Saturday, June 25, 2011

Peter Falk got his acting start in Hartford

The New York Times notes in its obituary of actor Peter Falk, who died Thursday night at age 83, that the "Columbo" star got the acting bug while making a living as, of all things, an efficiency expert with the state budget office in Hartford. Falk had grown up in and around New York City, served a stint in the Merchant Marine as a cook, and eventually earned a degree in political science from the New School for Social Research in New York and a master’s degree in public administration from Syracuse University. Sometime during his Hartford stay, he joined the Mark Twain Masquers, a well-regarded troupe of amateur actors. That led to taking acting classes in Westport from Eva Le Gallienne, who convinced him to put away his brief case and act full-time. He left Hartford at age 29.

In a 2006 interview with the Hartford Courant to publicize his just-published memoir, Falk recalled his days here:

"They hired me as an efficiency expert. I wasn't very efficient. The first day on the job, I was looking for the Capitol building. This magnificent building, surrounded with a magnificent lawn and sitting up on a knoll high up above the rest of the city, and I can't find it. I wound up at the post office."

Yet, going to Hartford "turned out to be the luckiest thing that ever happened to me," Falk added. "I found this outstanding theater group" -- the Masquers, who disbanded in 2001, after 69 seasons.

Courant Staff Writer Susan Dunne noted in the 2006 article that her newspaper's first review of a Falk performance came with the Masquers' staging of Clifford Odets' "The Country Girl" on April 6, 1954. The unnamed critic didn't care much for Falk's performance--or get his name right:

"Folk turns in a capable performance. However, at times, one might get the impression that he at one time was a great admirer of James Cagney." 

But over the next year or so, the reviews improved dramatically.

"If it wasn't for the Mark Twain Masquers, I don't know where my life would have gone," Falk said.