As Columbo killers go, Milo Janus is about as loathsome as they go. All credit, then, to Robert Conrad who helped make An Exercise in Fatality one of the most popular Columbo adventures of them all.
Conrad’s passing on 8th February, at the age of 84, will be felt keenly by fans of the good Lieutenant, who treasure his locking of horns with fitness franchise kingpin Janus in the opening episode of Columbo‘s 4th season.
The greatest success of the episode was in the mutual dislike between the two leads that was superbly acted out by Falk and Conrad. Indeed Janus’s callousness towards the widow of murder victim Gene Stafford even went so far as to cause the usually cool Lieutenant to blow his top and tirade against Janus in a very public setting in what is one of the best scenes of the entire Columbo saga. View it yourself below…
Aged just 39 at the time of filming, but cast as a character in his early 50s, Conrad’s hot physique and chiselled good looks, allied with an icy, arrogant streak, made him the perfect choice for Milo Janus – a killer who looks and acts like he could do you a lot of harm. Columbo’s dislike of Janus leads to one of the most satisfying gotchas of them all as the Lieutenant takes no small amount of pleasure in revealing the damning evidence. It’s great drama.
Conrad himself later remembered his Columbo experience fondly, telling author Mark Dawidziak: “I was thrilled with it.” He also vividly recalled having to drink glass after glass of carrot juice to satisfy Falk’s penchant for multiple takes – even though the drink gave him an almighty stomach ache.
An Exercise in Fatality is a perennial fan favourite, and currently sits in 8th place in the annual fans’ top 10 Columbo episodes poll conducted on this site.
Although Milo Janus will live long in the memory of the Columbo fan base, Conrad’s extensive body of work made him one of the most popular TV stars of the 60s and 70s in such shows as Wild, Wild West (with fellow Columbo alumnus Ross ‘Dale Kingston’ Martin), The DA and Black Sheep Squadron.
Away from the screen, Conrad was a longtime supporter of the Wounded Warriors Project, Paralyzed Veterans of America, the United States Marine Corps and the Jimmie Heuga Endowment. Conrad was a recipient of the Distinguished Service Award in Broadcasting and an inductee of the Stuntman’s Hall of Fame. He also enjoyed a career as a radio and podcast host well into his 80s – despite being partly paralysed in a serious car crash in 2003.
Born Conrad Robert Falk (no relation to Peter) on 1st March, 1935, Conrad died of heart failure in Malibu, California. He is survived by eight children and 18 grandchildren from two different marriages. Columbo fans will also remember his immortal quote from An Exercise in Fatality. “When I grow, you grow,” as well as the unforgettable Milo Janus jingle!
Rest in Peace, Robert. Thanks for the memories…