romantic. Plus there was a solid story underneath it all, complete with dozens of twists and turns so the mystery lingers through it.

Ironically, the first television role I ever had was in a Peter Falk TV series that was produced initially for the Canadian Broadcasting System. I was in a single episode of The Trials of O'Brien, in which a rumpled detective solves murders. O'Brien would eventually become Columbo and move to the States. Peter has been working on this character in one form or another for a very long time.

The episode, titled "The Ten Foot, Six Inch Pole," was shot in Toronto in 1965 and aired in this country on CBS in January of 1966, while I was in the midst of doing Hogan's Goat off-Broadway. I have to admit that I only vaguely remember the trip to Toronto, and I recall absolutely nothing about the character. But I have never forgotten the experience, that a Peter Falk show gave me my first shot at TV, and that there was a wonderful subtlety to his performance even then.

This role that Peter had given me in Columbo must have been a gift of fate. The movie aired Sunday, October 31, 1993, just two days before Jeff told me he was pulling my TV series off CBS. While I was getting nothing but bad news about It Had to Be You, cards and notes and really good reviews were streaming in about Columbo.

The second time I was to find a champion in a trench coat came some months later. I was in the throes of a very difficult time in the summer of 1994 with a project that had become unraveled in a very public way. in early July, the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences nominated me for an Emmy for my performance in Columbo.

That year the Emmy Awards show was held in Pasadena in the fall. Some categories, including mine for Guest Actress in a Drama Series, were to be awarded during a dinner on Saturday night preceding the live broadcast of the major prime-time awards on Sunday, September 11.

I had been trying to survive rough, treacherous seas that were roiled that summer. Most of those attending the Emmy dinner that night were well aware of what I had been going through. It had been such a difficult time, I debated even attending the dinner. But I had not stayed in the shadows during those difficult months, and I was determined not to retreat now.

Nevertheless, I could not quite believe it when I heard my name called. You always hope, and though I felt very good about the role and the way I had played it, I had not expected to win. There were other very strong performances by Stockard Channing, Laura Dern, Bonnie Bedelia, Marlee Matlin, and Penny Fuller that I was competing against. It was no small matter to have been chosen.

As I made my way up to the podium to accept the Emmy, it was as if I was carried along by the applause. People stood, they hugged me, they cheered. I was overwhelmed by the generosity of spirit my colleagues extended me that night. It was like being wrapped up in a warm embrace. Suddenly I didn't feel as if I was waging the battle alone. Though this is more often than not a town of grand illusions and transitory friendships, the moment seemed heartfelt, and touched me deeply. I really felt for the first time since I had returned from England as if I was truly home.

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