In a hearing Wednesday, the daughter of "Columbo" star Peter Falk described lifelong tensions between the 81-year-old actor's children and his wife of more than 30 years. Now Catherine Falk and her stepmother are locked in a court battle for control of the ailing star, who has dementia.
Catherine Falk said she filed the petition requesting that she be made conservator of her father because his wife, Shera Denise Falk, has not allowed her to visit or speak to him since his hip replacement surgery last year. Shera Falk has contended in court papers that the daughter is estranged from her father, and questioned her motive in filing for a conservatorship.
Probate Judge Aviva Bobb indicated Wednesday that she was inclined to side with Falk's wife, but said she felt measures were needed to ensure that the daughter would be allowed to see her father. Peter Falk did not attend the hearing.
In lengthy testimony that lasted about four hours, Catherine Falk recounted that when she was growing up, Peter Falk was a loving father whose affection was limited by his new wife.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Friday, May 29, 2009 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 National Desk 1 inches; 34 words Type of Material: Correction
Peter Falk: An article in Thursday's Section A on the court case over a conservatorship for actor Peter Falk gave the name of Falk's wife as Shera Denise Falk. She is Shera Danese Falk.
Catherine Falk, who was adopted at birth by Falk and his first wife, said she lived with her mother after the couple's divorce. She said Shera Falk repeatedly slammed the door on her and her sister when they tried to visit their father at his home in Beverly Hills. She said her father sent her hundreds of postcards from his trips around the world during the time the TV series "Columbo" was internationally popular. She said she maintained a good relationship with her father, despite a falling out over a legal dispute about paying for her education.
Starting last year, Peter Falk began forgetting conversations and asking her to repeat things, his daughter testified. After his surgery in June, she became increasingly concerned about how her father was being treated, but his wife refused to allow her to see or speak to her father, she testified. Catherine Falk filed a petition for conservatorship in December.
The daughter visited her father in February during a court-ordered supervised visit at which a flock of attorneys was present. She testified that he appeared healthy and was more coherent than she had expected. When she asked him if he recognized her, he replied, "I want to," Catherine Falk told the judge.
"I'm not expecting anything or hoping for a miracle, just to be next to him," she said.
Shera Falk's attorney, in cross examination, questioned Catherine Falk about her interest in her father's estate.
"There is certainly concern about finances on the part of Catherine," said Shera Falk's attorney, Marshal Oldman, after the hearing. "Whether that's the primary motive, we'll let the court decide."
The hearing is expected to resume Monday, when Oldman said he would call Shera Falk to testify.