The famous Columbo statue in Budapest causes a great deal of head-scratching to tourists, according to szeretlekmagyarorszag.hu. They cannot figure out the reason behind it ever being made or why exactly it stands where it stands.
It was revealed in 2013, two years after his death, that there would be a statue commemorating Peter Falk, the actor who took on the role of Columbo for many years. The plan was to immortalise the actor in one of his most famous roles, as Lieutenant Columbo, a homicide detective of the LAPD, in district V. in Budapest. There was a call for applicants to make the statue.
The plan was to portray Peter Falk, who died aged 83, in his signature tanned raincoat and together with his loyal sidekick, a basset hound. The statue of the world-famous detective role was to be set up at the end of Falk Miksa Street, since Peter Falk himself mentioned in his autobiography that he had Hungarian ancestry thanks to one of his grandparents.
Perhaps this is what sparked the rumour that many people claim to have known: that Peter Falk is the descendant (great-grandchild or great-great-grandchild) of the famous Hungarian writer and journalist, Miksa Falk.
The competition was a success and the statue was unveiled in 2014 at the junction of Falk Miksa Street and Saint Stephen Boulevard, sparkling wonder and confusion ever since.
Although the statue is a popular tourist destination and featured many times on various social media photos, certain foreign sites do like to make fun of it.
These sites like to point out the three curiosities of the statue.
Peter Falk was born in 1927 in New York, as a child of Jewish immigrant parents. His parents were both born in New York, while his paternal grandparents were from Russia, his maternal grandmother was from Czechoslovakia and his maternal grandfather was from Hungary.
Falk played sports as a child and was interested in acting, too. Although he was preparing to become a federal agent, he took acting classes and turned towards acting in the ‘50s, aged 28. His first roles were for the stage but he later managed to get into movies and TV shows.
He was nominated for two Oscars (Murder Inc., Pocketful of Miracles) and several Golden Globe and Emmy Awards, a lot of which he won.
Although he has played in a plethora of movies, most Hungarians got to know him from Columbo. It is therefore interesting that, after the first episode (Prescription: Murder) in 1968, the second only came out three years later due to Falk’s hesitation and doubt regarding the role. Nevertheless, this second episode (Ransom for a Dead Man), shown in Hungarian cinemas, really launched the Columbo series, conquering the whole world.
For his role as Columbo, Falk was nominated for 10 Emmys, 5 of which he won, and 9 Golden Globes, of which one he could take home. The man in the role of the shabby-looking and tame detective who pretended to be slow and not too sharp but was, in reality, a genius, captured the hearts and attention of Hungarian fans as well, to which the brilliant dubbing only added.
Even though one of Falk’s grandfathers was, in fact, born in Hungary, he did not bear the Falk name but was named Hochhauser. There are other plot holes in the urban legend that Miksa Falk is in any way connected to Peter Falk.
Miksa Falk was born in 1828, to an impoverished Jewish-Hungarian merchant family. He was working by the age of 14, as well as going to school. His reviews and translations were first published in 1843, and he soon became the sub-editor of the paper called Ungar. He enrolled in a school in Vienna but then decided to get a job at the savings bank while still working as a journalist.
He said of himself that ‘I was still half a child when I began writing, so I have up to 50 years of scribbles before I came to the public light.’
He had met István Széchenyi several times, paying weekly visits to the ‘greatest Hungarian’ in Döbling. They developed a friendship and won each other’s trust, so the majority of the count’s anonymous writings saw the light with the help of Falk, to which he added forewords or at times entire chapters.
His articles helped the Austro-Hungarian Compromise of 1867 to come about and he became a corresponding member of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences.
He was introduced to Elisabeth, more commonly known Sisi, the wife of Franz Joseph, in 1866. Beginning in 1867, the countess and Falk met regularly. At the time, he was still involved with journalism while also dipping his toes into politics. He retreated from the spotlight in 1906 and died just 2 years later.
When the possibility of a connection between the two Falks was first suggested, the chief archivist of the Budapest Capital Archive, Gabriella Csiffáry, wrote that
‘I have been researching the Hungarian ancestry of Peter Falk for a year now but only found clues on his maternal side. I have no idea where the theory of a connection to Miksa Falk originates from. I have checked every single one of Miksa Falk’s descendants’ birth certificates and not one suggests any kind of connection.’
Ergo, it turns out the statue commemorates more an urban legend than actual historical facts. Recently, the addition of the small Mihály Kolodko-statue behind Columbo provides a twist to the entire myth.
Even though there is likely no connection at all between Peter Falk and Miksa Falk, it is fun to make up theories or just take pictures with the statue that has by now become a signature tourist destination in Budapest.
Featured image: Alpár Kató – Daily News Hungary