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Who’s the fairest of them all? Chronicling Columbo’s loveliest ladies

Columbo lovely ladies

My golden rule of writing: never commit anything to paper or screen that Mrs Columbo might feel uneasy about.

Therefore when the idea of paying tribute to the most devilishly handsome and bewitchingly beautiful leading men and ladies from Columbo came to mind, I naturally had to tread carefully.

So worried was I about being seen to objectify the show’s stunning actors and actresses – and in turn enraging fans – that I ran the idea past my friends on Twitter, none of whom were aghast. Quite the opposite, in fact. Indeed many rose to the occasion to name-check their personal favourite beefcakes and beauties.

“I apologise right now if you’re saddened that I’ve plunged Columbo into lewd wolf-whistling territory.”

There were a lot of beautiful people in Columbo, so I’ve doubled up and will write two separate articles, the one you’re reading now on the show’s most dazzling female stars, and one to follow about Columbo’s hottest hunks (or words to that effect).

I apologise right now if you’re saddened that I’ve plunged Columbo into lewd wolf-whistling territory. If you’re heart is a-flutter at this outrage, please immediately visit this safe page featuring images of Columbo cudding Dog.

If you’re still here, please read on! My thoughts on Columbo‘s loveliest ladies are listed below in no particular order apart from the top three.

Marcy – Playback (1975)

Noble Playback

Hello you…

Played by Aussie stunner Trisha Noble, the eye-catchingly dressed ‘Marcy’ absolutely caught the eye of Harold Van Wick as he crafted his alibi in Playback.

Indeed, despite being at an art show, popular opinion has it that our mate Harold didn’t look at a single painting, so enrapt was he in the scorching brunette at his side. And for those cheeky chaps who say ‘Who can blame him?‘, just remember that his lovely and loving wife Elizabeth was waiting for him at home.

Lisa Chambers – Double Shock (1973)

Lisa Chambers

She’s a bit flighty and giggly for some (including the livid Mrs Peck), but Lisa Chambers, played by the gorgeous Julie Newmar, has a heart of gold and thousands of admirers.

Although not squeezed into anything as provocative as her Bat-Man catsuit, her figure-hugging yoga outfit certainly seemed to be appreciated by one Lieutenant Columbo, who admitted he was simply ‘happy to watch’ her working out on her balcony.

Lisa was absolutely a lover, not a fighter, and had met her soulmate in poor, murdered Clifford. Some fans* stifle a chortle when she coos about how much Clifford ‘loved our bodies’. ‘Yes, we bet he did!‘ they chorus, giving a knowing wink to their fellow viewers. But she and Clifford shared a bond and a fate that was arguably the saddest of them all.

*Some fans, I said, but not me…

Vanessa Farrow – Columbo Likes the Nightlife (2003)

Jennifer Sky

“Excuse me miss, there’s just one more thing…”

It was hardly a classic in the mould of the 70s’ finest, but Columbo‘s final outing in 2003 had a lot to like about it, not least Jennifer Sky’s excellent turn as Vanessa Farrow.

She was a very modern leading lady as befitted the era and the rave scene backdrop to the episode, and unlike some of the supposed ‘sexy ladies’ in 90s Columbo, she really was an astonishingly good-looking young woman.

Jennifer is a great lady in real life, too, being a strong advocate for protecting young models from exploitation, and she has always spoken extremely highly of the Columbo experience and of working with Peter Falk.

Enjoyably down-to-earth, she even joined in a #ColumboTV livetweet a couple of years ago. How cool is that? Well worth a follow on Twitter, that’s for sure!

Goldie – Blueprint for Murder (1971)

blueprint for murder goldie

You want sass? You want fun? You want a mischievous big personality? You got all of that with Janis Paige’s Goldie, who was one of the great minor characters from the 70s’ series.

To quote my Twitter pal Butch Maidment, ‘Goldie was TROUBLE, but the sort of trouble you’d happily get into’. Never a truer word spoken…

Joan Hudson – Prescription: Murder (1968)

Katherine Justice

Joan’s so damn cool she even makes red hair and a magenta dress work

With flawless skin and the delicate features of a silver screen goddess, alluring redhead Joan Hudson (played by Katherine Justice) was the epitome of late 60s’ chic.

She had fashion sense to die for and could hold her own when the going gets tough – as she proved by not capitulating when an angry Columbo tried to harangue her into confessing her part in the murder of Carol Flemming.

We know that the ‘good doctor’ Ray Flemming was using Joan, but the wily old cad wasn’t afraid to mix business with pleasure – as clearly demonstrated when he ran out his own anniversary party to cavort with a bikini-clad Joan at her luxury pad in the hills!

Lauren Staton – It’s All in the Game (1993)

Lauren Staton

Played by Faye Dunaway, who was as radiant as ever at the age of 52, Lauren Staton was the only female adversary who seemed capable of making the Lieutenant forget about his wedding vows.

For all intents and purposes Staton and Columbo were engaged in a love affair, featuring cosy dinners, exchanges of gifts and open displays of affection. Of course, Columbo claimed to have just been playing the same game as she was (she to escape his investigations, he to ensnare her), but you can’t tell me his heart wasn’t racing when she planted a smacker on him.

Timelessly classy and beautiful, she is arguably the discerning viewer’s (and Lieutenant’s) choice.

“Lauren Staton was the only female adversary who seemed capable of making the Lieutenant forget about his wedding vows.”

Lorna McGrath – Negative Reaction (1974)

Miss McGrath

Ace photographer Paul Galesko’s assistant and muse, Lorna McGrath’s (played by Joanna Cameron) bewitching good looks (and the best legs the show ever sees) are enough to drive a man to distraction – or even to murder.

Galesko certainly saw Miss McGrath as a more amiable companion than his gin-soaked nagging wife, Frances, who chided Paul right up till the last moment when he finally pulled the trigger and rid himself of the old ball and chain.

With his wife newly-dead, Paul’s ambitions for his relationship with Miss McGrath are immediately apparent as he plans to whisk her away to a tropical getaway to ‘take photos’ in the Philippines – and she seems just as keen as he does. What sort of photos you might wonder? Don’t ask…

Kay Freestone – Make Me a Perfect Murder (1978)

Perfect Murder

With amazing 70’s power hair that’s at times so big you could lose a grown man in it, and a wardrobe that Anna Wintour would appreciatively nod at, Trish Van Devere’s Kay Freestone is a femme fatale par excellence.

Ruthless and ambitious in a male-dominated industry, Kay’s confidence in herself is part of what makes her so sexy. And her coolness under pressure when racing the clock to get back to the projection booth after committing the murder is outstanding. Not that I’m advocating murder, you understand. Hate the sin, love the sinner…

“Trish Van Devere’s Kay Freestone is a femme fatale par excellence.”

Leslie Williams – Ransom for a Dead Man (1971)


Like Kay Freestone, Lee Grant’s ice-cold Leslie Williams has class by the truckload and she may be the most stylish Columbo killer of them all.

Always immaculately turned out, she’s powerful, confident, intelligent and fearless, allied with a sensuality that she has evidently used to her advantage throughout he career – not that that helps her against the good Lieutenant.

3. Elizabeth Van Wick – Playback (1975)

Playback Rowlands

Gena Rowlands was never more stunning than in her turn as Elizabeth Van Wick – the extremely wronged wife of fiendish German electronics mogul Harold from Season 4’s Playback.

Combining silver screen beauty, charm, intelligence and vulnerability (due to a disability that has her wheelchair bound), Elizabeth is one of the most sympathetic and likeable of all Columbo guest stars.

2. Beth Chadwick – Lady in Waiting (1971)

Lady 1

Beth Chadwick V2.0 was a somewhat sultrier model

The metamorphosis of Beth Chadwick from downtrodden Plain Jane to sultry minx is one of Season 1’s most intriguing character arcs – and boy does Susan Clark play Beth V2.0 to perfection!

After shedding the long hair and Grandma-ish clothing, the new Beth is an all-drinking, all-smoking temptress, whose amazing dress sense and complete makeover are absolutely dazzling. Sure, the power goes to her head pretty quickly, but for the viewer it’s one hell of a fun ride.

1. Jessica Conroy – An Exercise in Fatality (1974)


Who else? The apple of many a viewer’s eye for more than 40 years, Gretchen Corbett’s bikini-wearing Jessica Conroy takes the number one spot by a distance!

From the moment she opens the front door of Milo Janus’s house to the confused Lieutenant, it’s all eyes on her. We’ll never know for sure if it’s the sight of Jessica looking trim, taut and terrific in her tiny, cherry-patterned bikini that so addles Columbo, but he’s certainly thrown off kilter during the subsequent conversation with beefcake Milo.

Jessica rocks a variety of looks throughout the episode, but it is the bikini scene that places her firmly in the role of true Columbo icon. Gretchen Corbett, we salute you!

“Gretchen Corbett’s bikini-wearing Jessica Conroy takes the number one spot by a distance!”

Not forgetting…

Hot stuffs montage

Heidi Bruhl – The German bombshell was a singer in her homeland, even performing in the Eurovision Song Contest in 1963, before moving to the USA where, among other things, she starred as lovely Linda Robinson in The Most Dangerous Match. After beating cancer at the age of 20, Heidi sadly succumbed to the disease in 1991, aged just 49.

Rebecca Staab – The former Beauty Queen was cast as the chief love interest Tina in Columbo Cries Wolf, which gave decent insight into the tacky world of glamour modelling. If you dig late 80s/early 90s fashion, music and swimwear, Rebecca will steal a piece of your heart.

Patricia Mattick – I’m well aware that Patricia Mattick is deemed desirable by many, as I’ve seen the Google search terms people enter about her that lead them to this site (hint: they don’t find what they’re looking for)! Her Margaret from Ransom for a Dead Man was a bit of a psycho, but behind those slightly terrifying steel-framed glasses there was a beautiful and talented young actress, and one who was sadly taken from us way too soon as she died of cancer in 2003, aged 52.

Joyce Jillson – Joyce’s hipster hottie Joan Stacey from Any Old Port in a Storm was destined to become Mrs Enrico Carsini before Adrian bumped his brother off, but the blonde stunner at least had a gaggle of uber-cool pals from the lakeside club to help her drown her sorrows.

Mariette Hartley – Some viewers doubtless conjur up images of Mariette’s belly dancing garb in Try & Catch Me, but if you ask me she was at her hottest while rocking the red stetson look at the restaurant in Publish or Perish, as book editor Eileen McRae. Either way, she had plenty of admirers – Jack Cassidy allegedly being one of them…

“Mariette Hartley had plenty of admirers – Jack Cassidy allegedly being one of them.”

Of course, there could have been many more. If I haven’t included your favourite, let me know who you think warrants a place on the list in the comments section below.

And naturally, because this is an equal opportunities blog, I followed this post up with another about Columbo’s hottest hunks. So head there for some slammin’ bods, dangerously cute dimples and burly beefcake action.

Dunaway kiss

Hey Lieutenant, who was your favourite leading lady? Lieutenant…? Oh, never mind…

How did you like this article?

88 thoughts on “Who’s the fairest of them all? Chronicling Columbo’s loveliest ladies

  1. I can’t believe nobody’s mentioned his inexhaustible supply of sexy redheads that work at the police department! Francine York and Sondra Curie to name but two.

    • What about Poupée Bocar, the lounge singer and cruise ship entertainer from Troubled Waters? She had an exotic appeal akin to that of Sophia Loren, and it was easy to see how band member Lloyd became infatuated. Just the faintest view we got of her figure though her semi-see-through blouse put her at the head of the class when it comes to sexy Columbo actresses.

  2. I know some were annoyed by her character in “Deadly State of Mind” but I can’t imagine not putting Nadia Donner (Leslie Ann Warren) on this list. I would put her in the top five at least. Almost 20 years later she would star with George Strait in “Pure Country.” She was still smoking hot.

  3. Let’s not forget about lovely Jill Remez as the nameless flirty waitress in “Murder in Malibu” and Jeannie Berlin’s restrained sexiness as Janie Brandt wearing nylon stockings in jail in “Old Fashioned Murder”.

    • Great list. A couple thoughts – how telling that truly, the beauty of the 70s far outweighs what passes for beauty today in Hollywood, or more accurately here, the 90s during the second less successful Columbo run. No comparison between the two decades of beauties on the show.
      Some commenters complained of Poupee Bocar, Kim Catrall and others not mentioned but I agree the point was “beauty.” Thanks for this .

  4. Well I had to go through all the episodes and back through all these posts to suggest that Isabel Garcia Lorca – Julie from Murder, A Self-Portrait is a huge oversight.

    • I’m disappointed and surprised that Poupee Bocar was left off the list. She was the lounge singer and victim Rosanna Wells in the episode Troubled Waters. She takes a lot of flak in forums for her rendition of Volare, but that aside, she was a beautiful woman and extremely sexy lady in the mold of Sofia Loren or Raquel Welch.

    • Lorca was gorgeous. Right there with Staab as actresses so pretty that not even wretched 80s styles/fashions could hold them back.

      Of course, Lorca managed this by ditching her clothes entirely. 😅

  5. You sure called that. I found this site because I was looking for info on lovely Patricia Mattick. A bit of trivia though: the lovely Trisha Noble mentioned above also starred on “The Benny Hill Show” which later had Jackie Wright do a take on Columbo in a sketch based on “Murder on the Orient Express” featuring famous American TV detectives!

  6. Jessica Conroy is very over rated, kind of plain…not even in my top ten, but the absence of Arlene Martel (Greenhouse Jungle & A Friend In Deed) is stunning.

    • Jessica Conroy is the girl-next-door beauty who looked incredible in that 2-piece walking to the door to greet Columbo. One of my favorite Columbo moments. And he understandably mumbles and forgets what he came for the moment she opens the door. Stunning little gal. She is rightly on the list.

  7. Great stuff from everyone on this post and thread. Just one minor correction I think. Anne Francis’ two turns were in “Stitch in Crime” and “SHORT FUSE” where she played Roddy McDowell’s play thing. It was Honor Blackmon in “Dagger of the Mind”, the former early Bond girl who played Pussy Galore. I don’t think I saw anyone point that out as I scrolled through. Apologies if I missed it. She passed away just a couple months ago at age 94.

  8. I cast a vote for Britt Lind, who was 46 years old but still looked great in the role of “Trish” in the 1991 episode “Death Hits the Jackpot”..there is a scene where Trish and her friends are singing “Where Have all the Flowers Gone ” and Britt Lind has a skirt on showing off her very nice legs ! Va va voom..anyone else remember her in this episode ??

  9. How about the lead in “Rest in Peace Mrs Columbo”.
    An enjoyable episode, with and ending I spotted a mile off.

  10. For me it’s the lady of the Tricon computer in “An Exercise in Fatality”. The way she smiles!
    7 minutes are not enough for me. 🙂

    • My vote goes to Poupee Bocar as Rosanna Wells in Troubled Waters. She had a look shared by Sophia Loren, very sexy and European. Her costume revealed a stunning figure as well.

  11. Late entry – let’s not forget the little geisha girl with whom Columbo flirted in Murder Under Glass!

  12. It took me a few years to realize that the mom in the TV show, Webster was Beth Chadwick in Columbo (Lady in Waiting) played by Susan Clark. 😱 Lady in Waiting is one of my fave eps and BC is one of my fave villains. And I love Kay Freestone (#1 fave villian) in Make Me a Perfect Murder (another fave) for various reasons. But yes, both beautiful ladies. Among many.

  13. Julie Newmar and Lee Grant get my vote as the most beautiful. Also happy to see Janis Paige as the fiestily fun first wife, Goldie in Blue Print for murder. Would also like to give shout outs to Vera Miles in Lovely but Lethal who I’m sure you’ve written much about already, and the young Bylthe Danner in Etude In Black.

  14. No no no. Missed big time on this list. Isis and Conroy should have been near the top. Pleashette, Colombo’s wife and Anne Baxter should have been on the list. Also, I think one of the ladies in the painter killer episode as well as the actress in the immunity episode.

  15. veronica s belly dance in try and catch me which is also my favourite episode just about does it for me, but who could resist Jessica Conroy s answering the door in her bikini in an exercise in fatality, which on the other hand is not one of my favourite episodes and also Joan Hudson emerging from the pool in prescription murder was pretty hot and also the girl in dead weight who witnessed the murder was nice cheered up that dreary dead weight episode, Kay freestone in make me a perfect murder is also one of my favourites both her and the episode.

    • I have to admit, there’s another “looker” who captures my fancy. Albeit she’s on the screen a whole 2 minutes. Dont even know her name. Episode An exercise in fatality. When Columbo goes to get information On Louis Lacey, at his employer. The woman who prints out all info on him. Beautiful woman. There for a few minutes….then poof…she’s gone.

  16. Also, let’s contemplate,in an almost throw-away, quasi-cameo part, the very beautiful FRANCE NUYEN, as black-mailed restraunteur, Miss.Choy,in “Murder under Glass.” Ms.Nuyen was the former Mrs. Robert Culp,a Columbo favorite, and the va-va-va voom Elaan of Troyius, one of the original Star Trek’s sexiest and most colorful ET characters,and later wise and memorable in “The Joy Luck Club” She is currently a family therapist, in privafe practice.

  17. For those of us that go more for the brain, than the bod, if you know what I mean? You have to include BOTH Ruth Gordon and her Agatha Christie-based character, Abigail Mitchell. I’d enjoy going on a long Ocean cruise, or martini-fueled flight with her! Both of them would be great company and have wonderful stories!

  18. I’m shocked that nobody would mention Jessica Walter as Margaret Nicholson in Mind over Mayhem.

    • YUP,she plays a sexy, head-shrinking cougar messin’,I think?, with the under-rated, and under-used actor, Robert Walker,Jr. Good chemistry. She seems to be in a sophisticated, open marriage with the much older Lew Ayres, one of the only guys, playing Murray’s silver-fox-father, who dumped Mary Richards, on the MTM show.

  19. veronica in try and catch me also in publish or perish non murderer but she was nice too
    although dead weight was a poor columbo the black haired girl who witnessed the murder from the boat was nice looking and she should be up there.

  20. trish van devere as kay freestone is mine good looking good acting great opening music good episode on the whole woman killing her lover well dressed fit the role beuatiffully.

  21. An oldie…Nina Foch and a young Katharine Justice from Prescription Murder, the first episode. You had me hooked from day one.

  22. Gretchen Corbett my #1. Overlooked so far: Samantha Eggar in “The Bye-Bye Sky High I.Q. Murder Case” ; Shera Danese, Louis Jordan’s assistant in “Murder Under Glass”; Antoinette Bower is usually lovely but unbearable in ”Negative Reaction” ; and Valerie Harper in “The Most Crucial Game”.

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  24. 1. Susan Foster- Last Salute To The Commodore
    2. Tisha Sterling- Candidate For Crime
    3. Gretchen Corbett- Exercise In Fatality

    Honorable Mention- Santini’s daughter- Now You See Him
    – Nurse on cruiseship- Troubled Waters

  25. I’m stunned that nobody has mentioned my favorite, Lesley Ann Warren as Nadia in A Deadly State of Mind. Her hypnotized final moments are pretty amazing.

    • For those of us that go more for the brain, than the bod, if you know what I mean? You have to include BOTH Ruth Gordon and her Agatha Christie-based character, Abigail Mitchell. I’d enjoy going on a long Ocean cruise, or martini-fueled flight with her! Both of them would be great company and have wonderful stories!

    • I think she was hypnotised to remain ageless! Miss Warren looks almost the same today, as she did in that episode, and that WAS 40-something-years ago! Check-out her grade-A comic timing in “Will and Grace.” Always a treat seeing her on the screen!

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  27. A great list. Gretchen Corbett used to be Jim Rockford’s lawyer (though she never rocked anything like she rocket the bikini) and Susan Clark was the dutiful assistant to Forbin in the Forbin Project. It’s hard to shake Jessica Conroy out of the mind, but I would love to have a chance with Goldie. There’s a woman who likes being a woman, and likes being around men. She’s got the personality that would attract any man.

    Vanessa Farrow was a great exclamation point to the Columbo franchise. A real beauty and very appealing. And finally Kay Freestone is a combination fire and ice that is attractive, even more so when you see the faithless men who she is surrounded with.

  28. I’m going to throw in here for Suzanne Pleshette … yes, I know there was none of the interplay between the Lieutenant and her character, but just thinking about her and hearing that voice in my head … oh, yeah!

  29. My inner wolf says singer Rosanna Wells (Poupée Bocar) from ‘Troubled Waters’ is #2 (#1 will always be Julie Newmar in anything). Beth Chadwick is a no. Kay Freestone is an also ran in beauty as she is in executive talent (why does her voice always sound dubbed?). Next to Julie Newmar, the most beautiful woman who appeared on ‘Columbo’ was Anne Francis, but they did their damndest to unglam her up on this show. Mention should be made of Miss Dudley from ‘Dagger of the Mind’ for all trouble she caused in 20 seconds of screen time. As played by Sharon ‘Playmate of the Month October 1972’ Johansen, 20 seconds is all it takes. I can’t speak to the ABC shows.

    • Good choice, forgot about Ann Francis. Yeah, they made her as frumpy an assistant as possible. It shows her range though; she went from somewhat mousy in ‘Dagger of the Mind’ to a powerful performance as a both strong and caring nurse in ‘A Stitch in Time’.

      • YUP! Anne Francis, sort of wasted in her two Columbo outings. A very lovely and intelligent actress, that should have had a huge career? She spent her later years in Palm Desert, as a lay minister with the Science of Mind (Christian Science with access to doctors) religion. Very active in HIV/AIDS charity work. A very sweet, classy lady that is missed!

    • I agree with Gretchen Corbett as no.1, with Marietta Hartley, Lorna McGrath, Lee Grant, Trish Van Devere right up there as well.

      There was another playmate in an episode – Dona Speir (1984 playmate of the year). She played one of the models in ‘Death Hits the Jackpot’ and features in the photo of the monkey attracted to glittering objects.

    • I remember a bunch of college students getting up at 9am on a Saturday to go to the TV room to watch two things……..Star Trek The Animated Series, followed immediately by “Almighty Isis!” Yea, those legs…….

  30. Although a bit older than most of the other ladies, I really like Janis Paige who played Goldie Williamson in Blueprint for Murder. Her directness, perseverance and witty personality only enhanced her outer attractiveness into a comlplete package.

  31. I would also mention the actress who played Jennifer Welles in Etude In Black (and his wife was very pretty too).

    • Jennifer Wells was played by Anjonette Comer and Janice Benedict was played by Blythe Danner who was pregnant with Gwynith Platrow at the time the episode was shot.

    • Yes! How could she not have been included in this list?? I think she was the most beautiful of them all!

  32. Excellent choices and very much in the same order as I’d have done. My lone omission from this stellar list would be ravishing redhead Barbara Rhoades, who went from second tier opposite Susan Clark in “Lady in Waiting” to a more noticeable role as a photographer in “Identity Crisis,” in which her halter top failed to hide the stunning bikini tan underneath. Even more breathtaking as scantily clad Veronica Veil in Levinson and Link’s ELLERY QUEEN – “The Adventure of Veronica’s Veils.” All things considered, any votes for Shera Danese (apart from Peter Falk himself!).

  33. Oh, there is just one more thing. Even though her character was it seemed a complete basket case, there’s no denying the allure of young Kim Cattrall as Joanne Nichols in “How To Dial A Murder”.

  34. A near perfect list, but not without omissions. Pity you didn’t mention Vivian Dimitry (Helen Shaver) “Rest In Peace Mrs. Columbo”), and any list of beauties without Suzanne Plechette (Helen Stewart in “Dead Weight) is incomplete. This guy also always had eyes for Sandra Smith (Cathy Goodland “Greenhouse Jungle) and I’d give a final nod to Tisha Sterling (Linda Johnson “Candidate For Crime”.)

    • Sandra Smith was a real looker in “Greenhouse Jungle” as well as Gloria. NBC seemed to have a stable of stars that were in several crossovers. Gloria (Arlene Martell) played Spock’s future possible wife T’Pring in “Amok Time”. Has there been a post on the Star Trek connection with Columbo?

      • Arlene Martel was also a saleswoman at a jewelry store in “A Friend In Deed.” You can add Joanne Linville (“Candidate For Crime”) to the Star Trek connection.

      • You beat me to it! Under Gloria’s cheesy blonde wig is the very elegant, and beautiful brunette Arlene “t-pring” Martell. I’m thinking Carol Wayne was up for this part, and Arlene just “went with the flow.”


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