As You Wish: Remembering Peter Falk

I’m not sure when I became a Peter Falk fan.

I fondly remember watching Columbo on Sunday evenings with my parents more than forty years ago. I’m happy to say it’s a tradition that I’ve kept up with my own four kids, and my nine-year-old is enjoying the show as much as I did. I remember seeing Peter Falk on a talk show telling a story of his days playing baseball as a kid and sliding into third base, being called out, standing up, taking out his glass eye, and handing it to the umpire saying, “You need this more than I do.” Now, that was cool. Maybe it was “Serpentine, Shel!” from The In-laws—truly one of the funniest films ever made—or his subtle homage to Lieutenant Columbo as the loving and wise grandfather in The Princess Bride.

I was out for dinner with my wife and friends many years ago, and we were discussing what celebrity we would like to have lunch with, and after not much thought, I said I wished I could have lunch with Peter Falk. Skipping ahead a few years, I was at lunch with my family at a country club near our home, and my wife tapped me on the shoulder, pointed to the next table, and said, “You got your wish.” I looked at the next table and didn’t have a clue what she was talking about. Sitting there was a disheveled-looking man with a full beard and mustache. She said, “Close your eyes and listen to the voice.” Sure enough, it was Peter Falk sitting at the head of the table next to ours. When he stood up to get some coffee, I gathered my courage and followed him to the dessert table, where I introduced myself. Just then, I noticed a torn piece of clothing pinned to his lapel and knew that I had probably not picked an opportune time for a first meeting. He was friendly but short and told me that his mother had just passed away and the funeral was that morning. He said to drop him a letter if we were interested in releasing Columbo on DVD, and off he went.  Sheepishly, I walked away, thinking my lunch wasn’t all that I had hoped it would be.

Luckily, I would have another chance.

We were working on a box set of John Cassavetes films and, unbeknownst to me, the producer of the discs had set up interviews and lunch with Peter Falk and Gena Rowlands in Los Angeles. My partner, Peter Becker, said to her, “If you’re having lunch with Peter Falk, you’d better invite Jonathan.” That was all I needed, and I headed to LA the following Monday. I arrived early at lunch, checked in with the hostess, and was told the only one there so far was Mr. Falk. I was shown to the table, and there he was, just as you would imagine—glasses on his head, reading a spread-open newspaper. I introduced myself (again), and he said, “Pleasure to meet you.” I couldn’t help saying that we had met before and told him of our previous meeting. He said, “That was you!” He could not have been sweeter or more engaging. We spent two hours over lunch talking about Cassavetes and filmmaking, movies, and The In-laws specifically—he kept repeating “Serpentine, Shel!” as he entertained us with stories from the set. We talked about golf and growing up in New York. What a treat to finally get my wish and my lunch. I’ll miss him.

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