When Peter Falk died, one year ago today, our friends at Obit-Mag lamented the overuse of "rumpled" to describe him. Originally published July 2011 on Obit-Mag.com.
Poor Peter Falk. A titan of Broadway, a favorite of art-house directors, an icon of TV’s mystery genre. And yet so many of his obits seem to come down to one word: rumpled. There it is in the Wall Street Journal’s lead: “Peter Falk brought rumpled panache to television as Columbo.” And there it is in Variety: “the rumpled, cigar-smoking Los Angeles police detective.” The Washington Post labels Falk’s character “deceptively rumpled.” The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and NPR are among those to attach the R-word to Columbo’s raincoat. “A squat man chewing cigars in a rumpled raincoat, he stands tall among TV's most self-assured heroes,” concludes the Associated Press. Grim Reader almost feels as if the United Kingdom’s Independent deserves a special prize for avoiding the word altogether. It calls him “one of television's most enduring detectives – and certainly the shabbiest.”
Peter Falk as Columbo (Wikimedia Commons/Studio publicity portrait)
In this case, though, the focus on what the New York Times calls “actorly tics, prop room appurtenances and his own physical idiosyncrasies” is about more than allowing a beloved character to stand in for the person who played the role. Falk himself created Columbo’s rumples, eschewing the fancy clothes picked by the studio and selecting a beat-up old car. In inverting the old role of the smartypants detective by having Columbo play-act like the dumbest guy in the room, Falk also captured the spirit of a time when icons were turning into clay everywhere. The Times also notes that as the years went on, Falk and Columbo seemed more and more alike. Take this line, from the actor’s memoir: “What are you hanging around for? Just one thing. You want to know how he gets caught.” The prose is most definitely rumpled.
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