Monday, June 27, 2011

Peter Falk, plus a few other questions answered

We spent some time on Sunday afternoon at York County's best annual used-book sale, the Book Nook Bonanza. On the final day of the sale, you can get "a yardstick's worth of books" for $5, so that makes it a great day for the whole family to go treasure hunting.

In an odd coincidence, one of the first books I laid eyes on was this 1973 Scholastic Books Service paperback featuring Peter Falk, who died last Thursday at age 83, on the cover. The chapter about Falk leads with the oft-repeated tale of his glass eye and a game of youth baseball:
He had had many years to get used to his glass eye. Because of a tumor, his own eye was taken out when he was three. As a kid, he was sensitive about it. "It was a problem until I was 12 or so," he said. "I was self-conscious about it. Then I started playing ball and going to the gym -- and suddenly it just became a joke."

Falk once stole third in a baseball game and the umpire called him out. "I took out my eye, handed it to the umpire, and said, 'Take it. You need it more than I do.'"
And who were the other TV stars of 1973? There are some hits and misses. The other actors profiled in the book include:
  • Sebastian Cabot1, who was the narrator of a new anthology show called "Ghost Story." The show did so poorly that Cabot was dumped after 14 episodes and the series was retitled "Circle of Fear."
  • Sandy Duncan of the "The Sandy Duncan Show," which lasted only one season even though it featured both Tom Bosley and M. Emmet Walsh.
  • Heshimu of "Room 222," who was pretty much never heard from again.
  • And some on-the-mark profiles of Lucille Ball, Valerie Harper, Carroll O'Connor and the always-dependable Lassie.
Also coincidentally, this was the second piece of Falk-related ephemera that I came across in the past couple of weeks. We finally made our trip to Shartlesville earlier this month. Near Roadside America, we stopped at a wonderful shop called Antique Treasures, which was filled with great oddball items and about 20 formerly stray cats who had been adopted by the shopkeepers and now had their run of the store. (Most of the cats were asleep, including one that we discovered sleeping inside a large bowl on the top of one free-standing shelf.)

One of the items I picked up at Antique Treasures was a nifty staplebound book (pictured at right) on the making of "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World," one of my favorite comedies.

There are only a few passing references to Falk in the book, as he wasn't one of the star-studded film's primary actors.

But Falk is featured prominently in a neat behind-the-scenes photo, sitting next to Phil Silvers during a break in production (Falk is wearing the blue shirt and his yellow taxi-driver cap):

With Falk's passing, the number of remaining living cast members from "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World" is dwindling.

Of the primary stars, the only ones who are still alive are Sid Caesar, Mickey Rooney2 and Jonathan Winters. Secondary characters who are still alive include Barrie Chase (Sylvester's bikini-clad girlfriend), Marvin Kaplan (one of the gas-station attendants attacked by Winters), Jerry Lewis (a quick cameos) and Carl Reiner (the airport tower controller).

1. You might know Cabot better as Mr. French from "Family Affair."
2. I apologize in advance, but I've been waiting for an opportunity to mention an obscure and dreadful 1971 Mickey Rooney film called "The Manipulator," which Joan and I suffered through a couple years ago. This is not the cuddly Rooney you're used to. Here's a terrific review and skewering of the movie by the always entertaining Final Girl. (Warning: One image makes it mildly unsafe for work. A second image will haunt your dreams.)

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