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)
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)
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)
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.
Goldie – Blueprint for Murder (1971)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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!”
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.