Photo by Vicki Harris

Photo by Vicki Harris

Each week Albany Herald researcher Mary Braswell looks for interesting events, places and people from the past. You can contact her at (229) 888-9371 or

Beginning in 1971, television viewers regularly tuned in to watch Peter Falk as "Columbo," a one-of-a-kind sleuth. With his rumpled raincoat, ever-present cigar, bumbling demeanor and powers of deduction, the disarmingly polite homicide detective Lt. Columbo took on some of the most cunning murderers in Los Angeles, most of whom made one fatal, irrevocable mistake: underestimating his investigative genius. Falk passed away at the age of 83 at his Los Angeles home on June 24. Here is a look back at the man and his much-beloved character.

About the actor

* Peter Falk was born in 1927 in New York City. His father was of Russian Jewish ancestry and his mother was of Polish Jewish, with a mix of Hungarian and Czech Jewish ancestry further back.

* Falk's right eye was surgically removed at the age of three because of cancer. Once when he was playing in a Little League game, the umpire called him out. Falk thought that he was safe. He pulled his glass eye out of its socket and handed it to the umpire, telling him, "Here, I think you might need this."

* Falk's first stage appearance was at age 12 in "The Pirates of Penzance" at Camp High Point in upstate New York. He also once played the role of a detective in a high school play when the original student-actor fell sick.

* After high school graduation, where he was president of his class, Falk briefly attended Hamilton College in upstate New York before joining the Merchant Marines. He later went to New York City, where he earned his bachelor's degree in political science from the New School for Social Research in New York City. He earned his master's degree in public administration from Syracuse University in Syracuse, New York.

* Falk worked as an efficiency expert for the Budget Bureau of the state of Connecticut before he studied acting with Eva Le Gallienne and Sanford Meisner.

* Falk was married twice and had two children, Catherine and Jackie. Catherine Falk is a real-life private detective.

* In 1961, Falk became the first actor nominated for an Oscar and an Emmy in the same year, receiving best supporting nominations for the movie "Murder, Inc." (1960) and the TV show "The Law and Mr. Jones" (1960). He followed up in 1962 by being doubly nominated again for supporting actor for the movie "Pocketful of Miracles" (1961) and best actor (he won) for "The Price of Tomatoes," an episode of "The Dick Powell Theatre" (1961).

* One of Falk's greatest passions was drawing and sketching. He had a studio on the grounds of his Beverly Hills estate.

Lt. Columbo, Mrs. Columbo, Dog and the car

* The Columbo character first appeared in a 1960 episode of the television anthology series "The Chevy Mystery Show," played by Bert Freed. Peter Falk played the character in 1968 as a TV movie and from 1971 to 1978 and again from 1989 to 2003.

* The debut episode in 1971 was directed by 25-year-old Steven Spielberg. Those first episodes ('71-'78) were all TV-movie length -- 90 or 120 minutes, including commercials.

* A long list of recognizable names played the murderer on the television series, including Ray Milland, Anne Baxter, Leonard Nimoy, Martin Landau, Robert Culp, Eddie Albert, Jack Cassidy, Gene Berry, William Shatner, George Hamilton, Faye Dunaway, Janet Leigh, Dick Van Dyke, Robert Vaughn and Johnny Cash.

* There were 59 murders in 45 episodes. Of that number, 22 were shot to death.

* Lt. Columbo managed to avoid pistol range testing for 10 years with the LAPD. When this oversight was caught, Columbo paid a sergeant $5 to take the test for him. He only fired a gun in one episode -- said he couldn't "stand the noise".

* Columbo's raincoat was designed and manufactured in Spain by a company called Cortefiel. Falk told the story this way: "In 1966 ... I was walking on 57th Street in New York when it started to rain. I entered a shop and bought a raincoat. When I had to find one for Columbo, I simply took this one."

* Columbo's favorite food was chili with crackers and he drank his coffee black.

* In later years, it was rumored that Columbo's coat was in the Smithsonian. Falk said that was not true -- it was in his closet upstairs at his home.

* "Any Old Port In A Storm" marked the introduction of the song "This Old Man" ( the children's nick-nack-paddy-whack tune), which Columbo hums while making a phone call. He hums it again in "Candidate For Crime" and the rest, as they say, is history.

* When not working, which is seldom, Columbo likes to bowl. He also plays cards occasionally, likes to sing, enjoys cooking a good omelet, likes pinball and pool and has been seen throwing darts.

* Columbo's wife, while never seen, plays a big role in the show. Some of the things known about Mrs. Columbo include: she cried when she lost at bowling, she embarrassed her husband in restaurants by stealing ashtrays and she enjoyed reading the shipping news in the paper. She loved African violets and thought the movie "Citizen Kane" was a masterpiece. She was a good dancer and singer. She loved crossword puzzles and Ann Landers. Every morning, Mrs. Columbo gave her husband a pencil.

* According to Columbo, his wife had a Proverb for every situation.

* An attempt to bring Mrs. Columbo to life did take place -- briefly. Kate Mulgrew starred as Kate Columbo in a 13-episode run of Mrs. Columbo in 1979-80. Kate Columbo was a crime-solving reporter who was also raising their preteen daughter, Jenny. When the connection with Columbo failed to translate into ratings in a five-episode test run, the show was retitled "Kate Loves a Mystery." The Kate Columbo character, now divorced, relocated to San Fernando and went back to her maiden name of Callahan, never to mention her rumpled-coated ex-husband again.

* Dog made his way onto the show because of NBC's persistent demands for another continuing character. A basset hound is what they got.

* Columbo found Dog at the pound and decided to adopt him. Much of the first episode of the second season was spent trying to come up with a name for him. He settled on "Dog."

* Dog was sent to obedience school in one episode but was thrown out for "demoralizing the other students."

* Dog loved to go to the beach to watch the boats and his favorite flavor of ice cream was vanilla.

* Dog was in love with the neighbor's cocker spaniel before she moved away. Columbo briefly considered that maybe the lovesick dog could be fooled or satisfied with a pin-up photo of the spaniel, but Columbo quickly abandons that idea. ("I mean ... the dog is DUMB, but he won't fall for THAT!")

* Falk looked at cars on the Universal back lot -- there was every make and model imaginable -- he did not like any of them. It was the day before they were to start shooting when, way at the back, "I just saw the nose of a car sticking out." it didn't run, it did not even have an engine in it, but Falk said "This is the one".

* In the real world, Columbo's car was a 1959 Peugeot convertible, Model 403, but in "Caution: Murder Can Be Hazardous To Your Health," Colombo says it is a very rare 1950 Peugeot. The lieutenant claimed there are only three like it in the United States. In reality, there were only 504 ever made.

* While on NBC, the tag on the car read 044 APD. After the show moved to ABC, his plate number was 448-DBZ.

Just one more thing ...

Columbo's first name was never revealed, but in "Dead Weight" (1971 -- Season 1, Episode 3) as the camera caught the clearest view of Columbo's police badge ever shown, it appeared that his first name was Frank. It doesn't really matter. He will forever be simply "Lieutenant Columbo" to his many, many fans.