Peter Falk was the first actor nominated for an Oscar and an Emmy in the same year
They had nothing to do with Columbo, either.
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Peter Falk is so associated with his character Columbo that it is easy to overlook that he was brilliant long before he ate chili in a raincoat. It is to be expected, considering he portrayed Lt. Columbo on television for a whopping 35 years, from 1968 to 2003.
What's funny is that playing the iconic detective perhaps saved him from being typecast as a villain. Falk portrayed a variety of unsavory characters on television during the early 1960s. In The Twilight Zone episode "The Mirror," Falk starred as a paranoid Castro-esque revolutionary who begins seeing would-be assassins in a mirror. In Alfred Hitchcock's series, Alfred Hitchcock Presents and The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, Falk first starred as a gangster and then a murderous evangelical.
Those darker roles all came in the wake of his breakout performance in the 1960 film Murder, Inc. In the gangster flick, Falk showed his sinister side as violent hitman Abe Reles. Falk's work in Murder, Inc. was celebrated by critics, though the film itself was considered rather average.
According to Falk, his getting the role was a "miracle," without which he would have never been nearly as successful. In fact, Falk felt so indebted to the character that he played the psychopathic killer twice, resuming the role again in 1960 for the television series The Witness.
When award season came around in 1961, Falk found himself the darling of Hollywood. He received nominations for his supporting roles in Murder, Inc. and the television program The Law and Mr. Jones, a heavy episode about coming down off heroin.
It was the first time in history that an actor had earned nominations for an Oscar and an Emmy in the same year.
Incredibly, Falk repeated the feat the following year.
In 1962, Falk found himself once again praised, thanks to mesmerizing turns in Pocketful of Miracles (pictured up top) and The Dick Powell Theatre. In the latter, he played a truck driver who picks up a pregnant hitch-hiker. That would be the only performance that earned him a trophy win.
Since then, the single-year Oscar-Emmy feat has been achieved by more than a dozen actors, including Jason Robards (1978), John Gielgud (1982), Whoopi Goldberg (1991), Mira Sorvino (1996), Frances McDormand (1997), Helen Hunt (1998), Jim Broadbent (2002), Chris Cooper (2003), Helen Mirren (2007), Forest Whitaker (2007), Jeff Bridges (2010) and Melissa Leo (2011). In the era when landing a Netflix series can be just as prestigious — if not more — than a big-screen role, it'll continue to happen.
But Peter Falk was first. And he did it twice.