Every once in a while I’m surprised to encounter a Columbo fan who doubts the existence of Mrs Columbo. I’m here to scotch those rumours for good.
And before you smart alecs chime in, I’m perfectly aware this is a TV show, and that she doesn’t really exist. However, in the Columbo universe Mrs Columbo is as real as the Lieutenant himself – even if we never get to lay our eyes on her.
Ardent fans will be well aware of this, but this article is aimed at the more casual fan; the one that digs a bit of Columbo, but doesn’t know every second of every episode off by heart – yet. Casual viewer, I salute you!
“In the Columbo universe, Mrs Columbo is as real as the Lieutenant himself.”
Here I’ll lay out the evidence for Mrs Columbo, as well as tracking back into the archives to provide some insights from Peter Falk and character creators William Link and Dick Levinson on whether or not they believed Mrs C was the real McCoy.
NB – I am absolutely not referring to the SWILL that was the Mrs Columbo TV series that ran for 13 episodes from 1979-80 (ooooh – spanning two decades!). This non-canonical RUBBISH must never be associated with the dear Lieutenant, so if 24-year-old Kate Mulgrew is your mental picture of Mrs Columbo, some illusions are about to be shattered…
The early years
For as long as we’ve known Columbo, he’s been talking about his wife. As far back as Prescription: Murder he recounts how she gives him a pencil every day, which he always goes on to lose. We learn that she thinks he’s forgetful, and that she’d prefer it if he smoked a pipe instead of cigars.
When Columbo returned to screens in 1971 the homely anecdotes about his wife stayed with him. But many of these were broad and could have been applied to anyone at all – in keeping with a potentially fictional character whom Columbo simply referenced as a means of lulling his quarry into underestimating him.
“Levinson and Link wanted Columbo to be a mysterious figure, so it was entirely possible, initially, that Mrs Columbo was a figment of his imagination.”
She certainly could have been fictional when season 1 of the series proper kicked off in late 1971. Character creators Dick Levinson and William Link, in particular, seemed to be of the opinion that Columbo simply made up the references about his wife to suit whatever conversation he was having at that time. In their minds, Columbo was more likely to be a bachelor who lived alone and was married to his work. He never wears a wedding ring, for one thing.
Levinson and Link wanted Columbo to be a mysterious figure. Where did he come from? Where did he go? No one knew, so it was entirely possible that Mrs Columbo was a figment of the Lieutenant’s imagination. Even characters within the show seemed vaguely distrustful of the Lieutenant’s tales of his wife. In Ransom for a Dead Man, Leslie Williams chafes Columbo about his “bag of shop-worn tricks”, including “the seeming absent-mindedness, the homey anecdotes about the family, the wife…”
However, Mrs Columbo soon took on a life of her own. Levinson and Link only wrote one episode of season 1 (Death Lends a Hand), instead having their hands full with production duties. This allowed other writers to put their imprint on the series – and it’s at this stage that Mrs Columbo starts feeling a whole lot more real.
I believe that when season 1 first aired, none of Falk, Levinson and Link had decided whether Mrs Columbo existed. Maybe it didn’t even matter. But then along came Lady in Waiting – the fifth episode of the first season – and all of a sudden the references to her ring entirely true.
Chatting to Peter Hamilton at the bar, Columbo mentions how his wife has a proverb for every situation and that during an argument between them she accused him of ‘putting the cart before the horse’. This proved to be a light bulb moment for Columbo in cracking the Beth Chadwick case, where he himself had put the evidential cart before the horse.
This was a recount of a very authentic, very human encounter; one too personalised to have been made up on the spot. From this point on Mrs Columbo increasingly becomes a fleshed-out character, too real to be simply a part of Columbo’s psyche – unless, of course, he’s certifiable, which we all know isn’t the case.
A further example that strengthens the argument for Mrs Columbo’s existence come in Short Fuse, when the Lieutenant recounts that his wife believes he’s the second best cop in the LAPD – behind 80 other guys tied for first. It’s a sweet anecdote that seems entirely grounded in reality.
Moving into season 2, Columbo chats to car mechanic Mike in Etude in Black about how his wife’s car is nothing special – it’s “just for transportation”. Columbo has nothing to gain by referencing his wife to a random Joe, providing a clear signal that she’s a legit character.
Similarly in Requiem for a Falling Star, the Lieutenant rings home to let his wife know that he’s hanging out with Nora Chandler. Even though Mrs C is out shopping for fish, Columbo chats amiably to brother-in-law George (who also speaks to Nora), so there was definitely someone on the other end of the line who seems to know Columbo and his wife.
Even though the viewers haven’t seen her yet, Mrs Columbo becomes more real with every episode that passes. Yet it’s not until season 4 that we can absolutely say that she’s the genuine article.
Consider the conversation Columbo has with her on the phone from Gene Stafford’s office in An Exercise in Fatality. There’s no one else with him, and the call has no bearing on the case – it’s simply a husband ringing his wife to discuss dinner plans. Again, we’d have to consider Columbo mad to be doing this if Mrs C ain’t real.
Far more definitive proof comes in Troubled Waters. Mrs Columbo has won the couple a cruise at the church raffle and she’s definitely aboard the
boat ship, as testified by Captain Gibbons and Purser Watkins who both report having seen her at different stages of the episode. Unless there was some sort of mass hallucination taking place, even the most doubting Thomas can now safely believe in Mrs Columbo’s existence.
Just as conclusively, ace spy Nelson Brenner has bugged the Columbos’ home in Identity Crisis. When the Lieutenant reveals that Madame Butterfly is his wife’s favourite piece of music, Brenner warbles back: “I kno-oooooow!” He’d have no reason to say that if it wasn’t true.
We must also remember the hated new coat Mrs Columbo gifted the Lieutenant in Now You See Him. Columbo couldn’t think in the offending garment and spent the episode trying to get rid of it. If this wasn’t a genuine gift from his genuine beloved, the guy has a serious screw loose! There are also numerous other phone calls between Columbo and his wife over many years to strengthen the argument.
Personally I think these examples are more important than actually having to see Mrs Columbo ourselves. We want Columbo to have a wife because we want him to have the happy and fulfilling life off-screen that he so fondly talks about.
Assuming Mrs Columbo to be fictitious makes the Lieutenant out to be at best a lonely eccentric; at worst someone with serious mental health issues – very unappealing options for so beloved a character.
Life after The Conspirators
When Columbo’s televisual career wound down after 1978’s The Conspirators (another episode complete with references to ‘her indoors’), NBC was keen to keep on making cash out of the Columbo name – with or without Peter Falk.
The network’s new President and CEO, Fred Silverman, therefore decided to finally give audiences what they’d surely always wanted – full sight of the Lieutenant’s wife. And despite the protestations of Levinson and Link, NBC – who owned the rights to the Columbo name – pushed ahead with the creation of the dreaded Mrs Columbo.
In an attempt to make the best of a bad situation, Levinson and Link did what they could to at least ensure the show’s central character bore some resemblance to the woman that Columbo had spent years talking about. They first suggested Oscar-nominated actress Maureen Stapleton, but NBC wouldn’t have it. The duo later put their support behind Zohra Lampert – a member of Falk and Cassavetes’ inner circle – only to be rebuffed again.
NBC wanted a young hottie to carry the name, so cast 24-year-old Kate Mulgrew as the titular Mrs Columbo. Never you mind that she was only born in 1955, and so would’ve been just 13 years old when Columbo spoke about his wife in Prescription: Murder – the decision was made.
Needless to say, the series absolutely bombed. Falk described it as ‘disgraceful’, and viewers gave it a wide berth. Realising the error of their ways too late, NBC attempted to distance the show from Columbo itself. The show was renamed Kate Columbo, with the leading lady said to be married to some other LAPD cop also going by the name of Columbo.
She was subsequently said to have divorced him and returned to her maiden name of Kate Callahan as the show was retitled (again) to Kate the Detective and AGAIN to Kate Loves a Mystery. The unloved debacle was finally put out of its misery in 1980 after two torrid seasons.
Despite the best attempts of the show to be considered canonical (even showing the Lieutenant’s clapped-out Peugeot in the driveway of her home in the opening titles), Mrs Columbo must never be regarded as having any genuine in-universe connections to Columbo.
And when the Lieutenant himself returned to screens in 1989, still happily married to his dear wife, any lingering doubts as to whether Kate Mulgrew could be considered to be the actual Mrs Columbo were firmly put to bed.
We still didn’t see her, but she was real enough to have Vivian Dimitri try to kill her in Rest in Peace Mrs Columbo; while a dog groomer in Caution, Murder Can Be Hazardous to Your Health mentions taking direct instructions from her on a pedicure for Dog!
The final word
Hopefully the above evidence should be enough for any doubter to now fully get on-board the ‘Mrs Columbo is real‘ bandwagon. And Peter Falk certainly came to believe in her – even if if he wasn’t sure way back when Columbo first hit screens.
In a 1999 interview with James Lipton on long-running US interview show Inside The Actors Studio, Falk was asked whether Columbo’s wife and relatives were mere fantasies. His response was emphatic: “Oh no no, all those people exist.” Case closed? I think so…
As a final aside, much as I think it was the right thing to keep Mrs C in an off-screen capacity, I do believe there could have been an appropriate and subtle way to include her in a fitting finale to the entire Columbo saga.
Falk longed to film one last Columbo in the mid-2000s (read more here) in order to give closure to the character. Wouldn’t it have been wonderful for the very final scene to have a retiring Lieutenant be interrupted from a farewell conversation by his car pulling into the shot behind and the horn being beeped.
“Oh you’ll have to excuse me, that’s my wife,” Columbo would say. “She’s taking me out to dinner and her car is in the garage, so she’s driving mine.”
He would then proceed to turn and amble towards the car, where we would see an indistinct woman sitting behind the wheel – the camera focus just too soft to pinpoint her looks – as the screen faded to black. I tell ya, there wouldn’t be a dry eye in the universe…
Do share your views on Mrs Columbo below. Are you glad she never appeared, or would you have liked to see her pop up during the life of the series? And did you ever tune in to Mrs Columbo, the show? If so, let me know what you made of it. Utter tripe, or unfairly vilified?
Worth mentioning that at the point in Troubled Waters where he asks the purser about her, and moments later talks with her on the phone, the murder hasn’t even happened yet. So there’s no reason for him to invent – or fake a phone call to – an imaginary wife.
Columbo’s wife was real and her first name was “Mrs.” All kidding aside, wotguy just nailed the closest we ever got to see her. Purser Watkins mentions seeing her looking for the lost detective. But they really blew a potentially great scene: they could at least showed her from behind as Columbo meets up with her at the end. That would have made for a glorious moment in the series!
I like entertaining the idea that Columbo is a mythomaniac and that the wife is therefore only a product of his imagination, and/or a device used in his preying routine. And that others characters play along because, you know, it’s never good to try to make a mythomaniac snap out of it. Or maybe they just pity the poor fella.
I realize it’s a big stretch, but it can work with a bit of imagination. And it makes the show much more interesting and funny to me.
Yes I can go along with that idea. I think she did exist but if she didn’t that would explain Colombo always looking like he needed a wife to press his suit and encourage him to spruce himself up a bit.
I never loved-loved Columbo as many here do – I watched them along with the other mystery movies, but never liked the idea that you already know who the murderer is – but I watched them; and I do recall seeing a few Mrs. Columbo’s in the middle of the run and those were better than anticipated, cause all the buzz then was that the show was dreadful. Kate Mulgrew was likable, and at least the mystery was intact till the end. At the time I didn’t think she was supposed to be the REAL Mrs. Columbo, their ages was a dead giveaway, but that she was more like a “Mrs. Sherlock Holmes” a lady that loved a mystery. But I must have seen them after they started to de-emphasize the Columbo-link.
Is she real? Absolutely. But she’s also a device for Columbo to use to ingratiate himself to the murderer. In some cases, like Alex Benedict in Etude in Black, I completely believe Mrs. Columbo is used solely to ingratiate himself to Benedict.
He shows up at Benedict’s home, ostensibly for an autograph, but really, in order to grill him. Now, Benedict has seen Columbo, and if Columbo plays gushing superfan, Benedict ain’t buying it for a second.
But Mrs. Columbo? A woman he’s never seen? Now that works. Now it’s believable, and now it gives Columbo just one more extra chance to rattle his quarry.
She’s an adoring woman, no doubt, but she also serves as his “in” when he’s trying to ingratiate himself to a murderer in a profession that there is no believable way he’d have an interest in.
I always thought it was weird to not ever have her make an appearance, not even a picture, or as far as I know, not even a voice on a phone call. Very weird. I loved the show though, back in the day, and am now re-watching it on Peacock.
Hi Jan. I think it’s because Columbo mentions his wife a lot in “Prescription: Murder” but there was no need for her to appear ,so the later stories stories simply maintained the tradition.
I can’t figure out how to respond to the actual article, so I’ll leave it in the response. Falk appears in character as Columbo at the Frank Sinatra Roast in 1978, and asks for an autograph for “himself and the missus”, then asks “can you put Mrs. Columbo’s name first?” and then asks “Can you just put “To Rose?””.
I know that it’s unlikely that the majority of people would have seen the roast, but technically we’ve had Lt. Columbo himself tell us Mrs. Columbo’s name in character since 1978! The very year that the Lt. wound down from the role!
Her name is Rose Columbo, thus immediately nullifying Kate Columbo’s status as the missus before she even began!
Was Kate Columbo already in pre-production when this roast was filmed? If so, could Falk’s adlibbing Columbo’s wife’s name have been a sly response to the poor executive choices?
As I recall, Sinatra waves to the camera and says “Hi, Rosie!”.
I’ve mentioned before that in the early 1970’s I read an interview with Peter Falk where he says that he thought of Lt Columbo as having the first name “Joe”, I guess because Columbo would know what his own name was.
Perhaps he also thought of Mrs Columbo’s first name as “Rose”, as Columbo would know what his wife’s name was, even if he never says it.
I agree with the fact that we Ms Columbo is never shown was the correct decision and added more quality to the lieutenant antics. Also I would have loved to see her at least once in a closure episode.
The lieutenant retiring and greeted at home by his wife and other relatives (some kids and grandkods maybe, the in law he talked to the phone when his wife was out for fish).
Who knows. This might have happened in the proposed 70th episode that Peter Falk wanted to make, but in the event Columbo is still a serving cop at the end of what turned out to be the final, 69th episode “Columbo Likes The Nightlife”.
And we do at least see a photo of a member of his family in the episode “Rest In peace Mrs Columbo”.
It’s just occurred to me that the fish episode was more likely if Mrs C was the lieutenants sister and the man he spoke with was his brother in law.
There is evidence that Columbo makes up at least some of the anecdotes about his relatives in the late ’90’s episode, Ashes To Ashes.
Columbo learns some useful information when he visits the garage of an LA cab company, but he doesn’t want the suspect to know he was following up a lead, so he makes out that he just happened to talk to to his cab driver “cousin”, who just happened to mention it.
I think the proof that Mrs Columbo really does exist is right there in Columbo’s first scene in Prescription: Murder.
He is immediately suspicious of “Doctor Fleming?” when he returns from his trip and doesn’t call out to his wife, something that Columbo always does.
And in Identity Crisis, Patrick McGoogan’s character has Columbo’s house bugged. and finds out that Madam Butterfly is Mrs Columbo’s favourite piece of music.
I’m new to actually watching Columbo—for years my only exposure to him was through Wings of Desire—so I’ll see how my thinking changes. In the episodes I’ve watched, I don’t believe in her. in a series that turns on observing small details, no one has noted the absence of a wedding ring — and I like to think of the mentions of his wife as one of the many ways Columbo teases his interviewees with small dissemblances. Perhaps she only became real in later seasons.
I saw the Mrs Columbo series when it was broadcast in the UK, and more recently a couple of bonus episodes included on region 1 DVD’s of the Columbo series. (This includes an episode with Donald Pleasance as a Scotland Yard inspector).
If the series had been called “Kate Loves a Mystery” from the start, and If it had never been connected in any way with the beloved Columbo series, it would be regarded more favourably. I mean it. Kate Mulgrew was very attractive as a young woman and is a fine actor.
The premise of a young housewife and mother who is married to a homicide detective, and regularly solves crimes while working as a reporter for the local paper should not be taken too seriously, but is fine for some light hearted escapism. It’s no more far fetched than Miss Marple.
Of course Kate (the actor) was too young to be Lt Columbo’s wife, but maybe Kate (the character) could have just been nicknamed “Mrs Columbo” because she was good at solving crimes?
By all means, put it in a parallel universe, but give it a break.
The ending of the rather fantastic episode – Rest in Peace : Mrs Columbo , when the Lieutenant Calls her from the Sergeants house, is rather touching and had me in tears a little.
What a truly Wonderful piece of TV. I watched it for the first time tonight hard to believe that it came out in 1990, 30 years ago. One can only imagine the emotions of watching it for the first time back then it must’ve been truly magical but harrowing at the same time. One of my favourite Columbo episodes for sure.
I admit to being one of the more casual fans who questioned the true existence of Mrs. C. Finally watched RIP today anxiously wondering if the answer would be overt. Well, it was (she clearly exists), but I’m left still wishing she didn’t.
Before I continue I should acknowledge that I trust CP has laid out an accurate case that the show has long made clear she exists. I have not watched every episode and therefore don’t deny this fact.
But it’s interesting that her reality was largely up for debate until season 4. That’s when TV shows often need to break from formula and throw in new developments just to mix things up. I’m sure several writers were dying to lend credence to Mrs C so they did. But knowing that Levinson/Link/Falk originally didn’t know only adds to my opinion that she works better as a malleable muse (presuming you could go back and rewrite the specific scenes that blow that possibility apart).
Colombo eats many meals in bachelor diners, he’s always on the clock, he has hounded or staked out suspects at 3 am, 7am, 8 pm … how can he do this and maintain a fulfilling marriage? It’d be one thing if he was only called in on the big cases, but we see him time and again first on scene to apparent suicides, accidents etc., where he and only he suspects murder. He is clearly married to the job above all else. Not having to juggle a family life makes his ability to research esoteric clues like fine art (Suitable for Framing) or psych conditions (RIP Mrs C) on the fly more believable.
I suspect the writers eventually made Mrs C real for the very reason CP wants her to be real — she legitimizes Colombo as a well-adjusted, happy, normal human — not lonely or gay or Monk-ish or a homicide idiot savant or whatever else might have spoiled his genius to 70s audiences.
But I feel it’s his singular focused, obsessed, dogged, undistracted, approach to solving murder that gives him his edge. I want him to be happy but don’t think he needs a wife to be so. I think he actually ENJOYS making Mrs C into whatever straw woman she needs to be to serve each case. It makes far more sense that she’s an invented tool of a brilliant detective than to accept she’s this proto-magic pixie dream girl that is down to earth enough for old-fashioned Colombo to love with devotion but fantastical enough to inspire our hero’s various diatribes.
Again, I’m not saying Mrs C isn’t real in the canon, I’m just saying it’d be better if she wasn’t.
When I found out the house used to deceive the killer to confess in RIP was actually the sergeant’s house, I jumped for joy. The longstanding Colombo ruse is so thorough that Vivian Demetri wanted to kill a woman who didn’t exist!!! But then he calls up old sick Mrs C and the illusion is shattered, at least to this viewer. We’re left knowing that Mrs C exists but probably sees her husband a total of 45 minutes each week.
True, but the series only centers on a high point during Columbo’s daily routine, I.E. when someone decides to stage an elaborate murder and Columbo is called into investigate.
That’s the way I look at it. Each season of Columbo, we, as the audience, are witnessing him solve his marquee cases.
Yes, when he’s on the case, he’s committed all the way and anything outside of police work is an afterthought, But he only tackles, what, 6-10 cases per season? And those cases are usually solved in, say a week’s worth of investigation, at most. So for the other 42 weeks of the year, Columbo is either solving the cases that are easy to close (The first 48) or is at his desk, chillin. And when you consider it from the terms that he’s only doing these Sherlock Holmes style investigations 10 weeks out of the year, it shows that he probably does have plenty of off-duty time to spoil and cavort with Mrs. Columbo.
The same can be said of the James Bond franchise. We’re seeing Bond on his one major mission per year. The rest of the time, he’s just a British civil servant with an office.
It’s too bad that “Mrs. Columbo” (the show) wasn’t more like “Columbo” (the show), for fans of “Columbo” who might have enjoyed seeing another side of the “Columbo” universe. It’s also sad that the network tried to backpedal and make *less* of a connection between the two, renaming it and all.
My friend came up with a good explanation tonight when I was telling him about this article: the Kate Mulgrew “Mrs. Columbo” is an alternate, parallel universe to the original “Columbo.”
There’s a bodybuilder/actor named Franco Columbu. He played a Terminator in “The Terminator” (1984). I think of him every time I see a mention of Lt. Columbo’s first name being “Frank”!
Columbo is kind of like the Terminator, in that he is dogged and relentless and unstoppable. He does feel pity and you can reason with him, though. 🙂
I just saw the Frank Sinatra roast and Columbo was there. He asked Frank to sign a napkin to his wife, first he said Mrs Columbo, then he said make it out to Rose. So I think he has a wife and now we know her name is Rose!
with the episode Troubled Waters there is no room for doubt, as other characters in the show have seen her, so the discussion is even pointless. but i would also list the episode “mind over mayhem”, which isn’t a proof per se, but it still serves well the purpose: why would columbo lie to a kid, saying he needs his wife to take his mind off the case? it’s not credible that he would play mind games with the child, and there is no reason why he would lie to him, or make up a wife.
In order to get out of her jail time, Irene De Milo married Columbo (in real life).
Yes I think Mrs Columbo existed, there was also the episode Columbo goes to college
where he used Mrs Columbo’s car.
As for Kate Mulgrew playing Mrs Columbo her age doesn’t matter because actors play people older than they are. The two episodes I saw on the Columbo boxset weren’t that bad. Donald Pleasance was on one episode. As for whether it was a good idea to use the Columbo name probably not. Tt was more of a precursor to Murder She Wrote really. Maybe it could have worked if they didn’t keep messing around with it.
And if they didn’t want Columbo called Frank, why did they use it again on Grand Deceptions. I think they were messing with people’s heads and having fun with fans
I meet Peter Falk in Boston around ’95 after after seeing himdo Love Letters with good wife (about the most snobbish and egotistical nobody I’ve met to date).
He, on the other hand was kind, sweet, humble and cuddly enough that i wanted to plant him beside my teddy bear on my bed.
I asked him why “this old man”. He shrugged and said there was no reason…just the song that was in his head. I asked him about his wife…if she was real or if he just made that up to catch the bed guys. He said, Oh, shoooore….she existed. She was real. But when i talked about my nephews our brother in law, now THAT was to catch the bad guy.”
I am so sad he is no longer with us. Television Will never be the same. He was one of a kind. When a friend went tup take a picture of us, he kissed me on the cheek. When i told him i blew out my hair drier that morning, his autograph read, “so sorry about your hair drier.”
He was the best.
Not that it’s needed with all of the other evidence you’ve assembled, but at the end of “Rest in Peace, Mrs. Columbo,” after the murderous Mrs. Dmitri has been hauled away, Columbo calls her to check on her cold. If Mrs. Columbo were not real, Columbo’s behavior would pass from “eccentric” to “schizophrenic.”
What a heartwarming scene that was, definitely one of the gratest moments from the 90’s series. But let’s don’t forget about Any Old Port In A Storm: he calls his wife (at the killer’s office if I remember correctly) to check about the weather which later proves to be a key evidence.
The only time I hoped he didn’t have a wife was when he got close to Faye Dunaway.
This is a nice topic. If she weren’t an actual person I’m sure the family at his nephew’s wedding would be looking to fix him up with someone at the reception. Or someone at the reception would be looking to fix herself up with him. 🙂 Only a light-hearted comment, since it’s not that type of show anyway and wouldn’t include such a scene.
Her mysterious absence is a very entertaining aspect of the show, same as “Wilson” in Home Improvement who the audience never sees.
I’ve wondered about Columbo’s discussing the cases with his wife, it doesn’t seem that his investigation is confidential.
Thanks again for another riveting review.
Now I’m imagining Kate Mulgrew in a show called “The Maris Crane Mysteries.” 🙂
Mrs Columbo seemed to be a fan of, knew of, listened to, seen every film, read every book, tried every recipe of the people under suspicion, it did seem at times a way of lulling the suspect into a false sense of security.
A lot of what he said about her was probably made up, but her actual existence is pretty much beyond doubt (unless, as Columbophile says, you believe that he was completely insane and everyone he met was humouring him for some reason).
I noticed that too. I’ve joked with my friends that on a slow crime day all Columbo has to do is go find someone Mrs. Columbo’s a fan of and arrest them for murder—he’ll probably be right! 🙂
You missed what I think is some of the most definitive proof of his wife’s existence: the horrid coat from the episode, “Now You See Him”. We know Columbo would not have bought that for himself and it is not helpful for the case as he is wearing it when he first arrives to the murder scene.
You’re right, I’ll include it in an update.
The big question was whether they had children. He said they took the kids on a picnic in one episode. He told someone he and his wife were never blessed with children in another. I think she was real but he used “children” to work the suspects.
About 2 minutes into the Frank Sinatra Friars club roast Columbo(Falk in character) references his wife Rosie. Only time I ever heard her given an actual name.
“Any port in a storm” he calls wife about the temp on the day of their picnic
While of course references to his wife are frequently used as a tactic, she is no doubt real and this is proven beyond a doubt in both “Exercise In Fatality” and “Troubled Waters”. For that matter there’s no reason for him to say she’s in Fresno visiting relatives in “By Dawns Early Light” unless she actually is.
I doubt most of what he says about her is true but she is very real no question, even if Ralph from “Ransom” for sure is not. 🙂
Your reference to the “Mrs, Columbo” series having four titles reminds me of something I’ve always wondered about. Is there any real evidence that’s true? Since Universal went back later and re-edited the episodes to all have one title, we can’t use those, but were they really transmitted under four different names? I think it’s more likely there were only two: Mrs. Columbo for season one and KLAM for season two, with the others mentioned in the newspapers.
I’m not sure how bad that show is, because I only saw one episode on A&E a very long time ago, but I note that at least two of Columbo’s writers and one of its directors worked on it. Is the outrage that nobody wanted a spinoff preventing people from judging it fairly?
“The Complete Directory to Primetime Network and Cable TV Shows 1946-Present,” by Tim Brooks and Earle Marsh, gives a detailed account of the four titles. I’m not sure exactly what Brooks and Marsh’s sources are, since they don’t give footnotes, but so many people connected with the industry cite that book as authoritative that I would be surprised if it were wrong about something so easy to catch. Besides, the first edition of it came out in 1979 and it’s been updated continually in the 40 years since, so they were adding information about Mrs Columbo/ Kate Columbo/ Kate the Detective/ Kate Loves a Mystery in real time.
I have the sixth edition of Brooks and Marsh’s book myself, and while it does mention the other titles, it does not specify that it was broadcast under them. I don’t doubt that NBC and Universal may have been using the name “Kate Callahan” internally over the summer before KLOM was finalized, but I’d love for one of those TV bloggers with a complete set of TV Guides to do a week-by-week study of which episode went out under which name and settle the issue.
There are opening credits for ‘Kate Loves a Mystery’ available to view on YouTube. I can’t easily find any viewable references for Kate the Detective or Kate Columbo. Someone may have to view the entire back catalog to confirm – a terrifying thought!
I remember being amused at the time that the title was being changed so many times, and I know it was more than once, but I can’t prove it today.
Either he had a wife or he was insane for talking on the phone on several occasions with no one else in the room to a make believe wife. I’d say he had a wife.
Some of Columbo’s extended family are made up- I love the moment at the end of “Dead Weight” when he tells the dejected witness a story about his nephew, she says “I bet you don’t even have a nephew!,” and without missing a beat he starts describing a nephew who has nothing in common with the one in the first story. But from “Etude in Black” on, there is no question that Mrs Columbo is real.
He has a lot of nephews! But we got to meet one of them in “No Time to Die” so we know he has at least one! 🙂
Allways felt bad about Kate Mulgrew. She couldn’t help being in the middle of a tempest, she’s just an actor trying to work.
Yes, Rose Columbo did exist, and she provided a happy place of peace and sanity to her husband who loved her dearly. They were a modern couple too, Kate taking night courses and her husband happily going along with anything his beloved wife wanted. He picked up groceries when needed, asked her help when puzzling out problems (the coins in ” The Bye-Bye Sky-High IQ Murder Case”), and gained greater happiness by being adopted into Rose’s rich family.
No, Columbo wasn’t a Sam Spade type, he was a well-adjusted detective who was able to maintain his peace of mind, with a job that made him stare at dead people and think the worst of others to find their killers, by being able to go home to a partner who provided the kindness and love that gave such a life meaning. Frank and Rose Columbo were a love match, and we fans know she was as real as he was.
I’ve never doubted the existence of Mrs. Columbo. For me, the real question is whether they ever had children. On several occasions, Columbo mentions his problems with finding a baby sitter (“they’ve all gone to the rock concert”), but that could just be an excuse for not bringing his wife along to whatever event she’s been invited to. (The real reason, of course, is that he does not want to introduce her to a killer.) And whenever he tells a story about a younger member of his family, it always involves a nephew or a niece.
I imagine Columbo would have been a loving, indulgent dad, but as you say, he was married to his work, and maybe he and the Mrs. felt that any children would have been neglected.
Zohra Lampert would have been perfect as Mrs. Columbo, but she was better off not getting involved.
I don’t think it’s only about meeting a killer. Columbo always portrayed his wife as anything but a shrinking violet. I can well imagine her unintentionally sabotaging Columbo’s plans at some of these dinners. When he ordered the critical dessert wine in “Any Old Port in a Storm,” can’t you see her saying, “Haven’t you had enough, dear? Remember that policeman’s ball, when you drank too much and humiliated yourself in front of Mrs. Halpern?” Or, when the film broke in “Forgotten Lady”: “Let me do that for you, Grace. You’ve done so much already.”
Fun point, but Columbo is also very professional in his job, as he tells Abigail Mitchell, and bringing his wife to dinner with a killer would in effect be involving her in an active investigation. A cop just wouldn’t do that. Philly beat cops don’t even give you their first names. It’s just last anme and badge number.
I’m sure they don’t talk about their wives, brothers-in-law, nephews, nieces, etc. either.
I plan to write an article on this very subject at some point in the future. His references to children are inconsistent but I don’t feel that he really had any.
I doubt they have children, but why the frequent references to baby sitter problems?
Probably a convenient excuse for Mrs Columbo not attending whatever event she might otherwise have been at.
I love the 6:30AM scene in Gene Stafford’s office in “An Exercise in Fatality.” Not only does it prove the existence of Mrs. Columbo (as Columbo has no ulterior reason to make that call), but it also proves the existence of at least some of Columbo’s large extended family (“Harry and Ethel, Norman, Uncle Gene, and the twins”). [While there is no ulterior reason for his call, Columbo needing to wake his wife at 6:30AM does serve something very important in the story. He needed to find a phone. He had to go into Stafford’s office to find one. That’s where he saw the Chinese food cartons that first made him question the prevailing police theory that this was an accidental death. It’s also where he saw the coffee stain that clicked with the burn he spotted on Janus’ hand. If Columbo had never needed to make that call, would the prevailing theory have prevailed?]
“An Exercise In Fatality” also has a scene that bucks the casting of Kate Mulgrew as Mrs. Columbo, when Columbo describes his wife: “ Well, she was never exactly thin. I wouldn’t let her, because I happen to like a woman that — Well, you know.”
Finally, I don’t believe NBC owned the rights to Columbo. I believe Universal owned the rights.
yes. This scene. I had no doubt from the first episode and his discussion about the kidney shaped table, (which was hilarious) that Mrs was real. Then, top that off with the conversation in Stafford’s office. Of course she is!!! Forget the spaghetti, let’s go for Chinese food to go!
My favorite Mrs. Columbo “gotcha” occurs in Murder Under Glass. We are promised a glimpse of her at the restaurant award banquet. The table is shown and everyone sitting with Columbo are familiar except for a gorgeous brunette sitting beside him. Who else could it be? Unfortunately, the rapture of finally catching a glimpse of Mrs. Columbo is short lived as Columbo explains his wife couldn’t make it that night. It’s a terrible trick to play, but it wouldn’t be possible if there wasn’t some mystery around Columbo’s life. So keeping Mrs. Columbo off screen was definitely the right move for the series I think.
We’d gotten used to those explanations by Season 7. Mrs. Columbo didn’t show for dinner with Adrian Carsini and Karen Fielding in “Any Old Port in a Storm” because of “babysitter” issues. Really? She was “under the weather” for Grace Wheeler’s invitation for dinner and a movie in “Forgotten Lady.” And in “Murder Under Glass,” it was “her night school final exam in accounting.” Of course, Columbo arranged the first two engagements in order to gather key evidence. Another participant could have said the wrong thing at the wrong time.
Although clearly there is no reason to doubt the Lieutenant’s word when it comes to his wife, I think we – and at times the other characters – are right to be suspicious of whether he is telling the full truth as to the provenance of his familial stories…
Wasn’t it in Ashes to Ashes that we see him talking to a cabbie at the taxi office during which conversation he finally sees what SB actually stands for. And yet when he talks about this later to Prince, he says it’s a relative (can’t remember now which!) who told him about it.
Which if you think about it makes total sense as Columbo would not want a suspect to know that he had identified the actual driver involved the case. Yet again evidence of how under that chaotic exterior, a very sharp and collected mind is always at work!
Before I say what I’m about to say I want to say that I have read this and I know that I was by Mr. Falk, He said something along the lines of he felt like Mrs. Colombo may have been a device that Colombo used in situations? I apologize that I can’t source this but I do remember reading this in an interview with him
I’ve read something similar, but couldn’t find the source either. I think at an early-ish point in the life of Columbo he accepted that Mrs C may just have been a conversational device, but as the series evolved it became clear that she was meant to be a real person.
I think that’s exactly what happened, it was decided that mrs Columbo was real along the way. As happened with Columbo having only one eye, which wasn’t substansiated until A Trace of Murder. For me the scene in Exercise is a very strong hint but Troubled Waters definitely established her excistence. Personally I’d have prefered to keep it a mystery; having said that, I really like Troubled Waters so no real harm done.
Yes Mrs Columbo is real, as for the younger one played by Kate Mulgrew I like to think she is his daughter that is using her dad’s fame to get a head.
I am of the opinion that columbo remained a better series with mrs columbo being referred to rather than appearing in the flesh , they kept it in tact throughout , they came bloody close in RIP mrs columbo with the funeral all be it fake and the picture in the living room which turned out not to be her and then the phone call wich was real but still didnt see her , a nice twist and very well done but RIP Mrs colombo is far from one of my favorite episodes .
She’s real, and her name is Rose. Falk himself said so.
This Dean Martin Roast is more canonical than any Kate Loves A (Star Trek) Mystery episode.
Any Columbo fans who haven’t watched this really ought to. It’s marvellous stuff from Falk.
Could this be where the confusion over ‘Frank’ being his first name occurred?
When he asks Sinatra to sign the napkin to him and his wife and says ‘just Frank will do’ I think he means for Sinatra to sign just his first name not to make it out to
Frank and Mrs Columbo!
In a couple of episodes he shows his police ID card, and if you stop the DVD you can read that it says “Frank Columbo.”
That’s not canon either, but the rogue behavior of some unauthorized prop worker. William Link was unequivocal on that point.
I wonder if Paul A’s remark about “where the confusion over Frank being his first name occurred” is a reference to Fred Worth’s stunt about “Philip Columbo.”
But if it shows up in an episode, doesn’t that automatically make it canon, whether Link intended it or not?
No. Not if it was a mistake, let alone a mistake you can only catch if you go frame by frame. (Elliot Markham presented the same ID to a traffic cop in “Blueprint for Murder.” Does that make him “Frank Columbo,” too?)
I think the point of “canon” is to build the internal coherence of the narrative. So motifs that originated as mistakes can be canon if they keep showing up, while ideas that were very important in the mind of a series co-creator can fail to be canon if they never made their way onto the screen. Since the name “Frank Columbo” is so inconspicuous in the episodes, it can hardly be said to have any value in holding the Columbo universe together. It’s for that reason that I would not call it canon, not because of anything Link said.
I think Frank is accepted canon by the majority, even if not by many fans, not the creators. I believe a Frank Columbo police name badge was even shown on one of the DVD boxset variations at some point, further promoting the idea that Frank is canon. He’ll always be Lieutenant to me, though.
Of course he had a wife, and her name was Rose. Columbo even told us so when he got an autograph from Frank Sinatra: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3_UN2S8SasY
(This is in 1977 Dean Martin’s Celebrity Roast, if it is endorsed by Peter Falk I regard it as canon.)
I must have been composing my post and searching for the YouTube video when your post showed up. (I stopped to watch it again.)
Great minds think alike.