While 2018 was something of a memorable year for Columbo fans, not least in part to the 50th anniversary of the airing of Prescription: Murder, it did not pass without some sad moments – notably the loss of a number of cherished guest stars and contributors.
It’s a sad duty of mine at this time of year to remember the Columbo stars we lost over the past 12 months, and briefly chronicle what they brought to the show and to the wider film and entertainment industry.
From iconic writers and award-winning editors to gifted composers and character actors, the following is a brief tribute to the Columbo fallen of 2018. May they continue to live long in our memories…
NB – it’s entirely possible I’ve missed the passing of other Columbo contributors, so please let me know if there are others I should include.
Bradford Dillman, died 16 January, aged 87
A versatile star of stage, screen and TV, Bradford Dillman is best known to Columbo fans as imbecilic floppy-haired victim Tony Goodland in Greenhouse Jungle – a cracking performance from Dillman, who really nailed the self-centred vacuity of the deeply flawed ‘wife-ridden weakling’ gunned down by Ray Milland’s Jarvis Goodland.
Dillman’s film credits include The Way We Were, The Enforcer, Escape from the Planet of the Apes and the 1959 crime drama classic Compulsion. Like many other Columbo alumni, he also starred in such TV shows as Mission Impossible, Wild Wild West and The Mary Tyler Moore Show. He passed away in Santa Barbara, California, due to complications caused by pneumonia.
Louise Latham, died 12 February, aged 95
Louise starred as the wife of murder victim Vic Morris in 1973’s sublime Double Exposure, but in a career spanning 5 decades she clocked up well over 100 acting credits on the large and small screen.
Her big break came in 1964 when she was cast as the manipulative mother of Tippi Hedren’s titular character in Hitchcok’s Marnie. Other film credits include The Sugarland Express, Mass Appeal, Love Field, Firecreek, The Philadelphia Experiment and Paradise, while she also appeared in such TV shows as The Waltons, Quincy, Kojak, The Six Million Dollar Man, ER and The X Files.
Louise died at a retirement home in Casa Dorinda, California, in February of natural causes.
Edward M Abroms, died 13 February, aged 82
An Oscar-nominated film editor, Ed Abroms contributed to Columbo as both an editor and director – and was one of show creators Richard Levinson and William Link’s most trusted off-camera lieutenants.
Employed at Universal largely as an editor, and one who was known for his gift for arresting optical effects, Abroms edited Ransom for a Dead Man, Death Lends a Hand and Lady in Waiting in 1971 – making him the man responsible for legendary sequences as the montage-on-glasses scene from Death Lends a Hand, and the surreal Beth Chadwick murderous daydream from Lady in Waiting.
Levinson and Link were so grateful to Abroms that they gave him directorial reins for Season 1’s Short Fuse, and he was said to be the only director that season that brought an episode in on schedule. He would later return to direct The Most Dangerous Match in Season 2 (overseeing the bonkers psychedelic chess nightmare opening sequence) and performed editing duties years later on Rest in Peace Mrs Columbo in 1990.
On the big screen, he edited (amongst others) Steven Spielberg’s Sugarland Express in 1974 and Jean-Claude Van Damme vehicle Street Fighter in 1994 – quite a variation! His Oscar nomination came for his work on 1983 blockbuster Blue Thunder, although he didn’t scoop the statuette. He did, however, win a 1972 Emmy for his editing work on Columbo. Abroms died of heart failure in February.
Stephen Bochco, died 1 April, aged 74
April 1 2018 struck a sombre note for Columbo fans with news that Steven Bochco had died at the age of 74 after a long battle with leukemia.
Bochco’s considerable contribution to Columbo, which commenced in 1971 when he wrote Season 1’s opening episode Murder by the Book at the age of 27. In collaboration with rookie director Steven Spielberg, Bochco created a story that stands the test of time better than almost any other Columbo episode, setting a standard of interaction and confrontation between the Lieutenant and his quarry (in this case Jack Cassidy’s Ken Franklin) that was rarely bested in the show’s 35-year run.
For this, he was nominated for an ‘Outstanding Writing Achievement in Drama’ Emmy in 1972, although he didn’t win. He went home empty handed a year later, too, after receiving a nomination for his work on Columbo Season 2 opener Etude in Black.
Bochco’s Columbo legacy is strong. He also contributed the teleplay to Lady in Waiting and Blueprint for Murder from Columbo’s first season and as well as Etude, he also wrote the teleplay for Season 2’s Double Shock and Season 3’s Mind Over Mayhem. His final outing in Columbo colours came in 1990, Uneasy Lies the Crown rekindled a story idea he’d originally come up with in the 70s.
Bochco is best known for creating Hill Street Blues and NYPD Blue – shows that won him multiple Emmy Awards – while he also co-created the likes of LA Law, Doogie Howser MD and Murder One. As such he is regarded as one of the most innovative and celebrated TV writers and producers of modern times.
Tim O’Connor, died 5 April, aged 90
A two-time Columbo guest star, O’Connor popped up as crooked lawyer Michael Hathaway in Double Shock in 1973, and again as murder victim Edward Lytton in Old Fashioned Murder three years later.
With more than 100 credits to his name, this versatile character actor starred in popular TV shows galore, including Dynasty, The Outer Limits, Wonder Woman, The Dukes of Hazzard, Barnaby Jones and M*A*S*H*. He is perhaps best known for his roles in Buck Rogers in the 25th Century and Peyton Place – clocking up more than 400 appearances in the latter.
O’Connor died at home in Nevada City, California. No cause of death has been given.
Chuck McCann, died 8 April, aged 83
A children’s TV show host in the 1960s before creaking into more serious acting roles in the 1970s, Chuck McCann is beloved by many Columbo fans for his turn as lovable lug Roger White in Double Exposure – the film projectionist who bought the farm after foolishly attempting to blackmail bad Bart Keppell.
A prolific voice-over actor, McCann gave voice to characters on children’s favourites including Duck Tales, The Powerpuff Girls and Garfield and Friends, and was also a talented puppeteer and Laurel and Hardy impersonator. His ‘I’m cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs!’ line from the iconic series of TV commercials has served to immortalise him for generations of US breakfast cereal eaters.
Chuck died of congestive heart failure in Los Angeles.
Vincent McEveety, died 19 May, aged 88
A prolific film and TV producer and director in the 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s, McEveety was in the directorial hot seat for seven Columbo episodes from 1990 to 1997: Rest in Peace, Mrs Columbo; Death Hits the Jackpot; A Bird in the Hand; It’s All in the Game; Undercover; Strange Bedfellows and A Trace of Murder.
A regular Disney director, McEveety also helmed family favourites including Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo, Herbie Goes Bananas and The Apple Dumpling Gang Rides Again. No cause of death has been given.
Patrick Williams, died 25 July, aged 79
A gifted and versatile composer, beloved by Frank Sinatra, Williams scored more than 150 TV shows, films and theatrical outings, earning dozens of accolades, including Oscar nominations, Emmy Awards and Grammies.
His Columbo contributions came in Season 7, with Williams scoring popular episodes Try & Catch Me and How to Dial a Murder. He even earned one of his 21 Emmy Award nominations for his work on Try & Catch Me, although didn’t scoop the top prize.
Among his cinematic scores was The Cheap Detective from 1979 – starring Peter Falk in the title role. Williams died of complications caused by cancer at St. John’s Hospital in Santa Monica, California.
Celeste Yarnall, died October 7, aged 74
A veteran of dozens of TV shows, particularly in the 1960s and 70s, the striking Celeste Yarnall graced the likes of Star Trek, Hogan’s Heroes, Wild Wild West and Bewitched in a career that spanned six decades.
Her Columbo role was fleeting (and I can’t even find an image), but Celeste is credited as ‘Gloria’ in 1971’s Ransom for a Dead Man. If anyone has a screen shot of her, please send it through.
Celeste died at Westlake Village, California at the age of 74. She had been suffering from ovarian cancer since 2014.
Ken Swofford, died 1 November, aged 85
Although cast as the hugely aggressive and unlikable murder victim Harry Stone in 1973’s Candidate for Crime, Ken Swofford was, by all accounts, a lovely chap who amassed more than 120 acting credits over a career stretching from the early 1960s to the 2000s.
On the small screen, he appeared notably as Frank Flanagan in Ellery Queen in 1975-76 and also as Vice Principal Quentin Morloch for three seasons on the TV adaptation of FAME in the 1980s. He also cropped up in a plethora of popular shows including Baywatch, The Rockford Files, Six Million Dollar Man, Knight Rider, Murder, She Wrote and Dallas.
On the big screen, Swofford appeared in such hits as The Andromeda Strain, Annie and Thelma and Louise. He died at home at his long-time residence in Pacific Grove, California, with his wife of 58 years, Barbee, and family by his side.
Donald Moffat, died 20 December, aged 87
A regular on the big screen and on Broadway, Moffat is perhaps best known for starring as the sinister President Bennett, alongside Harrison Ford, in 1994’s Clear and Present Danger. He also starred in legendary 1982 cult horror flick The Thing, directed by John Carpenter.
His Columbo pedigree is less well known, but Moffat starred as Sheldon Hays in the little-loved 1992 outing No Time to Die – an episode I admittedly haven’t watched for many years, and did not recall him appearing in.
Moffat died on at home in Sleepy Hollow, New York, following complications caused by a recent stroke.
I leave you with the same sentiment I do every year when I write an article of this type: with the pool of Columbo guest stars ever diminishing, we must remember to treasure those still with us while we can.
Thanks as ever for reading, and here’s wishing Columbo fans everywhere a terrific, fun and memorable 2019.