Versatile actor Peter Falk returns to his role as the legendary cigar smoking sleuth, Columbo.
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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 you?' "
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, he 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."
Arthur Marx is the author of three books and two plays about his father, Groucho.