[Illustration by GREG JOENS]

Colonel.jpgBY COLONEL TOM SHEEHY In the Spring of 1978, I was working for A&M Records in Boston. I was staying at the Copley Plaza Hotel, and as I was getting dressed, I decided not to wear my jacket that morning. I got on the elevator, and as it stopped on the floor below me, a man got on who looked very familiar, but what really caught my attention was his manner of dress. He was wearing a very heavy winter coat which suggested to me, the weather must have changed over night. I debated whether or not to go back to my room and get a sweater or a jacket, but just then, the elevator door opened. The man and I got out and proceded to walk to the front door of the hotel. As I got closer to the entrance, I could see that there was a lot of snow on the ground. I was somewhat perplexed, because yes, this was Boston, but it was springtime! Just then, a guard stopped me and said I would have to use the side entrance of the hotel to exit the building. I asked him why, and he told me because they are filming in front of the hotel. Ah ha !!! Then it dawned on me. It was fake snow, and  the man with the squinty face was an actor. In fact he was Peter Falk, and they were filming the television series “Coloumbo.”

RELATED: Mr. Falk’s prime-time popularity, like that of his contemporary Telly Savalas, of “Kojak” fame, was founded on a single role. A lieutenant in the Los Angeles Police Department, Columbo was a comic variation on the traditional fictional detective. With the keen mind of Sherlock Holmes and Philip Marlowe, he was cast in the mold of neither — not a gentleman scholar, not a tough guy. He was instead a mass of quirks and peculiarities, a seemingly distracted figure in a rumpled raincoat, perpetually patting his pockets for a light for his signature stogie. He drove a battered Peugeot, was unfailingly polite, was sometimes accompanied by a basset hound named Dog, and was constantly referring to the wisdom of his wife (who was never seen on screen) and a variety of relatives and acquaintances who were identified in Homeric-epithet-like shorthand — an uncle who played the bagpipes with the Shriners, say, or a nephew majoring in dermatology at U.C.L.A. — and who were called to mind by the circumstances of the crime at hand. It was a low-rent affect that was especially irksome to the high-society murderers he outwitted in episode after episode. MORE

listen.gifFRESH AIR: Peter Falk joined Fresh Air‘s Terry Gross in 1995 for a discussion about his acting career and about what it was like to grow up with a glass eye. “I was very comfortable with it,” he said. “And I realized you could get a laugh with it. … You could always get people’s attention if you took a spoon and tapped it.” MORE

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