HUZZAH and HURRAH! The most significant Columbo book in decades is now available to purchase and is a title that every serious fan of the Lieutenant will want to own.
Due for official general release on 15 September to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the first airing of Columbo Season 1 opener Murder by the Book, advance copies of Shooting Columbo are available now, and the book becomes the first to truly dig in to the show’s archives and reveal the real secrets behind its production.
A project more than 10 years in the making, Shooting Columbo author David Koenig was given unprecedented access to original production notes and studio materials to gain a glimpse of the show never previously revealed to the public. On top of that, David was able to secure several interviews with high-ranking cast and crew members, including producers, directors, writers and actors, who shared their own Columbo recollections.
I was lucky enough to read an excerpt of David’s book some moons ago regarding the production of Now You See Him and that brief taster was enough to have me utterly intrigued and trembling with anticipation for the final product to be slotted in to my Columbo book shelf. David was even pivotal in providing information that confirmed the identity of the mystery nude model from Suitable for Framing late last year (read more about that here).
California-based David Koenig is the Editorial Director of 526 Media Group and the author of eight books, including the best-selling Mouse Tales: A Behind-the-Ears Look at Disneyland and Danny Kaye: King of Jesters. David was kind enough to take some time from his schedule to answer a few of his questions about his research and the book itself, which I feel certain will be of interest to my dear readers…
David, the book sounds BRILLIANT. Can you tell us a little bit about your own history of Columbo appreciation?
When I was growing up in the 1970s, Columbo was my mom’s favorite TV program and, since we had just one television set in the house, my whole family became Columbo watchers. Even though the show was targeted for an older audience, I soon came to love it for both the mystery aspect and Peter Falk’s lovable character. And it remained one of my favorite shows in reruns.
How did the book come about in the first place?
As with every book I’ve written, the idea for Shooting Columbo started simply with my desire to read such a book, only to discover the one I was hoping for did not yet exist. I certainly devoured and enjoyed The Columbo Phile book, but I was left with the impression that there was a lot more going on behind the scenes than author Mark Dawidziak let on. So about 10 years ago, I did a little preliminary research. I soon moved on to another project after learning that a university professor, with a close relationship to Bill Link, was about to publish a book on Columbo. In 2015, I resumed my Columbo research, until once again I learned that the professor’s book was just about to be released. After a couple of years with still no new Columbo book, I figured I would have to do it myself.
Accessing the production notes must have been like the Holy Grail for a Columbo fan. What was it like to be able to dig into the background info like no one has done before?
Yes, poring over the original studio materials was the highlight of the adventure. I also received a tremendous amount of invaluable insight from interviews, but my subjects could share only their side of the story, looking back up to 50 years later. The production reports, on the other hand, were not dimmed by memory or colored by bias. They just reported the facts of exactly what happened on the set or at the story conference.
What are the most memorable unanswered questions the research was able to satisfy for you?
I certainly entered this project with dozens upon dozens of mysteries I hoped to solve. I can’t say my research answered every single question, but certainly all of my major ones. Like, was Columbo’s careening down the hill in The Greenhouse Jungle pre-planned? Whatever happened to Tanya Baker in Double Exposure, who received billing but no screen-time? Who was the mysterious double for Peter Falk in Dead Weight and Lady in Waiting when he was off set in dispute with the network? Why does Shera Danese’s character suddenly disappear midway through the finale of Murder of a Rock Star? What was the unproduced Columbo’s Last Case supposed to be about? And, most famously, my research was able to confirm the identity of the nude model in Suitable for Framing.
What were the most jaw-dropping revelations?
For me, it was just the sheer amount of each episode that Peter Falk himself wrote. Now, in a sense, he “wrote,” or at least rewrote, almost every line he delivered in every episode for 35 years. He would learn each scene on the fly, put the dialogue into his own words, rehearse it every which way, and then shoot dozens of takes until he found the exact phrasing that he thought was most natural for the character. As time went on and his trust in his writers waned, he would rewrite entire scenes himself. A lot of great character scenes that don’t offer much in the way of plot — the visit to the Maestro’s mansion in Etude for Black, the visit to the art gallery in Playback — those are from the mind of Peter.
What interviews were you able to conduct for the book, and what sort of sense did you get from those involved that Columbo was a truly special project to be involved in?
I was blessed in that almost everyone I asked for an interview consented, including producers, writers and directors from every episode, such as Dean Hargrove, Peter S. Fischer, and Everett Chambers. The pandemic even helped in the sense that not only did I have more time to commit to the project, but so did working directors and others in the industry whose lives were on pause. Every single one of them stressed how fortunate they felt to have been part of the show and especially to work alongside Peter Falk. They all loved him, even if he drove them a little crazy. I must say the biggest thrill was interviewing Mrs. Falk herself, Shera Danese. It’s not a coincidence so many of her witty, sharp-tongued characters on Columbo sound similar — that’s really her!
How to get your copy of the book
Although the general publication date of Shooting Columbo is September 15, keen fans can get their hands on an advance copy from publisher Bonaventure Press right here. The cost is US$25, plus shipping (rates vary). These first editions will come signed by the author and anyone who orders in advance will be sent an exclusive, in-depth downloadable article on the magnificent locations used in the series.
Shooting Columbo comes in hardcover and features 248 riveting pages, so get amongst it, because this seems certain to be the best Christmas and/or birthday present available in years for those seeking a fresh perspective on the greatest show of them all.
You can also order the book via Amazon in the US (will ship globally).