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Who should have been a Columbo killer?

Who should have been a Columbo killer?

As magnificent as Peter Falk was in the role of Lieutenant Columbo, the show’s enduring appeal owes just as much to the stellar contribution of that most revered group of guest stars: the Columbo killer.

The original 70s’ series provided us with some sizzling killers. The cherished and quintessential trio of Jack Cassidy, Robert Culp and Patrick McGoohan cast the longest shadows, but the quality of the supporting menagerie of murderers the show offered up is almost too good for words: William Shatner; Robert Vaughan; Ruth Gordon; Leonard Nimoy; John Cassavetes; Anne Baxter; Ross Martin; Ray Milland; Dick Van Dyke; Janet Leigh; Johnny Cash and so many more. These were household names, and the contributions made by these star performers is a big reason why the lustre of the 70s series remains undimmed to this day. There are very few Columbo baddies that you’d willingly replace, that’s for sure. But had there been just a few more episodes, or another cheeky series snuck in to the 70s run, I do sometimes ponder who might have been drafted in to be pitted against the doughty Lieutenant.

“The contributions made by the cast of Columbo killers is a big reason why the lustre of the 70s series remains undimmed to this day.”

It’s been a debate I’ve had a few times with fellow fans via the @columbophile Twitter account, and the list of names put forward has been varied and well reasoned. Some cracking suggestions included Roy Scheider, Bette Davis, Anthony Perkins, Christopher Lee, Edward Woodward, Maggie Smith, William Windom, Max Von Sydow, John Saxon, Louise Fletcher, Roscoe Lee Browne, Robert Forster, Elliot Gould, Natalie Wood, James Earl Jones and dozens more. It’s always a fun topic to discuss, so I’ve put forward a few candidates who I’d personally love to have seen play a 70s’ Columbo murderer. I’ve tried to ensure these are realistic choices, rather than just straight wishful thinking, and selected hypothetical guests who really might have appeared if circumstances were different. Read on!

Diana Rigg

Beautiful, smart and sexy, Diana Rigg could have played a femme fatale par excellence. Although known primarily at the time from her catsuit-clad role in The Avengers, and as a Bond Girl in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Rigg was much more than just a pretty face. As her career developed, she has had multiple opportunities to show her range on stage and screen, and she’s rarely been found wanting. Not only all that, but her tigerish fight behind the scenes to raise her Avengers wage to an acceptable level would likely have earned her a nod of approval from Peter Falk, who was famously known to put the studio through hell when it came to renegotiating his annual deal. The two combined would have hit it off on screen beautifully.
Diana Rigg

A tough negotiator, Diana Rigg and Peter Falk could have become BFFs

James McEachin

If there’s one thing Columbo really lacked, it was a black actor playing a murderer. In hindsight it seems to be a major oversight and there’s no compelling argument for why it never happened. Sammy Davis Jnr was allegedly on the hit list for producers, but for whatever reason it didn’t come together. So why didn’t they turn to Jimmy McEachin? He twice appeared as in support roles in Columbo (in Etude in Black and Make Me a Perfect Murder), he was an established TV lead in his own right (albeit in the short-lived Levinson & Link created Tenafly) and he could have delivered both the intensity and, when required, the affability to play a very convincing Columbo killer. I really consider him one that got away.
James McEachin

James McEachin: twice a Columbo guest star, a killer begging to be cast?

Roger Moore

Some of Columbo’s greatest hits featured him squaring up to ultra-smooth criminals like Jack Cassidy, George Hamilton and Robert Vaughan. Roger Moore would have slipped into such a role as naturally as a certain spy slipping between silk sheets with a leading lady. His refined British accent and eyebrow-cocking expertise would have helped to differentiate him from the rest, too. Now you’ve thought about it, you’d have to agree that he’d be a great choice, wouldn’t you? He’d have needed to appear in the first couple of seasons, of course, before James Bond blasted him to mega stardom.
Roger Moore

Don’t tell me you’re not IN LOVE with the idea of Roger Moore as a Columbo baddie…

Gena Rowlands

A good friend of mine on Twitter (@GregMcCambley, give him a follow) put Gena forward, and at first I just couldn’t picture her in the role of a killer – no doubt because I was prejudiced by the fragility she showed as wheelchair-bound Elizabeth Van Wick in Columbo Playback in 1975. In hindsight, that was doing her a great disservice because Rowlands was a wonderful actress with an amazing range. Equally importantly, she and Falk were a sensational partnership. Go and watch A Woman Under the Influence for proof of that. She could have brought anything to the role of murderer: instability, vulnerability, sensitivity. But she could also be tough, as she showed in 1980’s Gloria. Any episode featuring her as a lead would have made for fascinating viewing.
Gena Rowlands

Gena Rowlands could have brought just about anything to the role of a Columbo killer

Billy Dee Williams

Before the world discovered Lando Calrissian, Billy Dee could have won hearts and minds as a cool black killer in the later 70s’ series of Columbo. A rising star in his own right at the time, he would have been dynamite as a smooth, new money lothario type, who would be on a charm offensive to all around him – even the Lieutenant, at first. He’d have to be a love rat, of course, and would doubtlessly have committed a despicable crime of passion, but the charisma, million dollar smile and manicured good looks brought to the table by ‘Mr Colt 45’ must surely have brought joy to millions. Indeed I like this idea so much I’m slightly sad every day that it never happened. When time travel is invented, I’m hoping this is a wrong that will be put right.
Billy Dee Williams

“Well hello… what have we here…?” Billy Dee’s smooth looks and charisma would have made for dynamite viewing

Frank Sinatra

Ol’ Blue Eyes’ reputed association with the mob, not to mention his excellent relationship with Peter Falk (his co-star in 1964’s Robin and the Seven Hoods), would have made this mash-up solid gold. Swan Song gave Johnny Cash the chance to show his credentials as singer Tommy Brown in 1974, but I see Sinatra as playing a much harder character, possibly linked to the underworld, who could have believably portrayed a killer with no conscience, and whose belief in his power and connections would classically lull him into a false sense of security. In my mind, this would be one of the most popular of all episodes and known to just about every classic TV fan who ever drew breath. And by the way, if you’ve never watched Peter Falk’s hilarious performance as Columbo in the 1977’s ‘Frank Sinatra Celebrity Roast’, please do so the second you’ve finished reading this article. View it here.
Frank Sinatra

Frank Sinatra as a Columbo murderer? It can only have been solid gold…

Deforest Kelley

With Leonard Nimoy and William Shatner both appearing in memorable Columbo outings in the 1970s, it would have made perfect sense for the show to have found a killer’s role for the missing link in the Great Star Trek Triumvirate of Kirk, Spock and Bones. Playing to his strengths, Kelley would have been an impatient and unpleasant killer who treated the Lieutenant meanly from the start and went downhill from there. In fact I wouldn’t have wanted to see even a hint of a smile from the misery guts for the whole episode. There’s little doubt that his comeuppance would have been one of the most satisfying on record.
Deforest Kelley

Deforest Kelley could have been the most heartless guest star since Leonard Nimoy…

Anne Bancroft

A few years after her unforgettable turn as Mrs Robinson in The Graduate, Anne Bancroft was on a break from her film career and I can totally picture her as a Columbo killer in the early 1970s. She’d have brought a powerful sense of sultriness and provocativeness to the role – a step beyond that shown by Lee Grant in Ransom for a Dead Man – which would have been a very modern take for the series, and would no doubt have left the bashful Lieutenant hot and bothered and continually at a loss for words. And that could never be a bad thing.
Anne Bancroft

Anne Bancroft could have withered the Lieutenant with just one look

Peter Cushing

A gaggle of horror legends could conceivably have been cast as Columbo killers (including Christopher Lee and Vincent Price), but Hammer’s finest, Peter Cushing, would have been my pick by a distance. Playing a coldly calculating villain of high intellect, his clipped English delivery would have been an aural joy and he would have convincingly conveyed a chilling menace, despite advancing age and a slender build. Yes, a most delicious confrontation would have been on the cards, and for Cushing it would have been excellent practice for assuming the role of the wicked Grand Moff Tarkin in Star Wars a few years later. The big question, though: could viewers have handled the giddy thrill of Columbo essentially being pitted against Sherlock Holmes? Perhaps the 20th century wasn’t ready for that…
Peter Cushing

Sherlock Holmes vs Columbo could have been the televisual match-up of the 20th century

Orson Welles

Man mountain Welles could have easily steamrollered his way through an episode – and he’d have been one hell of a proposition for Columbo to handle. Welles’ resonant voice, full beard and massive physical stature – like Theo Bikel on growth enhancers – would have made him an awe-inspiring presence alongside the diminutive Lieutenant. In my mind he’d play some sort of media mogul (a bigger, angrier, less vulnerable version of Death Lends a Hand‘s Arthur Kennicut, perhaps), whose wealth and political connections would make him almost untouchable, and whose bluster and bark would have had most mortals scurrying for cover. He’d rattle Columbo, perhaps as much as Mrs Peck. But Columbo would still take him down after a gargantuan mental tussle.
Orson Welles

Orson and Columbo could have had a smoke off

I would love to hear your thoughts on who you think would have been a great adversary for the Lieutenant in the 1970s. Please leave me a comment below with your suggestions! If this article is a hit, I might even do a follow-up about likely killers for the ‘new’ episodes of 1989-2003, which would be an entirely different conversation. As always, I really appreciate you taking the time to read this article. Have a great day…

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82 thoughts on “Who should have been a Columbo killer?

  1. I still can’t understand casting Vincent Price in an episode and not have him play the murderer. Oh what could have been…

  2. Billy Dee and Cushing are genius castings. You shoulda been a studio exec. Welles is so on the nose that it’s hard to say whether he’d be the best or worst Columbo villain ever.
    Sinatra another choice with high potential as long as he committed to playing it straight — no ironic self-parody.

    • I’ve often thought about adding more Actors of Color would have really been something! For one, I can’t see any of us doing this:
      Following Columbo around trying to “help” him do his job.
      Answering his countless whodunnit questions.
      Revisiting the scene of the crime to hide evidence.
      Killing stupid people over an inheritance.

  3. Reading an obituary today for Orson Bean, a comic actor with a light, whimsical touch who did a lot of American TV in the 1970s, reminded me of the original screenplay for the episode that turned out to be “An Old-Fashioned Murder.” That one was supposed to feature Burgess Meredith as a character modeled on Richard III. If it had been produced that way, I think it would have been a disaster. Meredith did a lot of very good work, but he spent a lot of time in the 1970s shamelessly chewing scenery, and that script was full of invitations for overacting on a scale that would have made his performance as The Penguin on the Batman show look like something you’d see in a Pinter play. Now, if Orson Bean had played the role, it might have been very good indeed. When he’s trying to fool the other characters into thinking he’s harmless, he could draw on a couple of decades playing happy-go-lucky eccentrics; when he’s revealing his malice to the audience, and ultimately to Columbo, he wouldn’t have to do much to establish a contrast with that persona that would shock us.

  4. I always considered it a shame that James Mason never was bothered by Lt. Columbo in a single episode. As someone suggested above, Robert Shaw would have been an excellent killer as well. Lee Van Cleef would have been an interesting choice. I don’t know what killer occupation he would have fit, but he would have been quite intimidating in a scene vs. Columbo. I would also point out at least thee guest stars that should have been promoted to the main villain, Vincent Price, Kevin McCarthy, and Leslie Nielsen. I can only imagine the power of an episode with Columbo squaring off against Price the murderer.

  5. Julie Newmar would have been a great female villain. At least she was in an episode however.
    Agnes Moorhead and Elizabeth Montgomery would have been decent villains since they both had good range.

    Peter Haskell was all over TV back in 70’s and was good at playing bad guys. He was the victim in one of the 1990’s versions.

    We love him as Coach Hayden Fox but Craig T Nelson might have been great as a COLUMBO foil as he was often a bad guy in many soaps back then.

  6. Neat article. I think Elizabeth Taylor, Betty Davis, Joan Crawford, Vivien Leigh, and Barbara Stanwyck would all have made excellent Columbo killers. As for the men, I think Joseph Cotten, Richard Burton, Walter Huston, Peter Lorre, and Marlon Brando. As much as I do like Bogart, Grant, and Stewart, I think they would not have pulled off as villains on Columbo.

    • I was just taking to a friend who’s also a big COLUMBO fan as well.
      Here are my picks for killers that never were:

      John Vernon.
      He was all over TV back in those years and would have made an excellent COLUMBO foil. Perhaps he just didn’t have time to play one.

      James Shigeta.
      He was a very versatile actor that could easily play good guys or very smooth and sinister villains.

      Lloyd Bochner.
      He was great at playing villains but for whatever reason, they never cast him as a killer. He was in an episode but not as a bad guy.

      Raymond Burr.
      He had a long proven record of playing villains but perhaps IRONSIDE kept him too busy at the time.

      George Sanders.
      Sadly he passed away suddenly in 1972 otherwise you know he would have made an excellent COLUMBO villain.

  7. I think of what Dick Van Dyke did in Negative Reaction, evoking the ultra-likable character he had played in The Dick Van Dyke Show to ensure that one of the least sympathetic villains would be watchable, and it occurs to me that other 1960s sitcom stars could have done the same thing. In particular, I would suggest that Bob Crane of Hogan’s Heroes would have been a terrific Columbo murderer. Among the episodes that were actually made, I can see him in place of William Shatner in Fade In to Murder. Shatner does a good job projecting a feeling of guilt, and that gives the episode its emotional center. But if they had wanted to build it around a more gleefully sinister villain, Crane could really show you a man taking relish in working out a diabolical scheme. He would also have given a lighter touch to The Most Crucial Game than did Robert Culp, though I wouldn’t want to downgrade Culp in any way.

  8. Michael Caine would be my top choice. Always great value as a villain. Just watch Dirty Rotten Scoundrels again, and tell me he wouldn’t have been great in Columbo.

    Oliver Reed would be my second pick for a similar dastardly Brit vibe.

    For a fantastic female killer I’d have to go with Shelly Winters. So entertaining in everything I’ve seen her in.

    Think Christopher Plummer, John Vernon, Joe Don Baker, and Stephanie Beacham all would’ve been great too.

  9. Roger Moore would’ve been truly awesome. Did you know that he actually appeared together with Peter Falk in a 1965 episode of “Trials of O’Brien”?

    Some of my choices:

    Donald Sutherland
    Larry Hagman
    Marcello Mastroianni – in a spectacular “Columbo visits Italy” episode!
    Terence Stamp
    Telly Savalas – he was brilliant as Blofeld, would’ve made an awesome “Columbo vs “Kojak”” episode
    Joan Collins
    George Peppard
    Adam West
    Richard Chamberlain
    Christopher Walken – in a 1990s episode
    William H. Macy – in a 1990s episode

    • A bunch of others I’ve come up with since yesterday:

      Jeremy Brett – the “real” Columbo vs. Sherlock Holmes episode!
      Dirk Benedict
      Liv Ullmann
      Burt Reynolds – before he became a big star
      Peter Graves
      John Colicos
      Christopher Lee
      Dennis Hopper
      Lloyd Bochner – after his brief stint in “The Most Dangerous Match”
      Bruce Dern
      David Warner
      Steven Berkoff
      Malcolm McDowell – either as his younger self in the 1970s, or as his usual villanious form in the 1990s
      Mark Hamill – in a 1990s episode
      John de Lancie – in a 1990s episode
      Ving Rhames – in a 1990s episode
      Udo Kier – in a 1990s episode

  10. In “Forgotten Lady” Columbo tells Diamond about gangster movies: “Edward G. Robinson, Humphrey Bogart, Jimmie Cagney — Edward G. Robinson” and later, that maybe that was the reason to become a cop. Peter Falk told us that Eddie Robinson maybe was the reason for becoming an actor. Robinson died 1973. Eddie Robinson would have been a gusto piece of it’s own.

  11. Another suggestion: Bob Mitchum. For the part in “Night of the Hunter” director Charles Laughton wantet a pure asshole. Mitchum: “Present”. Watch him in “Cape Fear”: Robert de Niro is a nice guy in the remake compared with him. He would have blown Jack Cassidy away. But similar to Poitier: Too expensive.

    • No. Robert De Niro wouldn’t have worked. He’s lousy doing accents and in his real voice, he sounds like Peter Falk. Also, Pacino and Keitel wouldn’t have worked for the same reason.

  12. Sidney Poitier. Somebody else had him on first place. Close your eyes and imagine Virgil Tibbs versus Columbo. With a perfect script it would have been dynamite! Too bad.
    Frankie Boy is nonsense; his best parts were victims (From Here to Eternity; Man with the Golden Arm).

  13. The more I read about Hollywood agents, the more I think they had a significant role in who got the part of the villain. And I’ve wondered if some of them discouraged their client from taking a role that would impact future roles. I’d have liked to see Angela Lansbury (suggested by a commenter) however it would definitely impact her Jessica Fletcher image.

    On the other hand, it was an honour to play the villain in Columbo, so perhaps my theory about agents isn’t correct. Considering that several actors got the role repeatedly, it could just be that there weren’t enough episodes to accommodate the long line to get into the show.

    Then again, maybe the agents’ having a hand in it isn’t too far-fetched considering the lack of talent in Murder in Malibu, a great story with a talentless villain.

  14. A few more who I think would have been terrific.

    Sidney Poitier
    Barbara Stanwyck
    Joanne Woodward
    Vincent Price
    Peter Cushing
    Lee Remick
    James Mason
    Jon Pertwee
    Lee Grant
    David Tomlinson
    Trevor Howard
    Richard Chamberlain
    Keir Dullea
    Cicely Tyson
    Kenneth More
    Robert Wagner
    John Gavin
    Roy Scheider
    Rex Harrison

  15. Christopher Plummer
    Julie Christie
    Robert Hardy
    Rod Taylor
    Yaphet Kotto
    Ian Holm
    Leslie Nielson
    Edward Mulhare
    Glynis Johns
    Deborah Kerr
    Nichelle Nichols
    Lon Satton
    Jennifer Jones
    Eleanor Parker
    Peter Finch
    Laurence Olivier
    Jean Simmons
    Jeremy Brett
    Jack Klugman
    Joseph Cotten
    John Mills
    Edward Woodward
    Max Von Sydow

  16. DeForest Kelley would have been an awesome guest!

    Other actors I think would have been excellent as possible Columbo guests:

    Chuck Connors
    Andy Griffith
    Richard Boone
    Adam West
    James Earl Jones
    Ernest Borgnine
    Peter Graves
    James Arness
    Alan Hale Jr
    Bill Bixby
    Dennis Hopper
    Candice Bergen
    Alan Arkin
    Debbie Reynolds
    Anthony Zerbe
    Richard Lynch
    Yaphet Kotto

  17. When it comes to the right time frame the late great Robert Hardy would have been my first choice. He was a character actor who could play a villain with an aura of invincicibility only the likes of Columbo or Sherlock Holmes could peal off.
    If Columbo would have been broadcast nowadays I’d always vote for Andrew Scott (Sherlock, Spectre) because I sometimes believe the man must be pure evil to play his parts the way he does.

  18. My guess for why they didn’t have black killers was probably because at the time they were right off the civil rights movement so they were probably nervous that having black killers would cause some big mess. That doesn’t explain the later series but I can see that being the reason in the 70s. Now myself included plenty of black folks wouls dig it but there are those loud minority that would’ve complained about it. If I had to choose what black stars of the 70s I would choose I would so love John Amos, Nicole Nichols, Sidney Portier, Richard Roundtree, Sherman Hemsley, Lena Horne, Eartha Kitt, Lou Gosset Jr. And the wildest would be Reds Foxx Idk how that would’ve worked but I could imagine how interesting it’d be to see Falk Vs. Foxx lol

    • Redd Foxx would have been fantastic! So much of the energy of Columbo comes from seeing the working-class cop overcome a smug upper-class killer that it would have been very hard to have an African American killer- no matter how rich you are, if you’re black in America the white cop is always going to have an edge over you. But Redd Foxx, he would have blown the doors off that show, that would have been fantastic.

  19. The best killers always need to have that special fun chemistry with Falk

    My choices would be:
    Peter Boyle
    Gene Wilder
    Dianne Carroll
    Bea Arthur
    Angela Lansbury
    Robert Gulliame
    Definitely James Earl Jones and Frank Sinatra
    Tom Skeritt
    Raymond Burr
    One choice I’m shocked no one has ever thought of is Charles Grodin. He would’ve been a perfect blend of affability and conniving deception.

    • Robert Guillaume would’ve been a very good choice. He played a murderer on the first episode of Diagnosis Murder and was in an episode of Perry Mason.

        • Hehehe…you make a good point. I don’t mind the second series, but it could have done without Malansky’s excessive running all over the place and exaggerated out-of-breath scenes. Once, he was locked up in a small room in a house…when he was released, he emerged from the room out of breath. Lol lol…

          • The original Perry Mason TV show is my all-time favorite. To be more accurate, the second Perry Mason was the New Perry Mason, which didn’t include Raymond Burr, and I had previously quoted this excerpt from an article from Ayn Rand,
            Ayn Rand’s article, “Perry Mason Finally Loses,” published in The Ayn Rand Letter, dated July 30, 1973.
            The Perry Mason article describes the original TV series, ending in 1966, and the striking contrast to the “new” version (which was very short lived). Near the end, the article observes:
            “By some ineffable osmosis of their own, the makers of the new “Perry Mason” sensed which human characteristics their masters — today’s intellectuals — want men to lose: firmness, self-confidence, and any trace of a moral tone, as well as any touch of dignity. To say that the new Perry Mason is an anti-hero, would be to flatter the show: he is just a slob. It is the image of the real Perry Mason that today’s cultural leaders want to eliminate from people’s consciousness, as a vision, a hope, an inspiration, or even a possibility. So much for their view of man and for their concern with education, the enlightenment, the happiness of “the people.”
            I remember watching a few of the Perry Mason made-for-TV movies, but the difference was like the difference between the original Columbo and the new version, and I don’t really remember any of the shows, and so your reference to the character, Malansky, doesn’t ring a bell.

            • That’s a good write-up about the “new” Mason show. I’ve never seen it though. “Perry Mason Returns” is the one I was referring to. They put a chase scene in every episode, if I remember correctly. First, Della’s son in real life acted as Paul Drake Jr., then when he left the show, William Moses got the part as the investigator, his name was Ken Malansky. They both were always getting beat-up, chased or knocked out, and they were always running through the street or up stairways and such, in pursuit of a witness or someone who had information about the case.

  20. Before I read past the title, I was going to mention folks who’d been the hero of an ‘80s TV show as killers for the ‘90s episodes: just picture a self-assured George Peppard, and a Smugger-Than-Jack-Cassidy Dirk Benedict, showing up like Leonard Nimoy and William Shatner before them; and picture Tom Selleck, maybe in the vein of Robert Conrad playing an affable guy who sure knows he’s in terrific shape for his age; and so on.

    But the one who came to mind for that — and who also fits if we limit this to ‘60s types getting tapped for this in the ‘70s — is Bill Bixby. After all, his signature schtick *later* in the decade was playing a cerebral guy who convincingly explains away stuff in an amiable fashion while his situation gets increasingly desperate; so why not have him warmly showcase that here, *first*?

  21. Quite late to the game, but here’s a few thoroughly unrealistic picks. 70s episodes only.

    – Sterling Hayden / Robert Ryan (for years I thought they were the same guy)
    – Peter Finch
    – Ben Gazzara
    – Louise Fletcher
    – Cloris Leachman
    – Lee Marvin
    – Robert Shaw
    – Michael Moriarty
    – James Garner
    – more Nicol Williamson, the one guy I think would match Cassidy, Culp, and McGoohan

    • Some inspired choices there especially Louise Fletcher. I agree that Nicol Williamson was up there with the best. The episode he was in wasn’t the greatest but he played his role well, he could be very cold.

    • I have confused Jessica Walter and Suzanne Pleshette, but only recently did I realize that Peter Bonerz and Sam Melville, who played several villains on the original Hawaii Five-0, were not the same person. I thought that through a combination of makeup and great acting, Bonerz played a much darker character as a villain, as opposed to the happy-go-lucky dentist on The Bob Newhart Show, Jerry Robinson.

      • I just realized, while watching one of the last episodes of the original Perry Mason, The Case of the Avenging Angel, that Joyce Bulifant is not Sue Ane Langdon.

  22. Well, one thing lacking in Columbo was a really unsympathetic female villain. Where was Joan Collins when you needed her. I think she would have made a terrific arrogant murderer. I would have used her rather than Vera Miles.

    • Not that I expect a murderer to be ‘sympathetic’, but I’d say that, by far, the most unsympathetic female murderer was the one in Rest in Peace, Mrs. Columbo, hence, my ‘criticism’ of that episode.

  23. It has always saddened me that Vincent Price appeared in an episode, so had a connection to the series, but was never cast as the villain – what a tragedy, what a waste! An episode of him sparring with Falk would have been so enjoyable.

  24. Here’s a varied selection of British actors who I think could’ve made interesting Columbo killers:

    Maggie Smith
    Peter Sellers
    Tom Baker
    Leonard Rossiter
    Angela Lansbury (provided it was pre-Murder She Wrote)
    Kenneth Williams
    David McCallum
    Ian Richardson

    • also if Columbo were to be updated Pierce Brosnan would be a first class opponent. Maybe a blog on contemporary kiillers for a Columbo reboot?

      • Robert Hardy was my choice as well. If we’d start a blog on killers for a Columbo reboot, I’d LOVE to do one on who should play Columbo as well…. or will everyone start shouting Blasphemy! now?

  25. Good choices. I always wondered why there weren’t more POC or Black people as the killers. Don’t get me wrong, I do get tired of seeing it on regular old police procedurals but on a mystery show like this it’s a whole different ballgame though. I would have loved to have seen Diahann Carroll as one, Diana Ross, Cicely Tyson, Harry Belafonte, Gregory Hines. The list goes on. Oh well, opportunity lost.

  26. Love some of the suggestions, but keep it close to reality. George C.Scott and Mia Farrow were two of the biggest movie stars of the seventies, so of course their not going to be in a Cloumbo episode, neither is Marlon Brando. Though Sinatra may have done it, especially after Contract on Cherry Street. Love the Yul Brenner idea and the Raymond Burr idea. I also think Henry Silva would of been great. Especially if he played his signature role of Mafia hit man. Telly Savalas (before Kojack). Michael Parks would of been a good killer. And I go back to the victim I wish the most had been the killer, Martin Sheen.

  27. Christopher Lee Peter Cushing and Roger Moore for me would have made great adversaries however George C Scott would have played a killer old blood and guts

  28. I like your list, especially Roger Moore and Orson Welles. Welles as a killer magician or film director is an idea that practically writes its own script. (Ooh! Welles in the Nicol Williamson role from “How to Dial a Murder”! Super meta!)

    To this, I would add Michael Caine (watch Deathtrap or Sleuth to see him own the “devious but charming sleazeball” role) and Adam West (to complete the ’60s camp set they began with the leads from Star Trek and The Wild, Wild West).

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    • This came up on another forum: Patrick Macnee! One of the few ’70s villains that I didn’t enjoy was Richard Basehart, badly miscast in Dagger of the Mind. But Patrick Macnee, who later had a supporting role in Troubled Waters, could have played that part, and it would have reunited him with his Avengers co-star Honor Blackman. What a missed opportunity that was!

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  33. Interesting choices … it occurred to me that it might have been just a little too cute to have Raymond Burr go back to his film roots as a heavy and play a killer. Perry Mason a killer?? Well, why not? Tragg and Burger certainly suspected him often enough!

  34. Yul Brynner. Between his regal bearing (“The King and I”), his Russian ancestry, his penetrating stare, and his penchant for dressing entirely in black, he would have made a formidable Columbo foe. I see Brynner playing a Russian concert pianist, on a concert tour in the U.S. but also secretly intending to defect. (This is in the ’70’s after all.) He strangles a KGB agent (pianists have very strong hands) who learns of his plans and tries to blackmail him. Columbo nails him after discovering that the pianist changed his concert repertoire following the murder to a concerto that placed less of a strain on his (now slightly sprained) hands.

  35. Interesting topic. As I was reading it, I had Peter Cushing instantly in my thoughts, so I’m pleased to see he made your list. A pre Dallas Larry Hagman would also have made a good villain to my mind.

    As for ladies, Joan Collins could surely have brought an interesting performance, as would the young Mia Farrow.

    One actor that it’s a real shame never sparred with the Lieutenant, especially considering his friendship with Falk and the fact he directed a couple of episodes, is Ben Gazzara. Those two squaring up could have been classic.

    • All excellent suggestions, thanks for your comment. I’d never considered Gazzara to appear as an actor! I guess I think of him as being too chummy with Peter to amek it work. Cassavetes was, too, but he had a dangerous / sinister element to him.

  36. Some great suggestions there, especiall Cushing. How about Richard Chamberlain? He could be a smooth, charming playboy character, but Columbo would instantly spot the coldness within!

  37. I don’t really like to go for the super well known faces, although I agree that some would fit well, but it *is* tough to come up with folk for this one! Love the idea of Billy Dee Williams! I’ll think of a load later, I’m sure, but this one springs to mind:

    I know that he appeared in two eppys as a guest star, but I think that Sorrell Brooke would have made an intriguing villain. The early Columbo shows were less silly, so it wouldn’t have likely been an OTT Boss Hogg sort of turn, but seeing him play the lovely but world-weary Bertie in ‘Bye Bye SHIQMC’ I can really imagine as softer sort of killer, in the same vein as Adrian Carsini. Put upon, acting out of either necessity or duty, with a sympathetic slant. Brooke was a great actor and he would have fit perfectly.


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