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TALK WITH FALK, by Arthur Marx ("Cigar Aficionado," Dec.1997)

There are people who'd sell their mother down the river for a box of genuine Cuban cigars (or maybe even half a box), and then there is Peter Falk, the
Self-effacing, soft-spoken, cigar smoking star of the hit TV detective series "Columbo," who confides, "I'll smoke anything anybody gives me,  I'm not particular.  On 'Columbo' I smoke the cheapest cigars money can buy. They come six to a pack.

"I love the smell of cigar smoke," continues Falk, who also smokes cigarettes.   "I remember Joe Montegna inviting me to a party at this restaurant on Beverly Boulevard that Jack Nicholson owns. I think it's called the Monkey Bar, and it's also part cigar club.  Well, when I walked
in there, there was such a thick cloud of cigar smoke that you could hardly see across the room.  I got hit by that great smoke.  Oh, it was heaven. It reminded me of the old Madison Square Garden or my days in the pool room when I was a kid growing up in Ossining, New York. You just don't find many public places today where you can go and fill your lungs and nostrils with delicious second hand smoke.

"Recently I went to a party Dabney Coleman was throwing for his daughter,
who had just got married. Well, a guy there took out cigar and handed it to
me. I thanked him and eagerly lit it up. I was so eager I didn't even
bother to get out my cigarette lighter.  I just grabbed the candle on the
table where my wife and I were sitting and used that.  Well, the first
couple of puffs were heaven. And then suddenly the whole 25-buck cigar went
up in flames that got bigger and bigger. I said, 'What is
this' Halloween  I thought it was a trick someone was playing on me. I
nearly burnt the joint down before I could put it out. At that point I
couldn't see what was so great about a Cuban cigar. And then it dawned on
me what had happened. I'd gotten wax from the candle all over the cigar
when I was lighting it. That's what turned it into an incendiary missile
from Havana.

Falk laughs and, cocking his head to one side in his inimitable Columbo
Fashion, adds, I guess the point of all this is that as much as I like
to smoke them, the affection and the care that real cigar smokers heap upon
their stogies is something that is absent with me."

Falk enjoys smoking cigars so much that the plot of his first  Columbo
of the new season, 'A Trace of Murder' which aired in May on ABC, was
built around cigar smokers. The fellow who gets killed doesn't smoke
Cigars; the fellow that they're framing does smoke cigars. Who's
framing him? The wife, or the man she's having an affair with? Now
Columbo goes to the murder scene. So does the man who's having an affair
with the wife; he's the forensic expert on the case. So the forensic guy
is the one involved in flaming her husband, who he and the wife are trying
to get rid of so they can live happily ever after. Or should it be whom
'? Well, who the hell cares about good granular in such a suspenseful
situation?' He interrupts himself with a laugh. One of the ways they
frame him is to leave a piece of the kind of cigar that he smokes at the
scene of the murder. This cigar is an expensive one. It's made of a very
distinctive kind of Havana tobacco leaf, and it becomes an important piece
of evidence.

Despite Falk's heavy cigarette habit, he hasn't slowed down. I've
been smoking 55 years and my mother, who's 92, has been puffing for 71.
h's easy for me to deceive myself that it's all in the genes. I've
never even tried to quit. I must admit, however, I have imagined looking in
the mirror on the [hypothetical] day I got the bad news regarding the big C'
and saying,  You weak, stupid sonofabitch. It selves you right.

Falk says he can understand the position of vocal nonsmokers, but   just
wish they weren't so wacky. You could light a cigarette in the Grand
Canyon and, 12 miles away, there's a voice with a pair of binoculars
saying, Put that out! In allergic to smoke.' For Christ's sakes,
he laments, I hear you can't even light up outdoors at Dodger Stadium
anymore. What kind of a world is this getting to be where you're not even
allowed to smoke outdoors at a ball game?'

Peter Falk was born in Manhattan on Sept. 16, 1927, to Michael and Madeline
Falk. Later the family moved to the Bronx, and when Falk was around 6, they
settled in Ossining, on the Hudson River, a hamlet better known for the
presence of Sing Sing Penitentiary than for being the childhood home of the
future Lieutenant Columbo.
Falk's mother is Russian and his father was Polish, with a mix of
Hungarian and Czech further back in their ancestry. So, contrary to Falk's
public image, he is not an Italian but a mixture of very hardy Eastern
European stock.
In Ossining, Michael and Madeline made a fairly good living running a dry
goods store. Because of its proximity to Sing Sing, Ossining benefited from
the traffic going to and from the penitentiary and therefore was more
prosperous than many small towns during the Great Depression years.
But the Falks had more serious problems than trying to make a living in
those days. When I was three years old, I was attending a
pre-kindergarten school, in the Bronx, Falk recalls. Because my mom
was working in my father's store, there was no one at home to take care
of me, so I attended one of those day-care places. One day my teacher
called a her in and told her that I ought to have my eyes examined, because
I was always cocking my head to one side when I was attempting to look at
something.  So my mom took me to the doctor, who examined me and found a
malignancy in my right eye. He took her aside and told her that I'd have
to have the eye taken out right away. So like in a day or two, they checked
me into the hospital. I remember standing in front of an open elevator door
with my mother and the doctor in the hospital. I wasn't quite sure what
was happening to me. Suddenly Mom said to me, You just get in the
elevator, son. I have to go back to your room and get my purse. Then the
doctor took my hand and walked me into the elevator. I remember telling
him, Just hold on a minute. My mother went to get her purse. She'll be
right here.'

The next thing I knew I was asleep, and it was all over.
Pretty traumatic for a three-year-old to wake up and find he had only one
Another memory I have of that period is of me and my mother standing in
front of a store window, looking at eye patches. I wore one in the
beginning, but after I was a little older they gave me a glass eye. Glass
eyes aren't as practical as the plastic ones that came in a little later
In hot weather the glass eye used to stick. I remember being told to rake
it out every night and put it in a glass of water. Sometimes I did and
sometimes I got careless and just put it on the table next to my bed After
the glass eye starts getting scratched, and it has to be replaced, unless
you want to look like you have a terrible hangover.

Falk admits that in the beginning he was terribly self-conscious about
having a glass eye, and dreaded the moment when someone would ask him about
it. But then there's that time when you finally realize that no one
gives a shit whether you have one eye or two.
What helped me was knocking around doing sports with the guys.

Falk participated in most of the team sports in school, baseball and
basketball in particular. He was good at both games in spite of his
handicap, once he got over his self-consciousness. 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.

In spire of his size, the five-foot-nine Falk also made the town basketball
team, which during the season went up against the Sing Sing team, inside
the prison. Because of my eye I wasn't a very good shooter, but
because of my size I was fast as hell and that's why they used me. But
the inmates were too tough for us. We got our ass beaten by them. I
remember one inmate who was a terrific player. His name was Piggy Sands. He
was in for life.  But he sure could play basketball."

During his senior year, Falk received his first taste of acting (except for
an appearance in a summer camp play several years before) when he filled in
for a fellow student who had fallen sick two days before the performance.
Ironically, he played a detective, taking the stage in the third act.
Although he was a good student, PaRc had no idea of what he wanted to do
when he got out of high school in 1945. The one way of making a living that
never crossed his mind was becoming an actor. In Ossining when I was
growing up, I put my time in on the street corner, or in the pool room, and
I liked sports but of course could never play any of them professionally
because of my one eye. But I would have been embarrassed to tell any of my
friends that I had any idea of being an actor. My conception of being an
actor was very naive and very romantic. I thought actors were some rare
species. I thought they were artists, and I thought artists were Europeans.
I thought they were from Europe, because I never saw any actors where I
came from.

In the summer of 1945, Falk enrolled in Hamilton College in upstate New
York.  "I thought college was going to be like high school, where I never
worked too hard to get by. I loved everything about high school and I
thought college would be the same. But when I got up there, I was in for a
shock. No women. Small population because of the war. And half of the guys
were veterans who had been in the war and were up there studying. They were
very serious, so it was no fun there. And as I said, no girls. I only
stayed about a month. So I thought I'd see if I could get in one of the
[armed] services. The war was on its last legs, but it wasn't quite

Falk laughs as he remembers trying to join the Marines. A pharmacist's
mate was giving the eye test, but according to Falk, he wasn't very
sharp. He never noticed that I covered my false eye twice and read the
chart 20/20 both times with my good eye. I thought I was in, but suddenly
the doctor in the next cubicle looked over and said to the pharmacist, You
dumb cluck, can't you see he's tricking you? With that, the doctor
took over the examination and, of course, discovered Falk's glass eye.

Three months later, having been rejected by the armed services, he joined
the Merchant Marine. There they don't care if you're blind or not,
says Falk. The only one on a ship who has to see is the captain. And
in the case of the Titanic, he couldn't see very well, either.

After he was assigned to a ship, Falk walked into the sleeping quarters,
which were empty, except for a big fat guy named Joe' who was sitting
in the upper bunk across from mine. I don't know what got into me,but for
some reason I decided to play a joke on him. So when he asked me how come a
young kid like myself was in the Merchant Marine, I told him I had a slight
physical problem. With that, I sat down in my bunk and took out my two
front teeth -- at that time I had a bridge on my upper front teeth.
Anyway, I took it out and laid it on the bench in front of my bunk. Then I
reached in and took out my eye and dropped it on the bench next to my
teeth. It made a nice sound effect. As Joe was doing a double take, I then
bent over and with both of my hands pretended to be twisting my leg, as if
I had a false leg, which I was unscrewing to take off. Suddenly Joe's
face went white, and he leaped off his bunk and said, I'm going out on
deck for awhile.'

Harking back to his formative years, Falk says, There's a time when
you're young when you're very sensitive about things like a false eye.
But once you get older you realize you can get a laugh with it. Now it's
second nature to me. I mean, if somebody asks me which eye is the bad one,
I have to stop and think about it.
After a year and a half in the Merchant Marine, Falk returned to Hamilton
College, where he stayed for two years, except for the summer in between at
the University of Wisconsin. He then transferred to the New School for
Social Research in New York City, after which he fell in love with a girl
and followed her to Paris.

The two bummed around Europe for a few months and wound up, after the border
opened, behind the Iron Curtain in Yugoslavia, where Falk stayed for six
months, supporting himself by working on a railroad for the Tao government,
and, finally, succeeded in getting himself arrested over a minor incident
involving currency that a restaurant wouldn't accept. After he was
released, Ealk returned to New York, thinking, Jesus Christ. I'm 26
years old. I'd better do something about earning a living. Whereupon
he enrolled in Syracuse University.
It was at Syracuse where Falk met his first wife, Alyce Mayo. He married her
five years later, in 1958. The couple eventually adopted and raised two
Daughters, Jackie, now 29, and Catherine, 26. Alyce and Peter were divorced
in 1976 but remain friendly.

Prior to enrolling at Syracuse, Falk received a bachelor's degree
in literature and political science from the New School around 1950.
He then earned a master's degree in public administration from
Syracuse, which enabled him to land a job as an efficiency expert in
Hartford for the state of Connecticut.

I was such an efficiency expert that the first morning on the job, I
Couldn't find the building where I was to report for work, he recalls.
Naturally, 1 was late, which I always was in those days, but ironically
it was my tendency never to be on time that got me started as a
professional actor.

While he was working in Hartford, Falk got a hankering to start acting
again. He'd had some experience fooling around in amateur productions,
starting in high school and into his college days. So he joined a community
theater group in Hartford called the Mark Twain Masquers, where he was paid
nothing but acquired a lot of experience. I did one play after
another The Caine Mutiny, The Crucible, The Country Girl. . .in fact, you
name it, I did it.

While I was with the Masquers, I learned that France's first lady of
the theater, Eva La Gallienne, was giving an acting class for professionals
at the White Barn Theater in Westport, Connecticut. La Gallienne was
internationally famous, with a reputation as an actress that was right up
there with Helen Hayes, Judith Anderson and the other important ladies of
the theater.

Westport was about two hours from Hartford, but I decided I'd like to
see what it would be like to be working with professionals, so I drove
down, and somehow lied my way into the group, which met every Wednesday.
But I was always late because of the long drive down from Hartford. So I
went to my boss I had a vacation coming and told him I didn't want a
vacation. I just wanted him to let me off every Wednesday afternoon early.
He said OK, but I was still always late because of the traffic. And my car,
which was always breaking down,

Now Eva La Gallienne was a very formidable woman, in keeping with her
worldwide reputation, and she had very little patience with excuses. One
evening when I arrived late, she looked at me and asked, Young man, why
are you always late?' and I said, I have to drive down from

She looked down her nose and said,  What do you do in Hartford? There's
no theater there. How do you make a living acting?' Falk then had to
confess that he wasn't a professional actor at all. Whereupon she looked
at him sternly and said, Well, you should be."  That was all the
aspiring actor needed to hear. He drove back to Hartford, and the next
morning told his boss he was quitting.

Falk stayed with the La Gallienne group for a few months just long enough
to get a letter of recommendation from the renowned actress to a theatrical
agent at the William Morris Talent Agency in New York.

I don't remember his name, recalls Fallc. But Id0 remember that
about three minutes into our meeting he told me, You know, son, you
could never do television or the movies.' Now, I didn't know what he
was talking about. It never occurred to me that he was talking about my
eye, because it had become so natural with me to only have one eye. But
aside from that, I didn't know what he meant. Whoever expected to be in
the movies and go to Hollywood, anyway? I just wanted to be a stage actor.
My goal was just to get into The Actors' Studio. That would have made me
happy. And if my expectations went beyond that, I would have said, If I
could just once be on Broadway, if I could walk into a bar and there were
other actors there, and they would know that I was also an actor, and that
I was making aliving as an actor, that would be all I asked of life.' And
television at the time it was around l952 was just starting, and who
expected to get into that? So when this agent said that to me, I said, I
just want to be on the stage.'
The agent was sufficiently impressed with La (Jallienne's letter that he
managed to get Falk a small Off-Broadway role in the American premiere of
Moliere's Don Juan. They weren't paying anything. So lots of time
you'd go to rehearsal and people wouldn't show up- So the director
would say to me, You take that part.' So I got a bigger part. They
kept firing the Don Juans. And they also kept firing the directors. But
there was one person who showed up every week. That was me. So by the time
we were about two weeks from opening night, I had the second lead. I
remember that George Segal had a small part in that production, too. I
remember his costume. He wore blue satin knickers and black shoes with
silver buckles. And I wore the same. I said to George, What the hell are
we doing in these ridiculous outfits?
The last director they brought in was a Method director, from The Actors
' Studio. He said to the cast, 1'he trouble with this play is that
everybody's posturing. You have to stop acting and just say the lines
straight. No accent. If I catch you acting, I'll fire you.'
So that's how it was done opening night, which also was closing night.

Falk will never forget the review he got from The New Yuik Times critic
Walter Kerr, who was I considered the dean of Broadway critics
paralyzed start, with 10 minutes of totally unaccented exposition.
Falk claims he wasn't particularly upset by Kerr's review, because I
can be completely objective about things I'm in. I knew from the start it
was a bomb.

Despite this unpromising start, Falk, with the help of the William
Morris agency, continued to pick up minor roles in Broadway and
Off-Broadway productions until he finally made a name for himself as
the bartender in the 1956 Off-Broadway production of Eugene O'Neill's
The Iceman Cometh.  Falk has to chuckle as he recalls an interview in the
mid-1950s that he and an agent had at Columbia pictures with movie mogul
Harry Cohn. Though Falk had come highly recommended by a Columbia scout
(the next John Garfield), Cohn wasn't sold. Then he said
something I didn't understand, Falks recalls. [He said,] Young man,
I'm concerned about your deficiency.' I had no idea what he was
referring to. After a couple of passes, he put it into words: Your eye,
young man, your eye. I'm concerned about your eye.' Falk replied
that it was nothing to be concerned about, but Cohn wanted a screen test,
which Falk felt was unnecessary. Cohn ended the conversation: Mr.
Falk, for the same price, I'll get an actor with two eyes.' PS.: I took
the screen test and flunked.
After that minor setback. Falk cemented his reputation by appearing in a
number of Broadway productions in the late 1950s Saint Joan, Diary of a
Scoundrel, The Lady's Not for Burning, Bonds of Interest and The Passion
of Josef D.
In 1960, FaIk was offered the role of a vicious killer in a low-budget
gangster film, Murder, Inc., with May Britt and Stuart Whitman. He was
hired out of New York, where the picture was filmed, because the producers
were too cheap to transport actors from Hollywood, and they wanted to take
advantage of the New York background. Falk's appearance as Abe Reles, the
syndicate's top killer (who, not incidentally, was a cigar smoker) turned
out to be one of the major turning points in his life, for it led to his
nomination for an Oscar for best supporting actor at the 1961 Academy

It all began on a rainy afternoon in a bar in Greenwich Village, Falk
recalls. I was sitting with Ben Gazzara and Sal Mineo. I had been
knocking around Off-Broadway but [Murder, Inc.] had just come out and I got
splashy reviews. Sal said, You should campaign for an Academy Award.'
What's that? I didn't know there was such a thing. Sal said it was
True you take out ads; it had been going on for years. Sal had been a kid
actor in Hollywood, so I believed hi m but it sounded far-fetched.
Hollywood, Academy Awards, Ingrid Bergman that was another world. Sal was
just being nice, but I couldn't take it seriously.

That same year, 1960,I got a gig on The Untouchables.' My first trip
to Hollywood. Abe Lastfogel, a legendary agent and head of William Morris,
called me into his office and said, You should campaign for an Academy
Award.' I said, That's what Sal Mineo said.' He said, Well, do
it!' [I said,] What do I do?' [He replied,] Take out ads, hire a
press agent, spend money.' That's what I did, and what do you know I
got nominated.

Now we're in our Volkswagen [Falk and his wife, Alycel and we're
headed to the Academy Awards. What do you think of my chances?' I
asked. She answers, You'll be lucky if they don't take back the
Now we're in our seats; the press agent, Judd Bernard, is seated on my
right. It's my category and I heard a voice say, And the winner is
Peter...' I'm rising out of my seat.'.. .Ustinov.' I'm heading
back down. When I hit the seat, I turn to the press agent: You're fired.
' I didn't want him charging me for another day.

Nevertheless, the nomination was a coup for Falk. He repeated the feat the
following year, when he was nominated for best supporting actor in Frank
Capra's Pocketful of Miracles, which starred Bette Davis and Glenn Ford.
Again he didn't win, but it was the start of a long illustrious Hollywood
career in films and television. In 1961 he won an Emmy for his portrayal of
a truck driver in the TV play The Price of Tomatoes.

With two Oscar nominations and an Emmy in two years, the previously
little-known New York stage actor asked all his friends,  How long has
this been going on?  But in 1962, Falk made what was to many a strange
choice for his third film a movie shot in the Soviet Union.  It wasn't
the script, that's for sure. And it wasn't, I should add, that I was a
Communist. The truth is, I was curious.

The filming got off to a shaky start; the Italian director refused to use
Falk in the role. They hired me off an 8xl0 glossy. They thought they
were getting Sal Mineo. That's the God's truth. The director got what
he wanted a bambino' and Falk got another role.

Since then, Falk's film credits have ranged from It's a Mad, Mad, Mad,
Mad World (1963) and the Neil Simon comedies Murder by Death(1976) and The
Cheap Detective (1978) to Husbands (1970) and A Woman Under the Influence
(1976), a pair of low-budget but powerful films done with his longtime
friend, the late actor-director John Cassavetes.

It was his appearance as Lieutenant Columbo in a 1968 TV movie of the week,
Prescription: Murder, however, that led to Falk's biggest success and
worldwide fame as the cigar smoking, raincoat-clad detective.

Columbo was never intended to be a series. Fat was just a character in
a movie of the week that happened to garner a big raring. When the
network people came to me and said they thought we should make a weekly
series of the character, I said no way, says Falk. It's too
difficult to come up with a good story week after week It can't be done.
So they went away, and the next year they came back to me with the same
idea. And again I nixed it, and for the same reason.

But the third year they came to me with a way they believed it could be
done. It would be a Sunday night detective series in which I would do eight
a season. Rock Hudson would do eight [as a police commissioner on McMillan
and Wife ] and a third actor [Dennis Weaver, who played a deputy
marshal on McCloud] would do another eight. That way the strain
wouldn't be too hard on anybody, but especially the writers. So I said OK
and they scheduled it for the 1971 season.

While now it seems almost inconceivable that anyone but Falk could have
portrayed Lieutenant Columbo, the role was initially offered to Bing Crosby ,
who reportedly declined because the series would interfere with his golf
game. Lee J. Cobb was also considered for the part.

Between 1968 and 1971, when the first show of the Columbo senes was
aired on NBC, Falk stayed busy. After Prescription 2 Murder, he appeared in
the films'Anzio, Castle Keep, Machine Gun McCain, A Step Our of Line,
Husbands and Operation Sn4u. None was terribly memorable, except for
Husbands, which was directed by Cassavetes and costarred Far and Ben

Falk did, however, score a major success on Broadway in 1970, h n he
garnered excellent reviews as the lead in Neil Simon's Prisoner of Second
Avenue. Working with Doc Simon was such a joy, recalls Falk. You
can always count on those laughs when you show up on the stage. I'm
thinking of putting Doc in my will.

Falk had to step out of Prisoner after a season, for he had already
committed to the Columbo series, which debuted in the fall of 1971.
The first episode was called "Ransom For a Dead Man," and it was an
immediate hit.  The series ran until the 1977-78 season and earned Falk
five Emmy Awards for best actor in a dramatic series.

People are still asking me why the series was such a success, Falk
says. Was it me or the concept? Personally, I think it was the character
of Columbo. But I don't think you could separate it out. I mean, point to
any one thing. The character or the story or the fact that it was a
mystery. But I think the hub of it starts with the character That's the
heart of it, the soul of it.

People like somebody they can identify with. A man or person nor above
them. So I think they identify with the common aspects of Columbo. I mean,
he's like everybody one of us. But at the same time people have always
been attracted to heroes, people who are bigger than life, exceptional. In
some ways, Columbo is both.

Falk recalls actress and screenwriter Elaine May saying that his character
was an ass-backwards Sherlock Holmes. Holmes was smart, but he was
an aristocrat. Columbo was just like everyone who walks the streets. Dirty
raincoat, a dog, a wife. Not much money. On the other hand there's
something exceptional about the way his mind works. Also, he's human.
He's interested in what ordinary people are interested in. The price of
clothes, for example. What did you pay for that handbag?' he asks a
rich suspect. I'd like to buy one of those for my wife. Her birthday 's
coming up, but I don't think I can afford it. You wouldn't know
where I could buy something like that for about half the price?' And for
a cop he's very offbeat. He hates noise, the sound of gun shots; he hates
violence, unlike today's action heroes' in films, who thrive on one
huge explosion after another.

Finally, says Falk, the clues were good, the murders were clever and the
twists at the end were delicious. And then there were the cigars.

I don't remember at this late date whose idea it was for me to smoke a
cigar on the series. It was probably mine, since I enjoy smoking so much
and cigars looked like a much more macho smoke for a detective than
cigarettes. I do know I came up with my outfit the bear-up raincoat and
worn-out brown shoes, he says.

He also remembers who was responsible for the dog on the series.
Second season of  Columbo,' Nick Cavasanto, the director, comes to me
and says, I think you ought to have a dog on the series.' I said
Nick, there's not going to be any dogs. I've got the raincoat, I've
got the cigar and I've got the car. That's enough. We're reaching.
' He says, OK.'

Next day I come in, I'm wandering around, looking at the sets when I
bump into Nick. He says to me, Come in and look at the doctor set.' I
go in, and lying on the table is this dachshund. It's a huge lump. It's
just laying there. It's about a thousand years old. It could hardly walk.
Now, I thought, if they were gonna use a dog, they were going to pick some
frisky, cute little thing. So I said, That's the dog you want?' He
nodded, and I said, You got it.'

The problem with having a dog is they don't live long enough.
The first dog we used was in 71, and he was very old. He passed away
in 73 and his replacement was much younger.

I never took much time in makeup; a glance in the mirror on the way to
the john that's it. If you're playing Columbo, who cares what you
look like, as long as you look bad. So I'm ready fast, but we couldn't
shoot. We had to wait for the dog. He was in makeup sitting on a chair,
munching dog bones while they applied the clown white to make him look
older.  Thirty minutes shot to hell."

In real life, Falk and his wife of 20 years, Shera Danese, have five
Dogs  two Pekinese, a Shih Tzu and two big mixed-breed dogs they rescued
from an animal shelter all of whom sleep in the bedroom with them in
their eight-room Beverly Hills home.

Danese, an actress in her mid-40s, played the female lead in A Trace of
Murder. Vivacious and full of life, Danese   loves to dress up, and go
dancing, according to Falk.  She's great at parties. Me, I hate
parties and dressing up. When I was young, I thought the only reason to
go to a party was to pick up a girl. But after you're married, I just
never knew what a party was for.

Personally, I'd rather stay home and practice my hobby. I draw naked
women, he confides with a sly smile. I work in charcoal. I draw them
with their hair up, sometimes with their hair down. I have a number of
models who pose naked for me whenever I ask. How'd I get into such an
exotic hobby? Well, I'll tell you. One day I wandered into the Art
Students League of New York, and there was a naked woman on a platform with
a light on her That was good enough for me. I said I'd be there every
day, and I was. I appreciate the female form. The human body is a fantastic
thing. I can't draw landscapes or boats.

Falk has set up an art studio in his garage. I get obsessed and can go on
drawing for 12 or 13 hours at a time. Shera has a great sense of humor
about it.  I don't know how she feels about my models, but about my work
she says, You're not going to bring that crap into the house, are

Today, Falk is a very healthy 70 and is looking forward to appearing in as
many new Columbos as he cares to develop under his ongoing producing
and acting deal with Universal Pictures. Since the first  Columbo
series went off the air in 1977, h0 has appeared in a dozen films,
including A Woman Under the Influence and The In-Laws, with Alan Arkin as
his costar, a particularly hilarious vehicle for the two actors.

Last year, Falk taped a TV version of Neil Simon's The Sunshine Boys for
CBS, with Woody Allen. In this remake of the Broadway hit, Falk takes the
Walter Matthau part while Allen has the role George Burns played so
masterfully in the film version. The show is scheduled to air Dec. 28.

Today, Falk is famous around the globe way beyond his headiest
Expectations  but he believes that fame is  overrated. The best part
about it is the money you don't have to worry about it, like when
you're first starting out. He sighs and settles back on his
comfortable couch. I'm lucky. I don't like to boast, but today I've
got a lot of dough.

Falk tries to keep in shape by playing golf whenever he has the chance. He
has a 14 handicap and finds that having one eye is not much of a hindrance
in the group with whom he plays. The way most people play golf, he
says, it doesn't make much of a difference whether they have one eye
or two.

Asked how he feels about getting old, and If he's surprised to find himself turning 70, Falk responds with the same laid-back attitude you'd expect to come from Lieutenant Columbo: No, I'm not surprised. What did you think was going to happen? The way I look at it, it's the best of two alternatives.

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