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10 great Peter Falk television roles before Columbo

Before slipping on the tan rain coat, the famous television detective played thugs, thieves, murderers and gamblers. Dig into the best of his delicious early work.

Today marks what would have been the 88th birthday of Peter Falk. The actor will forever be inextricably linked to his role as Columbo. In the minds of many, Falk is Columbo, and vice versa. Of course, he appeared on screens for years both before and after slipping on the tan raincoat. The New York born performer was even known to do a little song and dance, as seen in the classic Rat Pack vehicle, Robin and the 7 Hoods.



And who could forget Falk's appearance in the video for Ray Parker, Jr.'s "Ghostbusters"? Well, most of us, honestly. 

Early in his career, Falk worked as a supporting actor in a plethora of MeTV shows — and for the most part he played a crook. Keep an eye peeled (or set reminders) for these gems.

Naked City

"Lady Bug, Lady Bug"
Falk first appeared before a camera in 1957. A year later, he was in the first season of ABC's gritty crime serial Naked City. In this first of his four spots, the future detective is firmly on the other side of the law, playing an extortionist. He's just as delicious as a noir tough guy.

"A Death of Princes"
In the first episode of season two, Falk returns as "Gimpy." The series had shortened its title from The Naked City to Naked City but expanded to an hour. With more time came more characters, including one played by George Maharis of Route 66 — which was a loose spin-off from Naked City.

"A Very Cautious Boy"
Later in season two, Falk was back, again playing a tough. Though this time his character Lee Staunton is a man hired to protect a restaurant from extortionist. 

"Lament for a Dead Indian"
His final appearance came late in the third season. Falk plays an old Army buddy who just might be bad news. Noir like this is best viewed in the dark. Catch Naked City on MeTV Sunday nights at 3AM | 2 C. 

Have Gun - Will Travel

"The Poker Fiend"
Paladin is hired by a woman to extract her gambleholic husband from a poker game before he loses his shirt. Our hero must face off against Falk in cards. Falk might be an unexpected character for a western, but he's wisely not asked to be a cowboy and instead makes for a great gambler. Have Gun currently airs in some markets on Saturdays at 10AM | 9C.

The Untouchables

"The Underworld Bank"
Falk continues to play on the dark side, here as a man who leads a fur heist.

"The Troubleshooter"

Again a hood, Falk tries to bribe Eliot Ness and then frame him for shooting a man. Still hard to believe he would end up an iconic good guy at this point.


The Twilight Zone


"The Mirror"
Perhaps in his most unlikely role, Falk is a Che Guevara / Fidel Castro type revolutionary named Ramos Clemente in some vague Central American land who becomes paranoid thanks to a magic mirror.


The Alfred Hitchcock Hour

"Bonfire"
By now, we've seen Falk as a gambler, thief and thug, but his most sinister role came in 1962, midway through the first season of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. In a tale that is very Flannery O'Connor–ish, Falk is a cab-driving preacher who murders two women. The weather reveals his evil deeds. Catch The Alfred Hitchcock Hour weeknights at 3AM | 2C on MeTV.


Wagon Train


"The Gus Morgan Story"
By this time, 1963, Falk had recently been twice nominated for an Oscar and an Emmy (and nabbed one of the latter). As the title character, Falk is a railroad man looking to tunnel through a mountain no matter what the cost. He plays opposite rock & roll singer Tommy Sands. It doesn't seem like such a villainous role, but the darkness creeps in this captivating morality conundrum. Stranded in a snow storm, Gus must make a terrible choice between two lives. Hard to imagine that eight years later, he would be asking, "Just one more thing…" to characters much like this. Wagon Train rolls on MeTV every Saturday at 11AM | 10C.



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