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5 best moments from Columbo Publish or Perish

Columbo Eddie Kane
There ain’t no party like a Jack Cassidy party, right Eddie?

Although it’s often regarded as the lesser light of Jack Cassidy’s three Columbo outings, I actually think Publish or Perish is the uber-villain’s finest hour.

With a host of side-splitting comic moments, an intricate and fiendishly plotted double murder and a magnificent cast in depth, Publish or Perish is full of rewards for the observant viewer. But just what are its very, very finest scenes? Here’s what I reckon…

Publish or Perish is full of rewards for the observant viewer.”

5. But WHO? WHY?

Columbo Riley Greenleaf
Columbo’s prime reason for suspecting Greenleaf was surely his response to Mallory’s demise

Amidst some hot competition, the prize for ‘Least Convincing Display of Grief‘ upon learning that a dear friend / loved one has been slain goes to our mate Riley when hearing that Allen Mallory is dead.

Hungover after spending a night in the drunk tank due to challenging police officers to a rumble, Greenleaf is informed of his protege’s demise when Columbo plays a tape recording that appears to capture the moment Mallory was gunned down.

When Columbo confirms Mallory is dead, Greenleaf’s response of “But WHO? WHY?” was loud enough to rattle window panes right across the greater Los Angeles metropolitan area – and it never fails to raise a titter with keen fans.

4. The sleazy side of publishing

Columbo Publish or Perish

Greenleaf Publications seems to be the Mills & Boon (or worse) of the Columbo universe, with its chief export being ‘naughty’ novels going by titles as varied as Modern Aztec Courtship Practices and My Home Was a [presumed whore] House. Highbrow it ain’t…

Waiting for an interview with Greenleaf, Columbo wanders about the premises and looks on at a troubled photography shoot, where a swooning maiden in Hawaiian garb is complaining about the aroma of her co-worker’s costume. “His t-shirt smells? YOUR T-SHIRT SMELLS?” rages the irritated photographer, as Columbo raises an eyebrow in bemusement. Upon meeting Greenleaf, the Lieutenant asks what sort of book the shoot was for. “Anthropology,” is the publisher’s deadpan response.

So, a very entertaining scene that lays out bare (excuse the pun) the smutty world that Greenleaf operates in. And, who knows, perhaps King of Sleaze Sean Brantley, the murderous naughty photographer from 1990’s Columbo Cries Wolf, earned his stripes here on an internship? I rather hope so…

3. Sparks will fly

Columbo Publish or Perish Eddie Kane
Eddie Kane: one of the few US soldiers to thoroughly enjoy his Vietnam experience

Publish or Perish literally gets off to an explosive start as we encounter sinister bomb specialist Eddie Kane wreaking havoc at a garbage tip. He’s met here by chief protagonist Riley Greenleaf, where it becomes quickly evident that Kane has been hired to take out a hit at Greenleaf’s request.

Interspersed with freeze frames of a variety of meaty KABOOOMS, the effective opening succinctly outlines the intricacies of the crimes ahead, as well as giving us a good first-hand look at the criminal collaborators.

Most chilling, perhaps, is Kane’s immediate transformation from ice-cold killer to grinning, placated puppy dog when learning that Greenleaf will publish his book on bombs. This guy has a serious screw loose, making him an extremely unstable component. We’re left in no doubt that sparks are going to fly in this one!

2. I forgot to add the ice tea…

Columbo Publish or Perish
The arrest and thrashing of the snooty waiter wasn’t shown, BUT CERTAINLY HAPPENED

Columbo catches up with publishing duo Jeffrey Neal and Eileen McRae at fashionable Chasen’s restaurant, where the hungry detective finds the uppity options on the menu not quite to his taste. So instead he requests a bowl of chilli, along with an ice tea – much to the disgust of the stereotypically snooty French waiter.

After swiftly polishing it off over a quick conversation, Columbo ups and leaves and is stung by the high price of his order – a princely $6. “I think there’s a mistake,” he stammers. “I had the chilli and the ice tea.” The waiter corrects the bill, but the price has gone up, not down. “$6.75?” mourns Columbo. “I forgot to add the ice tea,” replies the waiter.

It’s another rib-tickling scene, the great joke being that Chasen’s was revered for its chilli, which was a favourite amongst Hollywood luminaries. The scene also works well in entertainingly delivering key information to the Lieutenant, notably that Mallory’s incomplete novel had already been picked up by Universal as a Rock Hudson vehicle, necessitating a re-write of the final chapters, because “For $100,000 you don’t kill off Rock Hudson.” It’s the info that will ultimately do in for Greenleaf.

Plus, Mariette Hartley in a red stetson? Mrrrrroooow!

1. Riley on the rampage!

Columbo Publish or Perish Jack Cassidy
“Here, go buy yourself a personality!”

Interspersed over 14 minutes of innovative split-screen editing, Riley Greenleaf’s faux drunken shenanigans as he aims to both incriminate and exonerate himself from the killing of Allen Mallory is some of the most enjoyable television ever recorded. Lurching from shambling aggression and outright rudeness to wicked fun, this is Jack Cassidy doing what he does best.

Among the highlights of his drunken spree are him tossing money at a barkeep and suggesting he buys himself a personality. Better is to follow as he accosts lily-livered ‘Ralphie’ in the bar car park and delivers a glorious riposte to the nagging wife: “Madame, in your condition I should call a plastic surgeon!” He later challenges police officers to remove him from his illegally parked car – a challenge they happily accept. Every moment is GOLD!

The joy of these scenes is that Cassidy delivers the lines with a mischievous smile on his face throughout. He’s clearly having a blast, and that sense of fun is absolutely contagious. And that’s really the chief take-out from Publish or Perish: the unforgettable sight of Jack Cassidy in full flight.

View some highlights of Riley’s rampage below…

“Lurching from shambling aggression and outright rudeness to wicked fun, this is Jack Cassidy doing what he does best.”

If you need a more detailed reminder of the excellence of Publish or Perish, read my full episode review here. You can also find out where Riley Greenleaf ranks in my list of favourite Columbo killers here. SPOILER: he’s highly rated!

As always, I invite opinions of your personal highlights of this episode, so do bust a comment below and let’s continue the conversation. Until next time, BOMBS AWAY, EDDIE!

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Columbo Publish or Perish Mariette Hartley
Ride ’em cowgirl!
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23 thoughts on “5 best moments from Columbo Publish or Perish

  1. I wonder who did the covers for “My Home was a House” and “Modern Aztec Courtship Practices.” Love that pulpy feel.

  2. G ood episode , one thing that damages the episode slightly for me is when Riley says in front of everyone to Mallory at the club you do and you will die , this could have easily been left out why the writers had to include this i m not sure its way too obvious a clue .

  3. Interesting moments: (in no particular order)

    • The incredible hamminess of “But, who…why?”
    • The non-voluptuous Mariette Hartley looking stunning with long hair, wearing that pink/beige dress at Chasens
    • Eddie Kane touching but not looking at his watch after tossing a variety of explosives at old cars, supposedly timing the fuses (where is this place?, it must be heaven!)
    • Drunken Riley harassing the very non-hippie couple driving the VW hippie van that he smacked into, after putting down the bar, the bouncer and “the Valley”
    • Drunken Riley goading the smiling cop with “need help?”, prior to getting his arse handed to him by said officers
    • Drunken Riley telling drink server “you’re lovely….leave”
    • All of the rest of the drunken Riley scenes
    • Mickey Spillane, just cause he’s cool
    • Eddie Kane’s creepiness factor, acting all tough until Greenleaf gives him a down payment on his novel, then he changes into golly-gee-willikers! Mr. tough-guy scrawny veteran drives a VW bug. He’s incredibly unconvincing as a veteran of the US armed forces or any force, for that matter

    The ending was rather lame, but I noticed Norman Wolpert (Jack Bender), the young manuscript office runner, later became a huge success as a Producer/Director in Hollyweird

    Sgt. Young (Paul Shenar) later played Alejandro Sosa in Scarface, and died from AIDS complications in the late ’80’s.

    • One more head scratching moment: what did Riley use to create the explosion in Eddie Kanes garage apartment? How could the explosion have been so loud, but the building remain still intact, with no destructive fire? His address book was un-singed for heaven’s sake! I would assume Kane’s body could have been tested for whatever Riley doped him with. Did Riley take the champagnes bottle and glasses with him? And since he was so close to Kane’s apartment, why did he peel out right after the explosion, drawing attention to himself?

      So may things don’t add up in this one. If Cassidy hadn’t played Greenleaf, I think this one would have been sent to the bottom 10% of episodes.

      For my money’s worth, the most realistic looking Hollywood cigarette smokers are Cassidy and Billy Bob Thornton, who would have made a great Columbo killer, in my opinion.

        • I find the home made stuff in eddies apartment rather un convincing for much the same reasons as Ulsterfan also it should be noted that Riley didn’t understand the 24 hour clock system or army time as Eddie stated at the start in the junk yard so I assume Riley had no or little military background so it seems a bit of a leap to making a home made bomb when it suited Riley even if he had the instructions , a bit far fetched for me sorry

          , As good as Publish or perish is I just cant put it among my very favorite episodes such as Try and catch me , Negative Reaction , Swan song , Prescription murder , the bye – bye , Identity Crisis prescription murder and so on.

  4. Hi Columbophile , Its been a while since I seen publish or perish , They are definetley the best scenes although i might have replaced the Ice tea scene with , the scene with columbo loitering in the hallway and the receptionist phoning Riley saying there is a funny little man acting strangely downstairs ,Riley replies well call the police , she replies thats the thing sir ,he claims he is the police .
    I thought that was funny . However as good as publish or perish is and the great performance from jack i a m not a Huge fan of this episode , I find it full of good stuff , no boring time wasting poop like candidate for crime and forgotten lady are full of , A double murder, funny moments and so on, BUT I just cant fall in love with the ending/conclusion ,I have re watched it several times on you tube and still find it some what complicated and a little unsatisfying could have been made better in my opinion , I think I prefer Now you see him to this with Murder by the book 3rd in Jacks trilogy . good episode still though .

  5. I STILL don’t understand the ending! It’s got me going in circles. The way Columbo handled the errand boy was effective and the scene with Eileen’s feedback, but they were both too short to help me understand WHAT’S GOING ON!!

    • I am of the same i have never quite got the ending either , great performance by jack , the errand boy and columbo but for me the ending leaves a great episode down a tad , its a slight mess for me the ending perhaps i could be wrong but ive watched it several times and read the full review in conclusion , Publish or Perish is more of a top 20 episode in my book not a top 10.

  6. This was always my favorite Jack Cassidy movie. He was reserved and menacing in the other two; in this one he let it all hang out, whether laughing or snarling. His drunken scene is some of the funniest Columbo gold you can find!

  7. I agree with all you said about Jack Cassidy in that episode. Also loved him as the Great Santini

  8. Loved this episode. Jack Cassidy was always fantastic and Peter Falk a genius. I could watch these over a hundred times.

  9. This episode makes sense only if the killer knows that he is a character in an episode of Columbo. If he knows that a detective as skilled as Columbo will be investigating, he can be confident that the phony evidence he has planted against himself will fall apart, but not otherwise. I suppose that self-aware, meta-theatrical stuff might have worked if they had taken it further.

  10. I had pointed this out in the initial review of this episode. Greenleaf needlessly made this case a lot easier than it could have been. He announced in front of a slew of witnesses that Mallory would never write for anyone else. He announces this hours before Mallory’s murder. So, who else are the police going to look at first? And if even he had an alibi that wouldn’t in any way rule out that he simply hired someone to kill Mallory.

    Had Greenleaf just kept his mouth shut, not set up Eddy, and just hired Eddy to do the job and pay him to go away he would have got away with the murder without any good reason to investigate him.

    As for the list, as usual it’s a good solid list and there’s little reason to disagree. But we’ll still disagree about Eileen Mcrae’s hat 🙂

    • In theory, Greenleaf’s “defense” was his apparent lack of a defense. His (1) frankness toward Mallory, expressed openly, coupled with (2) his apparent inability to claim an alibi for himself. What guilty person (his attorney might argue) would do such things? What guilty person would create an alibi for himself so haphazardly that he can’t even remember it? Who frames himself for murder?

      Presumably, Greenleaf does all this because regardless, he’s the most likely suspect. He needs something to confuse the bloodhounds. That’s what red herrings are for, after all.

  11. The weakest of Cassidys three appearances in my opinion, but still a very solid and entertaining episode. And yes his feigned drunken rampage was very nicely done, unfortunately for this very talented man this was not far off from his real life and would ultimately contribute to his demise.

  12. I enjoyed his one like the others Jack Cassidy did. He was my favorite of course Peter talk was at the top. I wish Peter was still here young and healthy making more of these shows. Don’t like tv today.

  13. I think the best performance by Cassidy also, delivered with special elan.

    The story is great for about the initial 45 minutes. It becomes somewhat incredible with the prospect of Kane writing a script. A contrived, uninteresting ending.

  14. I think however the motive in this case was fairly petty and weak. I’d have said to him “Ok he left you for another publisher, but killing him will gain you nothing at all, Riley. And your firm will not lack plenty of cheap scriveners to write the sleazy porn you publish, right?”


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