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Columbo’s Oscars pedigree

Columbo Oscars montage 2

We all know that Columbo was a great show, and one that could call on stellar talent as easily as the Lieutenant could pull on his wrinkled raincoat. But do you realise quite how good that pedigree is?

No silver screen accolade is more coveted than the Academy Award. And the stars of Columbo, both from in front of and behind the camera, have a shedload of Oscars between them – as well as nominations galore. Have a look below at Columbo‘s Oscars pedigree. You might be surprised…

The near misses

Let’s start with our main man. Peter Falk was twice a Best Supporting Actor nominee at the Academy Awards, for Murder Inc (1961) & Pocketful of Miracles (1962). Many tipped him for the Oscar in ’61, so much so that rumour has it he even stood up in anticipation when the name ‘Peter…’ was announced as winner. Sadly for Falk, it went to Peter Ustinov for his admittedly excellent turn in Spartacus. Interestingly, Falk was also up against two future Columbo co-stars that year: Sal Mineo (who appeared as murder victim Rachman Habib in Case of Immunity in 1975) and Jack Kruschen (lovable Russian chessmaster Tomlin Dudek in 1973’s Most Dangerous Match) for their roles in Exodus and The Apartment respectively. The following year Falk again just missed out, this time to West Side Story‘s George Sakiris. Boooooo! Hisssssssss!
Peter and Alyce

Peter Falk and first wife, Alyce, at the Academy Awards presentation on April 9, 1962

Two of Falk’s greatest friends, husband-and-wife team John Cassavetes and Gena Rowlands were also left empty-handed at the Oscars despite multiple nominations. Etude in Black star Cassavetes earned a Best Director nod for Woman Under the Influence in 1975; as well as others for Best Supporting Actor in 1968 (The Dirty Dozen); and Best Screenplay in 1969 (Faces). Rowlands, star of Playback in 1975, meanwhile, earned two Best Actress nominations in films directed by her husband: Women Under the Influence and Gloria (1981). Quite a talented household… Despite missing out then, Rowlands did receive an Honorary Oscar for her outstanding contribution to the Academy in 2016. Good on ‘er!
Cassavetes Rowlands

Cassavetes and Rowlands scored 5 Oscar nominations between them

Other Columbo stars to just miss out on top honours include Rip Torn (Death Hits the Jackpot), who was a Best Supporting Actor nominee for Cross Creek in 1984; while Oskar Werner (Playback) was nominated for Best Actor for his role in Ship of Fools in 1966. Lew Ayres (victim Howard Nicholson in Mind Over Mayhem) was a Best Actor nominee way back in 1948 for Belinda; and Laurence Harvey (The Most Dangerous Match) followed suit 12 years later for his work on Room at the Top. Two-time guest star Dean Stockwell (Most Crucial Game and Troubled Waters) was a Best Supporting Actor contender for Married to the Mob in 1989. Meanwhile  Janet Leigh (Forgotten Lady) was in the mix for Best Supporting Actress in 1961 for her unforgettable role in Psycho.
Janet Leigh Columbo Oscars

Janet Leigh went from victim of a psycho killer to being one herself in Columbo

And the winner is…

Despite the above near misses, Columbo stars have racked up many Oscar wins between them. In no particular order, here’s a breakdown… Although he never actually scored an episode, Henry Mancini is forever linked to Columbo through his having written NBC’s iconic Mystery Movie theme tune (view it below). Mancini was nominated for a remarkable 13 Oscars in Original Song and Score categories between 1955 – 1987, winning three, including Best Original Song for Moon River from Breakfast at Tiffany’s in 1962. Probably the most revered of all Columbo alumni is Steven Spielberg. The visionary director of Murder by the Book has a string of Best Picture and Best Director nominations to his name, and claimed Best Director wins for Saving Private Ryan (1998) and Schindler’s List (1994). The latter also scooped Best Picture.
Spielberg Oscar

Spielberg cut his directorial teeth on Columbo Murder by the Book

Senor Spielbergo isn’t the only Columbo episode director to scoop an Academy Award, mind you. Jonathan Demme was at the helm for Murder Under Glass in 1978. He would win the Best Director Oscar for Silence of the Lambs in 1992. So, who else, might you ask? Well I’ll tell you…
  • Kim Hunter (Edna in Suitable for Framing) won Best Supporting Actress for A Streetcar Named Desire in 1952.
  • Jose Ferrer, AKA Marshall Cahill from Mind Over Mayhem, picked up the Best Actor Oscar for Cyrano De Bergerac (1951), and was nominated for Best Actor in 1953 for Moulin Rouge; and for Best Supporting Actor for Joan of Arc in 1949.
Ferrer Columbo Oscar

Man of many faces: Jose Ferrer

  • Rod Steiger (Strange Bedfellows) won Best Actor for his role in In the Heat of the Night in 1968.
  • Dean Jagger (Walter Cunnell in Most Crucial Game) won Best Supporting Actor for his role in Twelve O’Clock High (1950).
  • Costume design legend Edith Head had a cameo in Requiem for a Falling Star in 1973. She won a record eight Best Costume Design Oscars in her stellar career – some of which appeared in the background in Requiem. Peter Falk even presented her with one of them, in 1974, for her designs for The Sting. Head’s Columbo episode co-star Anne Baxter also has a statuette of her own, winning the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for Razor’s Edge in 1947. She was also nominated for Best Actress for All About Eve in 1951, but went home empty handed.
Edith Head Columbo Oscars
  • Celeste Holm had a blast playing hysterical Phyllis Brandt in Columbo episode Old Fashioned Murder. She won the 1948 Best Supporting Actress Oscar for Gentlemen’s Agreement. She also had back-to-back Best Supporting Actress nominations in 1950 and ’51 for Come to the Stable and All About Eve respectively.
  • Martin Landau (Double Shock) won Best Supporting Actor for his amazing Bela Lugosi turn in Ed Wood (1995). He was twice nominated in the same category in 1989 and 1990 for his efforts in Tucker: The Man and His Dream, and Crimes and Misdemeanors.
  • Myrna Loy from Etude in Black received an Honorary Oscar in 1991 for her exceptional career.
  • After missing out in 1966 for her role in Inside Daisy Clover, Ruth Gordon (Try & Catch Me) won Best Supporting Actress for her terrifying role in Rosemary’s Baby in 1969. And she felt ‘absolutely groovy’ about it…
Ruth Gordon Columbo Oscars

Ruth Gordon: adorable, despite being a cult worshipper and a killer grandma on screen…

  • Faye Dunaway (It’s All in the Game) won Best Actress for her role in Network in 1977. She was runner-up twice in the same category in 1968 (Bonnie & Clyde) and 1975 (Chinatown).
  • Don Ameche (Suitable for Framing) won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his role in Cocoon in 1986.
Ameche Oscar

Ameche, amused; Cher, chic…

  • Lee Grant (Ransom for a Dead Man) won Best Supporting Actress honours for Shampoo (1973).
  • And to wrap up my list, Ray Milland, whose performance as Arthur Kennicut in Death Lends a Hand I rate as the very best non-killer Columbo guest star appearance, won the Best Actor Academy Award for The Lost Weekend (1945).
Milland Lost Weekend

Ray Milland: awesome in pretty much everything…

As you can see, it’s a terrific roll of honour, and having all that talent grace Columbo in all sorts of ways is a great source of pride for fans of the show, and another reason why it has stood the test of time so well. If I’ve missed any Columbo / Oscars connections, do let me know in the comments section below. Thanks, as always, for reading, and I’ll see you all again soon.

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41 thoughts on “Columbo’s Oscars pedigree

  1. The Oscars have long lost any meaning and those awards from decades ago are only of historical significance. They have become meaningless badges of political approval by leftist ideologues and are, indeed, antithetical to professional excellence. Intelligence and creativity are dead. The public largely understands this reality, as evidenced by the fact that the ratings for Oscars viewership falls lower and lower with each passing year. But that doesn’t matter to Hollywood. The old saying, “the show’s the thing” is a relic from ancient history. Today it’s “the politics are the thing.” And you better be sure you’re on the “correct” side of the politics, or you will be cancelled, as Hollywood continues to follow their revered models of Communist China and the former Nazi regime of Germany.

    • I’d like to very strongly suggest – and I’m thinking that CP would concur – that politics be kept off this blog, unless there’s a tangible connection to Columbo topics.

      Having said that, let me address one point, and suggest that there are plenty of reasons for Oscar viewership to be cratering that have zero to do with politics. In years past, the Academy Awards presentation was one of the few places where the era’s “movie stars” showed up in people’s living rooms on prime time TV. This was a big deal. There were fewer movies made, fewer viewing options, no/limited internet, no/limited cable….just the Big 3 Networks. But, concurrent with variety shows dying when viewer media options exploded, the Academy Awards lost “must-see” status. The trend continues yearly for all awards shows, as people have growing access to multiple cable platforms. Media proliferation eliminates the “one night only” urgency that these shows used to have. As for 2021’s Oscars, the pandemic tamped down the movie-going experience, limited movie releases, limited their viewing, and eliminated any excitement. It didn’t take a rocket scientist to predict those crippled Nielsen numbers, nor would I expect to see much increase in Oscar viewership as the years go by. That ship has sailed.

      Technology, the media boom, and the movie-going experience are much more logical reasons that have nothing to do with politics.

  2. Dave Grusin got the Oscar for the score of “The Fabulous Baker Boys” in 1990 and was nominated for “In Golden Pond” in 1982 and for “Havana” in 1991.

  3. Russel Metty, camera for the first five regular episodes, got the Oscar for his work for Spartacus(!!!) in 1961 and was nominated for Flower Drum Song in 1962.

  4. Crew: Albert Whitlock (Etude) nominated for Special Effects for Tobruck in 1968. He was the best matte painter perhaps who ever lives. He was in Hitchcocks Birds.

  5. Murder under Glass: Mako nominated for “The Sand Pebbles” and Michael V. Gazzo nominated for “The Godfather, Part 2”. Both for Best Support. It’s an avalanche!

  6. Sorry; I noticed Martha Scott. It was Eddie Albert. Generally I think, the Oscar site should be revised. There are so many, a reason, why Columbo is by far the best television series ever. Actors like Jack Cassidy or Robert Culp supported by the who is who in Hollywood.

  7. Burt Young Best Supporting Actor for “Rocky” in 1977. It’s boundless. Jetpacksam told about Martha Scott some notes below; I’m sorry.
    So long.

  8. Wonderful Ruth Gordon was nominated three times for Best Skript Oscar together with her husband Garson Kanin. In 1948 for “A Double Life”, 1951 for “Adam’s Rib” and 1953 for “Pat and Mike”.
    So long.

  9. Eddie Albert was nominated two times for Best Supporting Oscar. 1954 for “Roman Holiday” and 1972 for “The Heartbreak Kid”.
    So long, Andy

  10. Julie Harris was nominated for Best Actress Oscar for “The Member of the Wedding” in 1953. I adore your Site.
    All the best from Vienna, Austria.
    Andy Egg

  11. The Oscar Ruth Gordon won for “Rosemary’s Baby” can be seen behind her character Abigail Mitchell’s desk, in her ritzy study. Maybe she should have kept it in that deadly safe?

  12. With reference to the Murder Mystery Movies, I remember also watching and liking both McCloud and McMillan & Wife, but the only episode that I remember was an episode of McCloud, Somebody’s Out to Get Jennie.

  13. Now You See Him
    Robert Loggia was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his portrayal of crusty private detective Sam Ransom in the crime-thriller Jagged Edge (1985)

    Oskar Werner was nominated in 1965 for best actor in 1965 for Ship of Fools

    Martha Scott was Nominated for Best actress for Our Town in 1940

  14. One more of note: scheming killer Jackie Cooper, who at the ripe old age of nine had been up for Best Actor!

  15. Some more nominees: murderer Robert Vaughn, murderer Lindsay Crouse, murderer Eddie Albert, and murderer Theodore Bikel; also, murderee Nina Foch and murderee Michael V. Gazzo (who got killed in an episode with Oscar nominee Mako); not to mention Robert Loggia, doing what he could with a nothing role in NOW YOU SEE HIM.

  16. Grant Heslov (Columbo And The Murder Of A Rock Star) earned a bunch of Oscar nominations, eventually winning for Argo.

  17. Pat Morita was nominated for Supporting Actor in 1984 for “The Karate Kid”. He played the House Boy in Etude…

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    • I don’t know why George C. Scott wasn’t credited, even though he had a speaking role in Make Me A Perfect Murder. For years, I looked for him in that episode, until I realized that the plain looking guy in the control room was him; quite a contrast to his appearance in Patton, for instance.

      • The guy most people take for being George C Scott in Perfect Murder isn’t George C Scott at all. It’s a case of mistaken identity. I’ve seen it rumoured a couple of times on Columbo sites that the guy in shades and a blue shirt is George but, alas, it’s not him. He *may* be there somewhere in the background, but he doesn’t have a speaking part.

        • I don’t know how you can categorically say that it is not Scott when you can’t say who it is, and he is ‘credited’ at IMDb, . Aside from the fact that it does look like him, , he was also married to the guest murderess, Trish Van Devere, at the time. Unlike the mystery of the nude model in Suitable For Framing, we have been told who it was, and so the burden of proof is on you to prove the contrary.

          • I will endeavour to do just that in a blog post to be published this week! The physical differences between the two actors are the big giveaway. I’ll publish the post on Wednesday.

          • George’s wife , Trish Vandemire said IT WAS NOT HIM. Also the same character actor in the role had another speaking part in a stitch in crime as a guest at a party held by Dr Mayfield ( Leonard Jimmy ) Columbophile us right , YOU ARE WRONG. Enough proof for you ? Who ever put it in the IMBD page was in ERROR. Just like you !!! I. Would not be so adamant if you had not acted so peavish to Columbo file.

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  23. Ruth Gordon also was nominated three times as a screenwriter (“A Double Life” (1947); “Adam’s Rib” (1949); and “Pat and Mike” (1952)). Was her Columbo character, writer Abigail Mitchell, as fortunate?


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