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Last Updated: Thursday, 31 May 2007, 11:48 GMT 12:48 UK
Columbo was 'greatest' says star
By Carl Yapp
BBC News

Peter Falk
Falk has been nominated twice for an Oscar
It was inevitable the first question Columbo star Peter Falk was going to face as he walked on stage at the Hay Festival was: "Where's the mac?"

He was not even given time to take his seat, but returned fire with: "It's being cleaned...and then burned".

The 79-year-old's riposte set the tone and led him to recount some fascinating anecdotes - many on the creation he called "the greatest detective".

They also included an attempt to join the CIA and an Oscar night failure.

Gifted as a comic and dramatic actor, Falk is best known as scruffy, deceptively bumbling Lieutenant Columbo, who was a permanent fixture on television screens around the world during the 1970s.

At first though, it seemed Falk had slipped into character as he addressed the sell-out crowd about his autobiography, called Just One More Thing, after Columbo's famous catchphrase.

Initially they wanted Columbo to wear a driving coat
Peter Falk

He appeared nervous, collided with a microphone on several occasions and his memory failed him.

"I can't remember half of what's in this book," he joked.

He soon settled though and had his fans hanging on his every word - especially the one sporting a long, brown mac in tribute.

But there is much more to this Hollywood star.

He received Oscar nominations for best supporting actor for his first two films, Murder Inc and Pocketful of Miracles.

In 1961, he was vying with Peter Ustinov, for his role in Spartacus, for one of the small golden statuettes and Falk remembered the tension as the winner was announced.

"At the Academy Awards night the guy says: 'the winner is Peter...' and I was standing up and then he said: 'Ustinov,'" said a deflated Falk.


The glitz and glamour of tinsel town nearly eluded him though. Falk said he made a failed attempt to join the CIA, shortly after leaving university.

He was destined to be a film star, but before that he had to endure awkward questions about his glass eye.

His right eye had been surgically removed at the age of three, because of cancer.

"Harry Cohen, the head of Columbia (Pictures) called me to see him," he said.

"'I am concerned about your deficiency', he told me. 'What deficiency?', I replied. 'You know', he said, 'your deficiency'.

"When somebody says you've got a deficiency I think of vitamins. Finally he (Cohen) spat it out. 'You have a glass eye', he said.

"I said I'd never considered it a deficiency."

As for his iconic role as Columbo and that famous brown coat, Falk said: "I don't know where the idea (for the coat) came from - it popped into my mind.

"Initially they wanted Columbo to wear a driving coat. I said: 'Are you kidding? He's not an English aristocrat.'"

A young Patrick McGoohan
Patrick McGoohan was the "best" Columbo villain

But who did he think was the best on-screen villain to star in Columbo? "Pat McGoohan [The Prisoner, Braveheart]", said Falk, without hesitation.

He added that the Columbo shows were a "phenomenon", and his character was "the greatest homicide detective".

He also mentioned that a new Columbo script had been written, but gave no more details.

One of the final questions came from a member of the audience, who asked if Falk had ever turned down a role and lived to regret it.

He joked: "I never turned a part down when they offered me money."


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