If a measure of a man’s detective prowess is in solving mysteries most folk didn’t even realise were mysteries, then author David Koenig could give the good Lieutenant a run for his money.
David, whose sensational behind-the-scenes book Shooting Columbo was released last September, has cracked a case that many Columbo fans – myself included – didn’t know needed cracking: that of the true identity of the officious Tricon lady from An Exercise in Fatality.
Even if you think you know who this is (based on IMDB and fan commentary on this blog), you probably don’t really, so I’ll pass things over to David to take you through all the steps he took to identify the actress behind this beloved character, who has remained uncredited since 1974…
One great perk of conducting research for my recently released book, Shooting Columbo, was that it allowed me to play detective.
I could solve mysteries that fellow Columbo fans have wondered about for 50 years: Did Peter Falk really ad-lib his tumble in The Greenhouse Jungle? How in the world did Columbo come to play the tuba in Sex and the Married Detective? Who was Falk’s doppelgänger in Dead Weight and Lady in Waiting? And, of course, who played the nude model in Suitable for Framing (read up on that particular case here)?
But there’s one mystery that I was unable put to rest: in An Exercise in Fatality, who played the snooty clerk at Tricon Industries (“Tricon is always happy to cooperate with the authorities”). She memorably keeps Columbo cooling his heels by unhurriedly retrieving his information on the slowest computers and printer imaginable. Like other fans, I’d always assumed the actress was Susan Jacoby, who is referred to in the end credits as playing “Rose.” Although our Tricon beauty doesn’t announce her name or wear a nametag, hers is the only female role of any size unaccounted for. The clerk simply must be Susan Jacoby… or must she?
In early December, I received an email from Steve, a Columbo superfan, who asked if I knew the true identity of the actress. I admitted I was not 100% certain, but vowed to investigate further. I first headed to IMDB.com. Perusing the credits for An Exercise in Fatality, I was struck by another oddity: Dennis Robertson and Eric Mason, who played Jerry and Fred, the used car dealers that Columbo visits to check Milo Janus’ alibi, are credited—even though their entire scene was deleted from the show (recounted in a new book the title of which eludes me at the moment). Might Rose have also been cut?
I pulled out a copy of Peter S. Fischer’s original script. I flipped first to page two, which is where Columbo scripts usually print a list of characters. No sign of Rose—only “Female Clerk.” I thumbed to the infamous Tricon scene. Never in the script is she referred to by name—only as “very pretty female clerk” or “clerk.”
So I returned to page one and decided to put my fine-tooth comb to use, to see if there was a Rose I had missed earlier. I diligently searched, page by page, until I reached the beginning of the final showdown at Milo Janus Spas. The scene begins:
INT. CORRIDOR – DAY
The elevator door opens and Milo gets off. A Woman passes by.
Good morning, Mr. Janus.
He crosses to his office and goes in.
Aha! I’d watched the episode a dozen times and had never noticed that before. So I queued up my DVD to the scene. Milo enters and passes a tall, beautiful brunette, who’s walking away from us. She greets him, “Good morning, Mr. Janus.” He replies, “’Morning, Susan.”
Is this our Susan Jacoby? I headed to her IMDB page. What I discovered is that the Susan Jacoby IMDB page is a mess. It contains, I soon learned, credits for at least three different people. One, a Susan Jayne Jacoby born in 1962, was part of a well-known acting family. Her siblings Laura Jacoby, Scott Jacoby, Robert Jayne, and Billy Jayne all enjoyed successful show-business careers, including recurring roles on numerous television series. With both stage and TV credits, Susan can most easily be spotted as one of the teenagers in an episode of Eight Is Enough—shot about four years after An Exercise in Fatality. She not only looks nothing like our Tricon hostess, but would have been about 12 at the time. She certainly wasn’t employed at Milo Janus Spas.
Further research took me to a raven-haired model, also named Susan Jacoby, who was born about 1950 and, based on old yearbook photos, appears to be a perfect match for Rose from the hallway.
This, of course, begs the question: why would someone who simply says hi as she walks away from us, vanishing after mere seconds, receive screen credit? There’s literally no purpose for the encounter nor any reason to give her character a name… until you recall that the Columbo crew was notorious for casting friends and family. Falk regularly hired his buddies and, on six occasions, his wife. Almost certainly this role was written into the script expressly to give someone’s special friend her first TV credit. And my best guess is that someone was Robert Conrad. Remember, he’s the one who accidentally calls Susan by her real name. He wasn’t nodding at a random extra. They must have known each other before filming!
The realization left me momentarily satisfied, but ultimately back at the drawing board. I restudied my remaining clue: the same actress also appeared in The Rockford Files episode This Case Is Closed. It’s an even larger role and one that also went uncredited. So I called on expert Ed Robertson, host of TV Confidential and author of 45 Years of the Rockford Files, who knows more about Rockford than about anyone. Ed confirmed that this was almost certainly the same actress, but he did not have access to a production report or casting memo to identify her.
Then who would? A little more nosing around brought me to UCLA Special Collections Library, repository of the Robert Luthardt Papers. Luthardt was a longtime art director, whose projects included several episodes of The Rockford Files. Among the holdings were a script and “cast list” for This Case Is Closed. Optimistically, I assumed the list would name the actors hired for each role. I immediately contacted UCLA to arrange a visit. I began daydreaming of the fancy announcements I would have printed up, declaring my grand discovery.
Unfortunately, due to Covid, UCLA libraries have remained off-limits to researchers for nearly two years. Instead, the staff agreed to scan the cast list for me, with the understanding that (a) there was a stack of requests in front of mine and (b) all employees were getting ready to head out for Christmas break.
A little over two months later, a PDF of the cast list arrived. My hopes were dashed. It listed none of the actors, only the names of the characters. (Incidentally, “Kathy Tillison” was listed 11th and failed to get billing while 13 others did.)
Despondent, I consoled myself with a bowl of chili as I tried to figure out my next step. Was this an exercise in futility? Our mystery woman had two decent-sized roles, one right after the other. I couldn’t believe she had only these two jobs, then abruptly abandoned her acting career. She was on the Universal lot. She must have appeared in other series. I began analyzing the cast lists of the other 15 series Universal was filming at the same time, from Amy Prentiss to Marcus Welby, M.D., and comparing any unfamiliar names to screenshots and available publicity photos. Again, no luck.
I figured my only hope was to see if I could find any connections between An Exercise in Fatality and This Case Is Closed. I found precisely one: both shows were directed by Bernie Kowalski, back to back in the summer of 1974. Kowalski had three daughters—perhaps one of them got the part? I reached out to Bernie’s son, Peter, for help, but he had no idea who the actress was. Still, he said, “My father was very loyal. He definitely had a pool of actors he would use on many of his shows.”
Emboldened, I decided to seek out other programs Kowalski worked on during 1974, and go frame by frame to see if I could spot Miss Tricon in the background. Immediately before An Exercise in Fatality, Kowalski directed In Tandem, the pilot for a proposed trucker drama to be called Movin’ On (at time of writing, you can view it on YouTube here). About 20 minutes into the show, co-star Frank Converse visits his girlfriend, who is the spitting image of Tricon’s finest, right down to the same hair style. Fortunately, she had a major role and received sixth billing. Her name? Ann Coleman.
Quick peeks at other Coleman appearances—including Kojak, Get Christie Love!, and Baretta (again for Kowalski)—confirmed my suspicions. Unfortunately, Coleman’s TV and film credits stopped cold in 1975 and then resumed, sparingly, in the 1980s. I scoured old newspapers for more clues, but was able to find just two mentions: a 1972 photo of her vacationing on Mykonos with a Greek playboy and a 1975 blurb about her dating Warren Beatty.
Alas, absent additional biographical data, I knew chances were slim of me finding the right Ann Coleman out of the hundreds of Ann Colemans spread out across the United States.
In desperation, I texted an informant. We’ll call him Charlie. (Actually, everyone calls him Charlie because his name really is Charlie.) Whenever I’m stumped by a real puzzler, Charlie can usually uncover some fresh lead that rekindles my search. Sure enough, Charlie noticed that Coleman had a lot of Greek connections—the trip to Mykonos, work on Kojak with Telly Savalas, the movie Summer Lovers (set in the Greek isles with some Greek actors), Sweet Country (with several Greek stars), and her last film, the Greek epic The Attack of the Giant Moussaka. Maybe I was looking for her on the wrong continent.
Searching for “Ann Coleman” + “Greece” led me nowhere. However, searching for “Ann Coleman” + “Mykonos” resulted in two matches: (1) a wedding notice for Ann Beth Coleman, originally from Connecticut, who in 1965 married a Greek national… on Mykonos. And (2) the 2011 obituary for Florida-based writer John Ney, who “leaves behind his great love, Ann Coleman, with whom he shared the last 15 years of his life on the Isle of Mykonos and in Port Salerno.”
I located an old phone number for an Ann Beth Coleman in Florida and left my desperate plea by voicemail. The next morning, Ms. Coleman called. It was her. Hallelujah! Even better, she could not have been sweeter. So where has she been all these years? Coleman explained that she first fell in love with Greece while studying abroad in France. The islands, particularly Mykonos, had a strong pull over her for the rest of her life.
“I was an actor (in television) until about 1975, when I went to do a play and then bought a house in Greece,” Coleman recounted. “I returned to Hollywood in 1982 (to resume my acting career). I was 38 and was told I was too old. So I returned to Greece, until about 2000 when we moved to Florida.”
She does hold fond memories of her early days in acting. “The best I ever worked with was James Garner in The Rockford Files,” she said. “He was a sweetheart.”
And what about Columbo? Coleman shared: “People say, ‘It must have been marvelous to work with Peter Falk!’ And I say, ‘I wouldn’t know.’ He was never there when I was filming. They’d say he was out to lunch, as if that were par for the course. It was awful, because that’s very difficult to do as an actor.”
Coleman actually filmed several brief shots with Falk as she stood behind the counter (namely when he walks up and when he leaves), but the vast majority of footage was taken separately. She was filmed filing papers and reacting to a character who wasn’t really there. Falk then returned later, after Coleman had left, to film his business. The separate filming sessions allowed Falk to perform take after take, trying out new looks and gestures and lines that displayed his character’s growing frustration. Falk’s improvisations, inspired by his adventures at the building permit office in Blueprint for Murder, extended the scene from two script pages (which should have lasted two to three minutes) to nearly six minutes in run time.
So with such a memorable role, why didn’t she receive billing? “I don’t know,” Coleman said. “Someone knows I was on Columbo, because I still get residuals. I just received a check for 33 cents.”
My guess is that the credits were based on how much the actors were featured in the script (Rose’s cameo not withstanding). No one had any idea that Falk’s ad-libs would transform Coleman’s part from throwaway to unforgettable. Even if, for nearly half a century, no one knew it was her.
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 last year’s Shooting Columbo. If you haven’t already got a copy of Shooting Columbo, do yourself a favour and grab a copy now – it’s essential reading for serious fans!
Meanwhile, you can check out Ann’s IMDB page here. It’s been updated to include her Columbo appearance, so everyone’s a winner.
I still am trying to figure out who the actor is that plays the fisherman that reports the dead brother’s body in Any Old Port in a Storm. He has a good 5 or 6 lines of dialogue, yet gets no credit. I have never seen the actor in anything else so far, so trying to figure it out is tough!
That is devoted detective work worthy of Lieutenant Columbo. Our mutual friend Charlie is also a terrific sleuth. Congratulations and bravo!
Credits are covered in union contracts. It was my understanding that the rules require any speaking part, no matter how small, to have a credit, which would explain Rose/Susan. That can’t explain why they didn’t credit Ann though.
Terrific detective work and a fun read!
David, here is your next assignment: Who played Janice Caldwell in “A Friend in Deed”?
Detective (at the dead body of Janice Caldwell): “Good-looking broad, except for the marks around her neck.”
Columbo (lifting sheet): “Certainly is.”
Ah, the casual sexism of the 70s……
Give her credit; she carried her part like a real trooper, without anyone there to throw the line off of. If you stop by, Ann, you’re remembered! Thank you from your fan! Great detective work! You earned a Shield!
Very average episode despite a good gotcha i think requiem for a falling star is also a very average seventies episode dedpite some nice fun between the 2 leads but its still very average in mine and most view
Maybe i’m wrong but i believe this woman also appeared in “Murder Under Glass” as the bank employee assisting Columbo with his investigation and sharing coffee cake with Lt. Columbo and her boss while doing it. She had long hair in that one.
Just did a quick rewatch of that scene thanks to imdB TV (highly recommended for those of you looking for instant details about particular episode moments). No, sorry, definitely not Ann Coleman.
But it did remind me of how unlikely it is that a cake served in a bank would be “the best cake I have ever eaten!”
That cake looked real good though….
After all of the frustration waiting for the tricon info, columbo leaves it by the payphone and walks out
Im not a big of that scene its a tad funny but it goes on way too long and sosent really go anywhere an exercise in fatallity is a solid seventies entry but its a long way off my true favorites coincedently it airs today on 5USA hers todays line up
Etude in black
Its all in the game
Goes to college (top pick)
Murder in malibu
Goues under the guillotine
Exercise in fatallity
My least favourite of these
Are MALIBU ‘ under the guillotine and its all in the game
The other3 very watchable
Outstanding work! Always fun to find out the stories behind these “mysteries”
Question: Is this the same woman who eats the crumb cake in “Murder Under Glass”?
I can understand actors in deleted scenes still getting a credit. The credits probably had to be prepared before the final cut of an episode. You wouldn’t want an otherwise completed episode to be delayed for delivery because the credits weren’t done.
However, failing to give a credit when due is a real injustice. I’m surprised that the powerful unions in Hollywood couldn’t do more to prevent that.
Has anyone worked out how many of Columbo’s arrests would have resulted in a conviction? Sometimes the evidence seems flimsy
Check the Article Archive in the Editor’s Choice section for a piece by Richard Weill that address your very question.
Absolutely wonderful!!! Great work.
I thought that name, Coleman, had a
Does anyone know if there’s a relation
between Ann, and Murder of a Rock Star’s
Dabney, of the same last name?
How fantastic! Well done Colombophile. I remember this “filler” scene as a very funny one, I thought she was wonderful and really exemplified bureaucracy. How wonderful that you were able to speak with her – and it’s really lovely to have a glimpse into her life, to someone who was not sucked into the Hollywood machine and who had their own passions and unique life course. Thank you.
To confirm, it was David Koenig who spoke to the lady herself, not me!
Ah, still a great tale! Thank you for telling it.
Great bit of detective work there, and most interesting.
For those interested in the retro tech, the machine she is operating is an IBM 2741 terminal, which was introduced in 1965, and by the time this was filmed was coming to the end of its production run, it uses a highly modified IBM Selectric typewriter as both input and output – a painfully slow machine by modern standards, which is beautifully portrayed in the scene.
I think these big machines, while still in use by insurance
companies and banks, were already dinosaurs by the late
70s. The age of the minicomputer, such as the PDP-11,
and later the VAX, with its much friendlier console
input/output, was in full swing.
Making this padding scene, all the more pointless for me.
Still, what are you going to do if the network wants one
more commercial here, and want you to put filler in
between to make it a washroom break?
Hardly “pointless” when so many fans remember it so vividly after almost fifty years.
I remembered the tuba scene of “Sex…” too.
But again, not because it was vivid.
Actually, I didn’t mind the scene when I saw it again.
By then it’d been pared down to 3 minutes.
CP said that in the version he saw, it ran for something
like 6 minutes. That would make it tedious, and
I think I could look at her for much more than 6 minutes.
Amazing detective work. Someday, someone will
have to compile a list of the minor character actors
in the series, and what became of them.
I have my own exercise in futility trying to figure out
who and why they moved the chili restaurant scene in
Ransom for a Dead Man from before Columbo’s
first interview with Leslie at her office, to two scenes
later after their flying scene together. Where it makes
no sense, either in terms of the faked kidnapping
theory, or Leslie’s growing role as Columbo’s main
But I think the original screenplay, if it ever shows up
again online, would be a good place for me to start.
Dog, without wishing to hijack this thread (which is focused on the detective efforts of David Koenig, author of the fine book “Shooting Columbo”, on sale now), I think I have a simple explanation.
As you’ve noted elsewhere in other threads, the chili scene is where Margaret makes a big show of fingering Leslie as a suspect. Putting that scene before Columbo’s interview with Leslie at her office makes it appear that Margaret is the one who spurred Columbo to eye Leslie as the killer. In actual fact, Columbo was suspicious of Leslie well before Margaret’s theory, when he noted to agent Carlson that Mrs. Williams didn’t ask her husband if he was OK during the bogus ransom phone call.
But would the audience for this almost-brand new “Columbo” show pick up on this? It was a subtle clue, so very possibly not – the pattern of Columbo’s crime-solving had not yet been established because, hey, it wasn’t even a series yet! Rather than risk having the audience think that Margaret was doing all Columbo’s crime-thinking for him, I believe they made sure the chili scene came after the audience was already crystal clear about Columbo’s theory of the kidnap/murder.
But there’s much more than merely who, Columbo
or Margaret, came up with the faked kidnapping
theory. After the plane ride, Columbo tests Leslie
that she murdered her husband as he was “boring”,
the very word of Margaret quotes of Leslie’s as her
motive in the restaurant.
Also at the restaurant, Columbo clearly has considered
that Leslie was in with the kidnappers, but he himself
has dismissed this as too risky for her. A point that he
gets Margaret to admit to also. At which point he has his
Aha! moment – that the kidnapping was faked – which he
credits Margaret in forcing him to consider.
Yet, in the ‘earlier’ office scene, he confronts Leslie with
this very same theory. He also tests out a theory on
her that she simply shot him by reenacting it.
So, was Columbo’s ‘later’ scene with Margaret, the aha
insight, mere duplicity on his part? And where did he
get the “boring’ motive from?
The scene simply doesn’t fit where it is.
But I suspect, you’re right. Some exec simply moved it, so
it appears that the theory is Columbo’s alone. Perhaps
they didn’t feel he was a good enough detective otherwise.
Or that a faked kidnapping was so novel a concept now after
Negative Reaction, a later episode, reused it.
But it messes up a really fine episode.
In Dean Hargrove’s original “Ransom” script, the Columbo-Margaret scene in Bert’s diner is where it appears in the final: after the flying scene. However, between the diner scene and Columbo coming to the Williams house (because of Margaret’s call about finding Paul’s keys), the script has a deleted scene where Columbo tracks down Leslie’s law associate Michael in a single’s bar, and persuades him to help Columbo look in the office for tapes with Paul’s voice on them. [At the bar, Michael asks Columbo if he’s married. Columbo responds: “Separated from my wife. She’s at home and I’m here.”]
One other change of note: Columbo’s best-known line about his chili — “They say it’s the crackers that make the dish” — isn’t in the script.
I haven’t found the original shooting script, but
I find it unbelievable, that all those inconsistencies are
in it, and neither the director or the actors noticed.
But I can’t deny that it’s possible, even in one of the
most tightly scripted shows in TV history.
I have seen a Ransom script edited after the fact.
Someone posted an original online months ago,
but it has since been removed.
The one I have has numerous sets of revisions (through 12/22/70) — but, interestingly, the “Ransom for a Dead Man” title is only handwritten on the cover page. The only “title” that’s typewritten on the cover page is: “World Premiere — Columbo.”
P.S. I don’t see that the deleted scene
is necessary, as Columbo makes an
educated guess without it.
Hence its deletion.
So I think we’ve worked out the mystery
now. Some exec, or perhaps the director under pressure, moved the scene before
it was even shot. Which is a pity.
Dog, you prompted me to rewatch the office/flying scenes. I heard no mention of Paul being “boring.” Only of his having a “rigid code of ethics.” And I saw nothing from Columbo that I could trace to the (later) diner scene. Sorry.
The Columbo episodes are full of wonderful bit-part performances. Just look at the late Susan Barrister as the waitress in ‘Lady in Waiting’.
This wonderful article made me remind of another “mystery” whose solving I’m not sure it has been reached: the identity of the female police offcer in “Suitable for Framing”.
Very impressive sleuthing!
She is magnificent in her icy intransigence.
Columbo has found a peer in David Koenig. Congratulations for a most thorough research.
Their efforts are a reminder of how difficult it is to settle
such seemingly simple questions. Both feats of cultural
archaeology, which we should all value.
Now, the visitors of Columbophile should maybe start
nominating episodes of Columbo to the Library of
Congress’s preservation list. This is worth a separate
new thread, say “The 50 Episodes Most Worthy of
Then vote on them, since the more nominations we send
to the LOC for an episode, increases its likelihood of
being included on the list of preserved films.
What say ye, Columbophile?
Are the original scripts available for d/l or purchase? What about deleted scenes?
One other character I have been trying to find is the name of the actor that played Henry, Brimmer’s valet in his office in “Death Lends a Hand”. He appears twice in the show with short lines but not credited (at least on IMDB). Any ideas?
Nice work, David. It reminds me a bit of the mysterious “MARCIA WALLACE … Woman” credit in “Murder by the Book.” The Bob Newhart Show’s Marcia Wallace? She sat next to, and spoke with, Columbo at the inquest in “Lady in Waiting” — without credit — but where was she in “Murder by the Book”? And what “Woman” was in this episode except Joanna Ferris and Lily LaSanka? Ken Franklin’s theater date? Was she a different “Marcia Wallace”?
It turns out that Marcia Wallace was one of the gawkers standing lakeside after the LaSanka “drowning” as Franklin walks by with his fishing rod. You can recognize her hairdo from the back. In the script, the “Woman” by the lake has some lines, but Spielberg apparently cut them. [And Franklin’s date in the script is named “BWT” for “Beautiful Willowy Thing.”]
Her Columbo appearance is mentioned in Trivia on her IMDB page, perhaps due to your fine work.
The Tricon scene came up in the comments for the “Columbo’s Biggest Mystery” column, so I’ll try to avoid being redundant with my thoughts here.
This scene is obviously filler, and through contemporary eyes, it’s a 6-minute death march. Columbo appears clueless, the data takes forever to materialize, and the mainframe is almost comically oversized to retrieve such basic information.
But although pointless to the plot, the scene is not totally pointless. The Seventies context is everything. In 1974, the computer age was still taking its’ first baby steps, and the general public had limited exposure to the scope, power, and operation of computer systems. Columbo is learning, too. In his book, “Columbo: Paying Attention 24/7”, David Martin-Jones writes extensively about Columbo’s many interactions with technology, as a means to help viewers navigate how they themselves can be interfacing with the New Tech of modernity. “The noticeable screen time…seems devoted to raising audience awareness of the importance and role of technology in processing information, and the need to get used to….interactions with new technologies.” Martin-Jones takes big swings and has big misses with other “Columbo” show elements, but on this one – even though he sidesteps the fact that the scene is padding – I think he has insight. I’ve come to revise my long-held thoughts that the Columbo character is clueless about technology – more accurately, he is simply learning about technology, in the same way that the rest of us were in 1974.
To make his point more clearly, Martin-Jones juxtaposes the Tricon scene with one from a “Rockford Files” episode, where Jim is trying to get a license number from the L.A. DMV. “Rockford waits an acceptable amount of time for a viewer of an action-packed detective show, whereas Columbo has an experience that is closer to the reality of the tempo of the  human-computer interface.” That Rockford episode – “This Case Is Closed”. Ann Coleman comes full circle in contrasting how seventies TV viewers addressed the New Tech era.
(David, if you haven’t read the Martin-Jones book, I think you would find endless amusement in how Martin-Jones avoids the Hollywood-reality elements of the show that are central to your book, leading to a tortuous explanation to try to justify the Tuba Scene.)
Is this the “new book the title of which eludes me at the moment” to which David cagily refers?
Interestingly, no. Nor is that used-car deleted scene mentioned in the only other new Columbo book I’m aware of, “Columbo: A Rhetoric of Inquiry With Resistant Responders”. There is a Columbo book currently being written by a UMass professor, but that one’s been in development for years and as of last summer was still being proofed and not ready for print yet.
Surely, David can track down the name of this mysterious new Columbo book he can’t remember?
David’s referring to his own book!
Rich, I just put my brainpower to use and deduced that he’s cagily referring to his own book, “Shooting Columbo”, now on-sale through Amazon and at fine bookstores everywhere. Check pages 103-104. David was clearly too humble to plug his own work!
Sounds right. Good catch.
Clearly too humble too plug his own work twice!
The other “tech” comedy bit in that same scene is Columbo having trouble with the answering machine. In those days, answering machines were new and I know my parents sometimes started talking on the phone because they weren’t used to having a recorded voice pick up the call.
Wow! What an amazing piece of detective work. Columbo would be proud.
Wow. What a journey, first for Ann AND now David. lol
Just looked at IMDB and it’s been added to Ann’s page as Trivia.
THAT was a fabulous bit of detective work! Bravo!!!