Columbo spent the majority of his screen career operating as a lone wolf, a maverick who worked best alone when unencumbered with inferior minds.
However, no man is an island and the good Lieutenant regularly required assistance and support to close out some of his trickier cases – often from sources outside the confines of the LAPD itself. From irate teens and ex-cons to hookers, hippies and even royalty, Columbo’s inherent qualities allowed him to strike up many an unlikely allegiance in order to see justice served.
Just who are the Lieutenant’s unlikeliest allies? That’s what this article is set to explore. So sit back as I outline my top 10 choices for the strangest bedfellows of Columbo’s career…
Margaret Williams – Ransom for a Dead Man
Peevish teen Margaret understandably feels like the world is against her when it looks like her hated stepmother Leslie is getting away with the murder of her father. Only the dishevelled Lieutenant Columbo seems to share her view of the situation, leading to an unlikely alliance stoked via brief meetings at a cemetery and a chilli haunt.
Although their relationship doesn’t run entirely smoothly (Margaret attempts to clobber Columbo when he calls her out for falsifying evidence), the two end up in cahoots on a high-risk scheme that sees Margaret terrorise Leslie in her own home to secure a cash payment to return to boarding school in Switzerland. When the cash ends up being a match for the ransom money Leslie snaffled up earlier in the epsiode, the lady lawyer faces a one-way ticket up the river.
Dorothea McNally – Undercover
A scantily clad, ribald, alcoholic, part-time hooker from Smack Alley ought to be the sort of dame to tie Columbo into a self-conscious tangle, but the duo forge a swift and unlikely alliance within a 10-minute window of opportunity.
Seeking for intel on the whereabouts of photographic puzzle pieces that will reveal the location of a hidden stash of loot, Columbo slips Dorothea a few $20 bills to buy her compliance (and next bottles of booze) and ends up with two puzzle pieces for his troubles – a giant leap forward in his case. By the end of their brief dalliance, Columbo is suitably smitten by Dolores to plant an unasked-for smacker on her lips! Quite what Mrs Columbo made of it all when her man got home smelling like a whore’s boudoir has never been revealed…
Joey the chimp – Death Hits the Jackpot
More than just representing an “aaaaahhhhhh” moment for the animal-loving viewers out there, Columbo’s pally relationship with the pet chimp of a dead man’s neighbour will have a material outcome on the bearing of his investigation.
If the Lieutenant was a CHIMP HATER, who eschewed contact with the bizarrely dressed primate, he never would have inadvertently captured Joey’s prints on his shiny police badge and, in turn, he’d never have been able to match the ape’s prints to those on the fancy dress medallion of murderer Leon Lamarr.
It pays to be kind to animals, folks. And judging by hippy Trish’s reaction to the sight of cop and chimp cuddling, it’s a sure-fire way to stoke the fires of passion of like-minded folk in your vicinity.
Mario DeLuca – Murder Under Glass
Luckily for Columbo, wide-eyed Italian waiter Mario seems to be of a forgiving bent, because the Lieutenant treats the poor lad disgracefully early on in their relationship.
Mario has recently witnessed the agonised death of his uncle Vito – a traumatising event by any standards, but more so for Mario as he speaks little English and the bulk of his family are back home in Genoa, thousands of miles distant. Columbo’s ill treatment of Mario, during which he shouts at the startled young wimp in Italian and accuses him of murder, seems monumentally cruel – whether it was all an act for Paul Gerard or not.
Columbo subsequently ruins Vito’s funeral, at which he passes around a Restaurant Developers’ Association cheque in an attempt to smoke out a lead while heartfelt eulogies are being read. Lovable Mario overcomes these slights, however, and is chummy enough with Columbo to invite him onstage to accept Uncle Vito’s posthumous honour at the Restaurant Writers Awards bash.
Audrey – Etude in Black
Precocious pre-teen Audrey and the Lieutenant have a complex relationship in which she appears to thoroughly wear the trousers. When she’s not berating Columbo for his lack of pet-tending skillz, she’s playfully querying whether he’s interested in her for her body or her mind when he sneaks in unannounced to her ballet class (yikes!).
Despite showing plenty of sass, Audrey does genuinely want to help Columbo catch the killer of her neighbour Jennifer Welles. Alas, his hopes of her identifying Alex Benedict as a regular visitor to the scene of the crime are thwarted when she instead IDs errant trumpeter Paul Rifkin. We never see hide nor hair of Audrey again…
Arthur Kennicut – Death Lends a Hand
On the surface, media mogul Arthur Kennicut and Columbo ought never to see eye to eye. With the grieving Kennicut desperate for a swift conclusion to the investigation into the death of his wife Lenore, the Lieutenant’s meandering style and eccentric mannerisms are hardly the tonic for a man of action.
However, after a dubious start to their relationship (when Columbo reads his palm and then accidentally wanders into a closet), the Lieutenant wins Kennicut’s trust and their bond becomes ever more cordial. The older man begins to defer to Columbo’s suggestions rather than those put forward by Investigator Brimmer, who is desperate to steer the investigation away from himself.
Excellent character writing and acting help forge a believable relationship between these two men from very different sides of the tracks. The best bit? When Kennicut doesn’t look up the exhaust pipe when Columbo hints he might have used a potato to put Brimmer’s car out of commission ahead of the thrilling gotcha.
Goldie – Blueprint for Murder
Force of nature Goldie is unlike any Columbo character we ever meet – and she sweeps the Lieutenant into her circle of trust on their first meeting when she appears “practically naked” in front of him after a massage.
As a rule Columbo is wary and uncertain around provocative women, but Goldie gives him no choice but to build a meaningful relationship as she rollercoasters her way into his life and investigation, throwing her full support behind him in the process. Even though she slyly tries to guide Columbo’s actions through the planting of a blood-stained hat, the two never fall out and she’s a very public ally when chips are down after Columbo’s digging up of a building pile fails to turn up Bo Williamson’s corpse.
Among the many highlights of Goldie’s awesome appearance are her promise to love Columbo “to death” should he break the case. And even though she’d never appear in another Columbo episode, I like to think that Goldie was as good as her word, and that the two enjoyed a lifelong friendship after the events of Blueprint were a distant memory.
And the big three…
3. The King of Suari – A Case of Immunity
The archetypal example of Columbo’s ability to connect to both Prince and Pauper, the Lieutenant’s swift bonding with the King of Suari ensures that murderous diplomat Hassan Salah will face justice for a double homicide.
Quite how, when and where Columbo and the King cook up their secret plan to ensnare Salah isn’t revealed to the audience. However, the pint-sized royal clearly has sufficient rapport with the detective to agree to participate in a classic bait-and-switch in which he appears to leave the country in his private jet, only to secretly double back to the sumptuous Suari Legation and lie in wait for the sting operation to unfold.
Smugly believing his diplomatic immunity will protect him from any consequences of his crimes, Salah is only too happy to admit his guilt to Columbo once the King is safely out of the way. Little does he suspect that the King is simply hovering off-screen and ear-wigging in to every treacherous word. Promising Salah swift justice under the Suari legal system he espouses to cherish, the King manoeuvres his First Secretary into a dark corner where his only option is to waive diplomatic immunity and submit to Columbo’s authority.
It all ends with the King flashing a cheeky thumbs up to the Lieutenant – a visual symbol of the camaraderie he feels between the two.
2. Artie Jessup – A Friend in Deed
Another shining example of his everyman charms, Columbo’s ability to first placate enraged ex-con Artie Jessup and then make an ally of him represents empathetic police work at its best.
In the hands of just about any other cop in the LAPD, the pressure cooker situation when Jessup feels Columbo is trying to lay the blame on him for the murder of Margaret Halperin and Janice Caldwell could have gone hideously awry. Columbo, however, turns the situation on its head, calmly but directly opening up to Jessup and making it very clear that he needs his help to capture the real killer.
The pair’s off-screen plotting leads to the delicious sting operation that will lead to the downfall of murderous police commissioner Mark Halperin – and Columbo rewards Jessup by allowing him to be there to see it all happen after so many other officers were only too willing to let the serial burglar carry the can for crimes he didn’t commit.
1. Vincenzo Fortelli – Strange Bedfellows
The Lieutenant making a pact with the mob in order to secure the confession and submission of his chief suspect? That could only happen in the ‘new Columbo’ era, and is is the method taken by Columbo to finally outflank tubby gambler Graeme McVeigh.
Conspiring with mob boss Vincenzo Fortelli, Columbo cooks up an act which will so terrify McVeigh that he not only admits to a double homicide, but also reveals the location of a key piece of missing evidence that will absolutely link him to them.
However, before he gets to this point of desperation, McVeigh is physically abused and mentally tormented by gangsters and fully believes his own extinction is imminent. We’ve seen Columbo stoop to some devious acts to conquer in previous decades, but working with the mob to close the case in this fashion is surely the most immoral action he is ever involved in.
That’s my list done and dusted, gang. Do hit me up with your own suggestions in the comments section below. There are several other contenders that could have been included (namely little Stevie Spelberg and his robot mate MM7), so if you believe there have been any glaring omissions please sing out! On the subject of strange bedfellows, my long overdue episode review of Strange Bedfellows the episode will be the next post published on the blog. HURRAH!