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13 amazing Columbo roles for women aged 45+

Mature women montage

Although they were in the minority when it comes to the line-up of killers, Columbo as a show treated women very well, offering sumptuous and interesting roles to women of all ages.

But, as was pointed out to me in an online exchange with my Twitter pal @ianjohoey, who had been discussing the matter with his own wife, Columbo was notable for showcasing the skills of ‘mature women’ – a demographic all too often overlooked and underrepresented on the small and large screen.

“Columbo was notable for showcasing the skills of mature women – a demographic all too often overlooked.”

And by Jove it’s true! Scan through the list of Columbo guest stars over the years and you’ll quickly spy that it’s packed with awesome roles for experienced female actors. So I’ve selected a baker’s dozen of those roles to chronicle here, knowing that the list could have been a whole lot longer.

Defining ‘mature’ is a matter of opinion. In Hollywood terms it could easily be anyone older than 40! I’ve made the age cut-off to appear in this article at 45, which means that ‘fresh young things’ Lee Grant (44) and Joyce Van Patten (42) aren’t included despite stellar turns in Ransom for a Dead Man and Old Fashioned Murder respectively. Now, read on!

Ruth Gordon, 81 – Abigail Mitchell in Try & Catch Me

Ruth Gordon

We’ll start with the most obvious, shall we? At the age of 81 at the time of airing, Ruth Gordon’s Abigail Mitchell was the oldest Columbo killer by a stretch – but she’s also one of the most memorable and popular from the entire series.

Gordon really delivered here, giving us charm, fun, mischief and cold-bloodedness in equal measure. Her harmless grandma act endears her to the audience and also to Lieutenant Columbo, giving us a killer we can really root for throughout.

Honor Blackman, 47 – Lily Stanhope in Dagger of the Mind

Columbo Honor Blackman

This episode may be an actual stinker, and I’m on record saying that I don’t rate Blackman’s performance in it. Nevertheless, I recognise that it would be a hugely enjoyable role to play and the former Bond Girl certainly can’t be accused of not fully committing to the nonsense going on around her.

Janis Paige, 49 – Goldie in Blueprint for Murder

Janis Paige Columbo Goldie

A brilliant character, superbly played by Janis Paige, Goldie is a larger-than-life, sass-filled force of nature, who dominates every scene she appears in. Despite having been ‘traded in’ for a younger, insipid wife by boisterous ex-husband Bo, Goldie remains absolutely confident in who she is and what she has to offer.

She’s the best part of Blueprint for Murder and one of the very best Columbo guest stars ever.

Faye Dunaway, 52 – Lauren Staton in It’s All in the Game

Dunaway Columbo 2

Faye Dunaway absolutely rocked the role of Lauren Staton, giving us an antagonist we can get behind – even if her flirtatiousness towards Lieutenant Columbo is all an (unsuccessful) act to drop his guard.

“In doing all she can to protect her daughter, Dunaway gives us one of the most grounded, human killers of all.”

In killing a man who has two-timed her and has roughed up and threatened to kill her daughter, Staton has more cause than most to commit murder. But it is her good characteristics that Dunaway deals with best, and in doing all she can to protect her daughter, both from harm and a jail term, she gives us one of the most grounded, human killers of all.

Jeanette Nolan, 62 – Mrs Peck in Double Shock

Shock 5

A truly brilliant and hilarious performance, Nolan’s howling and highly strung Mrs Peck easily earns the crown as Columbo’s most fearsome adversary.

Protective of her home and proud of her immaculate house-keeping skillz, Mrs Peck gives the Lieutenant short shrift throughout the episode, causing Columbo to walk on egg shells throughout. Even their temporary truce over milk and health cookies is soon forgotten as Columbo breaks Mrs Peck’s TV set, triggering yet another bout of PECK RAGE!

Nolan would reappear in a matriarchal role in The Conspirators 5 years later, but it can’t hold a candle to her unforgettable turn here.

Myrna Loy, 67 – Lizzy Fielding in Etude in Black

Loy Etude

It may only be a fleeting appearance in a handful of scenes, but silver screen icon Myrna Loy more than earns her place in this list because of the raw power she projects throughout.

She never loses her cool, but her soft-spoken sternness makes it abundantly clear – even to murderous Maestro Alex Benedict – that she is the one in charge at all times. It’s all class from Loy.

Anne Baxter, 50 – Nora Chandler in Requiem for a Falling Star

Columbo Anne Baxter Requiem for a Falling Star

Well cast as the much-loved-but-past-her-peak-actress Nora Chandler, Anne Baxter excels here giving us a killer who is self-serving, fabulously stylish and well-versed in the shallowness and skulduggery of the movie-making scene.

Full of faux charm one minute and showing her true colours the next, Baxter’s Nora Chandler is exactly what I imagine a movie star has to be in real life – minus the heartless slaying of a long-time assistant, naturally…

Tyne Daly, 48 – Dorothea McNally in Undercover

Tyne Daly Columbo Undercover

It’s a much smaller role than she had as murderess Dolores in 1992’s A Bird in the Hand, but I include Daly’s outing as Dorothea in this list because, put simply, she’s the only good thing about this episode!

Daly shines as a (typically) down-on-her-luck floozy, injecting a bit of fun and personality into what is surely one of the worst ever Columbo episodes. She earns the friendship of the Lieutenant – and also a smacker on the lips from him late on! Quite what Mrs Columbo made of it all when he debriefed her later can only be guessed at…

Vera Miles, 45 – Viveca Scott in Lovely but Lethal

Lethal 2

Viveca Scott had brains, confidence, beauty, grace and style on her side, so must have been a really enjoyable character to play. Vera Miles embraces these characteristics and goes all-in with her portrayal of the Beauty Industry Empress, chewing up the scenery with Vincent Price and committing two very different murderers in a bid to safeguard her business future.

In an interesting twist for the series, Viveca has both male and female admirers – but love isn’t on the agenda for this ice-cold femme fatale, who ruthlessly dispatches handsome Carl and crazy Shirley with equal aplomb.

Janet Leigh, 48 – Grace Wheeler in Forgotten Lady

Janet Leigh 2

Surprisingly, Leigh was only 48 at the time Forgotten Lady aired, as it’s clear that her Grace Wheeler character is meant to be a good deal older. But if this leading lady was bothered about being cast well older than her real age, it doesn’t show a bit.

Leigh gets to show off her full range, from schmoozing crowd favourite and ace dancer to rage-filled has-been and tree-leaping gymnast. Most importantly, though, is that the audience buys into her descent into mental illness from which there is no way back, so that we’re firmly in favour of his decision when Columbo decides to let her go free.

Kim Hunter, 49 – Aunt Edna in Suitable for Framing

Frank Simpson and Edna

Who doesn’t love Kim Hunter’s portrayal of kooky Aunt Edna – the kind-hearted innocent Dale Kingston does his best to frame for murder? Not many of you, I’m sure.

Hunter (like Janet Leigh cast as a character much older than her real age) conveys a genuine charm and vulnerability to the role ensuring the audience is firmly on her side as the vile Kingston tries to sell her down the river.

Gena Rowlands, 45 – Elizabeth Van Wick in Playback

Columbo Gena Rowlands

A remarkable talent that could see her convince in just about any role, Rowlands, one of Peter Falk’s best friends off-screen, is predictably good here as wheelchair-bound Elizabeth Van Wick.

It’s a softer side than we’ve often seen from her on the big screen, but she perfectly portrays the vulnerability of Elizabeth, as well as her despair at husband Harold’s betrayal and murderous ways. Indeed, her tear-stained face at episode’s end is one of the most poignant Columbo closing scenes.

Ida Lupino, 56 – Edna Brown in Swan Song

Ida Lupino blog

You want unsympathetic old crone who you’re desperate to see get her comeuppance? Then you got it right here with Lupino’s sublime turn as the ghastly Edna Brown.

The domineering wife of biblical singer Tommy Brown, Lupino succeeds entirely in making the audience long for her demise, as she chides and scolds Tommy relentlessy for his roaming eye. She even blackmails him by threatening to expose his statutory rape of angelic choir girl Maryann – rather than actually helping the girl.

Yes folks, Edna Brown is as ungodly as they come and when her plane crashes down there isn’t a damp eye in the house.

“Lupino succeeds entirely in making the audience long for her demise, as she chides and scolds Tommy relentlessy for his roaming eye.”

Do let me know what you make of the list and if your favourite isn’t included, please sing out in the comments section below. Thanks for your time, and I hope to see you soon!

Perish 8

Why didn’t I make the list?

How did you like this article?

36 thoughts on “13 amazing Columbo roles for women aged 45+

  1. Maybe she’s not the most sympathetic victim, but I still appreciate Antoinette Bower’s Frances Galesko. She’s beautiful and she moves well, giving her character lots of interest, while she can! Her assessment of the ranch (barn?)is actually funny. I think she seems to care about her husband when she warns him that “they’ll know you did it!” (you idiot!)

     
  2. I really appreciate this article. I appreciate all your Columbo articles. Even when I was a young woman, I noticed that older women did not often get very good roles. It did not escape my attention, even back then, that mature women were being given roles in Columbo- the scripts were written with respect for the acting abilities of these women.

     
  3. I nominate Julie Harris in “Any Old Port in a Storm”. Hers is a great role and she acts it brilliantly. Re-mark-able.

     
  4. The “old battleaxe” or naive ingenue were dumb cliches in the 60s and 70s. There are a few of those on Columbo, but as a series it showed great respect for women, and created great roles for women actors These women, young and old, good and bad, are nuanced and well written. Congratulations on this article.

     
  5. I know it’s a bit of a hammy performance but I do have a fondness for Celeste Holm in Old Fashioned Murder. Like a cross between Blanche Dubois and Blanche from Golden Girls I love how her melodramatics provides a comic undertone to the darkness of an aunt who’d happily see her niece/daughter end up in the clink.

    “She won’t faint again, will she?”

     
  6. You came up (again !!!) with a good idea for an article. I enjoy so much reading your blog.
    About Dorothea Mc Nally, i prefered her in A bird in the hand (even though it’s one of the worst episodes). I always thought she gave a good performance, and was pretty much the only reason to watch the episode !

     
  7. I love Anne Baxter, she’s my favorite female Columbo villain. She is beautiful and believable as her desperation drives to more extreme lengths. I always remember her longing for Moses(Charleton!) on the Ten Commandments…and failed seduction.
    Thanks for all the Columbo blogs. They’re always entertaining and fascinating.

    Is that a Zombie Ken Franklin complaining above?

     
    • Yes! “Moses”! Love beautiful Anne Baxter and her turn as Nora Chandler. Along with her fellow Ten Commandments “Columni” Nina Foch and Vincent Price (Carol Flemming and David Lang).

       
    • She was 44, so just below the cut-off mark for this article. I had planned to include her. Although there is some mystery about the actual year of Lee’s birth, so who knows?

       
  8. Shout out to Celeste Holm as Phyllis Brandt in “Old Fashioned Murder”. What do you think of that Lt…Columbus!

     
  9. A great idea to acknowledge mature women, contrary to what the world usually does. Thanks a lot. I certainly prefer aunt Edna to the Undercover lady, but I guess that’s my only objection. By the way, some other reader and I suggested under one of your posts (can’t remember which one) that you could write articles about top ten cars and top ten places. We hope you’ll give it a try. All the best!

     
    • These aren’t necessarily my own favourites, just a good cross-section of roles across the series. I adore Aunt Edna! I know she’s not to everyone’s tastes (too kooky) but she’s a sweet old thing!

      I thought I’d replied to the previous comment about cars and locations? Locations I could do, but I don’t know enough about cars to try my hand at that.

       
      • Oh, I’m sorry for repeating the suggestions if you had replied. I subscribe to the posts which I comment to be up to date – maybe I forgot that time? Anyway, I’m on the locations bandwagon more than cars. I’d like to know more about Bo Williamson’s ranch, for example – if it was a real place or just a set. I love horses, you see, and that’s, AFAIK, the only episode featuring a real horse (if only for a short time).

         
      • Love the locations aspect very much. Especially Callahan Film Ranch, where Dr. Mason gets the baby spotlight and trains Laurel and Hardy. We live in Toluca Lake, California. I get on the freeway to work each morning 10 feet from the restaurant (former location) where Dudek and Clayton play chess (across the street from Lakeside Car Wash, seen in the background when they’re driving to the restaurant).

         
  10. At the moment Kim Hunter as Aunt Edna is my favorite. She’s so fun to watch in suitable for framing. Coming in second is Kate Reid as Mrs Walters , poor Helen’s overbearing mother. Wonderful. Oh, and the gallery owner in Suitable for Framing played by Joan Shawlee and, of course, Mary Wickes as Tracy’s landlady, also in Suitable.

     
  11. Another great article and thanks for the namecheck. Janet Leigh only being 48 in Forgotten Lady is a fact that amazed me.

    Any Old Port In A Storm probably merits yet another mention thanks to the beautifully stated performance of Julie Harris as Adrian Carsini’s helpful but overly obsessed secretary Karen Fielding.

     
  12. Instead of these silly posts (along with those “five best moment things,” which should just be incorporated into each episode’s overall review), why don’t you just keep plowing through the series episode-by-episode, something that has reached a snail’s pace (at best)?

     
    • That’s is a rather mean-spirited comment, but I’ll address your points nevertheless.

      1.) These ‘silly posts’ are part of a varied content mix to give readers long reads, quick reads and lots of variety. Columbo as a show has a lot more discussion points than just the episodes themselves.

      2.) The reviews are quite long enough without shoe-horning the ‘5 best moments’ list into them as well. Also the ‘5 best moments’ offer a bite-sized overview of the episode rather than in-depth analysis, which suits many readers.

      3.) The actual reviews require the most time commitment from me to watch, take notes, draft, review, re-write, source, edit and crop imagery etc. Each one would take many, many hours of my time from start to finish and with a full-time job and two ‘young Columbos’ to raise, finding time to actually sit down and watch an episode is a rare treat.

      4.) It may surprise you to learn that the episode reviews are not always the most-read articles on the site. From nearly 250,000 page views this year, no episode reviews feature in the top 10 most-read articles, whereas several ‘top 10’ articles do. Murder by the Book is the most-read episode review of 2017 at 11th place in the annual standings.

      5.) Double Exposure is next up in the list of episode reviews. This is likely to be posted this month, and will very likely be the last review to air in 2017.

       
      • Dear Columbophile, the assortment of interesting, well-written commentary you provide on a variety of Columbo-related topics is more than we, your fellow fans, deserve. Your subject matter selection, insight, and writing expertise have expanded my appreciation of this brilliant series by light-years. This is a good reminder to thank you for your generous and, apparently, unappreciated work.

         
      • We enjoy everything you post, Columbophile. You’ve brought us many hours of enjoyment. Many, many thanks.

         
    • Here’s another idea, Bob. Why don’t you create your own Columbo website? Then you can post, or not post, whatever strikes your fancy. And then maybe you can appreciate the enormous amount of work that goes into maintaining fresh content on a site like this.

      For myself, I find these other posts entertaining and informative. How else would I learned about next year’ Columbo Con? Moreover, if Columbophile posted nothing but episode reviews — each of which takes many weeks to write — there would be overly long stretches with no new content posted. Who wants that?

       

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