Columbo facts

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Columbo facts and beginner’s guide

If you’re lucky enough to just be discovering Columbo, congratulations! There’s a whole world of enjoyment ahead of you as you uncover the brilliance of the show episode by episode.

Once hooked, you’ll likely be a fan for life. And if you now can’t get enough of the show and are hankering for more information on it, look no further!

And even if you’re not a newcomer yourself, there may still be some little snippets here you haven’t come across before – and don’t be shy in passing on any facts of your own that you think ought to be included.

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Facts about Columbo the show

Columbo ran for 35 years and a total of 69 episodes between 1968’s Prescription: Murder and 2003’s Columbo Likes the Nightlife. You can view the entire episode list here.

Columbo pioneered the inverted mystery technique, by showing the crime first, and then having Columbo solve it. Instead of a ‘who dunnit’, Columbo is said to be a ‘how’s he gonna catch ’em’. The show was created by William Link and Richard Levinson. Link is still with us, but Levinson died in 1987.

Two actors played Lieutenant Columbo before Peter Falk: Bert Freed (in the one-off 1960 TV movie Enough Rope) and Thomas Mitchell (in the stage version of Prescription: Murder in 1962). Bing Crosby famously turned down the role, jokingly saying he preferred to concentrate on his golf game.

Swan 5Columbo’s iconic wardrobe was entirely supplied by Peter Falk – raincoat, suit, boots and all. Falk bought the famous raincoat when caught in a rainstorm in New York in 1967. It cost him $15.

Steven Spielberg directed Season 1’s first episode Murder by the Book in 1971 – four years before he became a household name with Jaws.

Peter Falk’s second wife, Shera Danese, appeared in six episodes between 1976-1997.

Patrick McGoohan played a Columbo murderer more times than any other actor – four times. Jack Cassidy and Robert Culp each had three appearances as killers. William Shatner and George Hamilton each played a killer twice.

Peter Falk won 4 Emmy Awards for his portrayal of Lieutenant Columbo in 1972, 1975, 1976 and 1990. His acceptance speech in 1972 was a beauty! View it below.

Peter Falk had a sometimes fractious relationship with Universal. During the filming of Season 1, and believing the studio was trying to renege on an agreement to let him direct an episode, Falk was even barred from the set. Filming of Dead Weight and Lady in Waiting was affected.

Among the other household names who starred as Columbo killers are Leonard Nimoy, Johnny Cash, Billy Connolly, John Cassavetes, Ruth Gordon, Jackie Cooper, Dick Van Dyke and Faye Dunaway.

Peter Falk directed just one episode: Blueprint for Murder in 1971. Although it is rumoured that he and John Cassavetes were largely responsible for direction duties on Etude in Black in 1972.

Among the superstars who have had bit-parts in Columbo are Jamie Lee-Curtis, Kim Cattrall, Sal Mineo, Vincent Price, Don Ameche, Myrna Loy, Martin Sheen, Little Richard and Rod Steiger. Read about many more here.

columbo and dog 9Columbo drives an unreliable 1960 Peugeot 403 convertible. During the NBC years, the licence plate was 044-APD. During the show’s ABC run, the plate was 448-DBZ.  Mrs Columbo had a car, too, but that was nothing special, just for transportation you understand…

Peter Falk’s own favourite Columbo episodes were Any Old Port in a Storm, Forgotten Lady, Now You See Him and Identity Crisis.

The most recurring Columbo guest star was Mike Lally, who had cameos in at least 23 episodes. Read more about Mike here.

Aside from Columbo and ‘Dog’, the single-most recurring character was Bruce Kirby’s Sergeant Kramer, who featured six times between 1974 and 1990.

Peter Falk was rumoured to be earning $300,000 per episode when he returned for Season 6 of Columbo in 1976. This doubled to $600,000 per episode when the series made its comeback in 1989.

Columbo Statue Budapest 2Rather brilliantly, there is a bronze statue  of Columbo (and Dog) in Budapest, Hungary. It was unveiled in 2014. Peter Falk is rumoured to be a distant relative of Miksa Falk, the well-known Hungarian politician, journalist and author, who lived from 1828-1908. Read all about the statue here!

Columbo’s unofficial theme tune is ‘This Old Man‘, which was first ad libbed into a scene in Any Old Port in a Storm, when Columbo hums it while making a phone call.

In 1997, Murder by the Book was ranked at No. 16 in TV Guide‘s ‘100 Greatest Episodes of All Time’ list. Two years later, the magazine ranked Lieutenant Columbo No. 7 on its ’50 Greatest TV Characters of All Time’ list.

ColamboPop culture references/homages to Columbo including ‘Colambo’ (pictured), the sheep detective from Sesame Street who solves Nursery Rhyme Crimes. Mad magazine also spooked the character in a comic strip called ‘Clodumbo’, where the lead character pesters his suspect into confessing. Meanwhile, a Columbo board game was released by Milton Bradley in the 1970s. It’s reasonably easy to get hold of on eBay.

Facts about Columbo the character

Name badgeThe Lieutenant’s first name is never revealed – although close-ups of his badge in Season 1 suggest it’s ‘Frank’. This was more overt in 1989’s Grand Deceptions, where ‘Frank Columbo’ was clearly written on an evidence bag. However, Falk himself, as well as series creators Richard Levinson and William Link always stated that his first name was never known, so take it as you will! Read more about this fascinating topic right here!

Mrs Columbo is often talked about but never seen on screen. She is, however, on the same cruise ship as the Lieutenant in Troubled Waters from 1975.

Before joining the police force, Columbo was in the US Army and served in the Korean War.

His favourite food is chilli, ideally with saltine crackers. He also has a penchant for hard boiled eggs. Black coffee is his drink of choice.

Dog EtudeColumbo rescued a basset hound from the pound, who debuted in Etude in Black in 1972. The slovenly beast was ultimately best known as ‘Dog’, although Columbo says that it didn’t officially have a name. Dog would appear in many other classic episodes, including Playback, Try & Catch Me, How to Dial a Murder and Forgotten Lady. Read more about the extremely lovable pooch here.

Columbo only lets a killer get away with murder once: in Forgotten Lady from Season 5, when a terminally ill Grace Wheeler (Janet Leigh) cannot even recall she committed the crime. He also lets accomplice Lisa Martin escape to Europe in It’s All in the Game in order to extract a confession from her mother, Lauren Staton (Faye Dunaway).

In 1972, Columbo earned $11,000 per year as a police Lieutenant, or so he tells Alex Benedict in Etude in Black.

Columbo hates guns, doesn’t carry one and gets a colleague to take his gun test on his behalf in Forgotten Lady. We only see the Lieutenant pull the trigger once – in 1975’s Playback, when he conducts an experiment to help crack the case. He carries a gun in No Time to Die, but doesn’t fire it.

IMG_0481Columbo is rarely without a cigar, which were generally of the cheap and nasty variety – although he was happy to accept a good Cuban if the opportunity arose. Peter Falk, meanwhile, was much more of a cigarette smoker.

According to Sex and Married Detective, Columbo is an excellent tuba player! His other interests include bowling, pool and pinball.

Peter Falk famously only had one eye after losing one to cancer at the age of three. Many fans wonder whether Columbo also had just one eye. The answer may be yes, as Columbo states that ‘three eyes are better than one’ when helping a colleague conduct a search for evidence in 1997’s A Trace of Murder. Or was this just an Easter Egg for fans? I consider this topic in more depth here.

Columbo was from a big family, having 5 brothers and 1 sister. His sister was called Mary, but she had died before No Time to Die in 1992, when Columbo attended her son Andy’s wedding.

Most Crucial Game ColumboColumbo was born and raised in an Italian neighbourhood in New York, which he says was right near China Town. “When I was a kid, I bet I had more eggrolls than I had cannelloni,” he claims in Murder Under Glass. Both his parents were Italian, although both had died prior to Try & Catch Me in 1978.

It’s unknown whether Columbo had any children. He references having kids in several episodes, including Any Old Port in a Storm, Most Crucial Game and Mind Over Mayhem. However, in Rest In Peace Mrs Columbo, he says that he never had children. As with many aspects of the show, you can never tell what’s true and what isn’t.


If you’ve got a fact about the show you think should be featured here please let me know! I’ll start a readers’ contributions section and happily credit the sources. Email columbophile@hotmail.co.uk

 

29 thoughts on “Columbo facts

  1. While we never see or hear Mrs. Columbo in the “Columbo” series, there was a “Mrs. Columbo” spin-off that had a short run, highlighting the mystery exploits of Frank’s wife. It’s mostly inferior to the Peter Falk series, but worth a look if you are a completist. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mrs._Columbo

     
  2. I can still remember watching an impressionist (name long forgotten) on The Merv Griffin Show years ago, and he was doing a scenario about Columbo as the priest in “The Exorcist”. He had him asking “Mr. Devil” for his autograph. Somehow, I could actually picture Columbo doing that, he always takes such interest in his subjects! XD

     
  3. Mrs Columbo appears in a photograph in “Goodbye Mrs Columbo”, so technically she was seen on screen.

     
    • It’s not her. The photo is of Mrs C’s sister. When Columbo speaks to her on the phone at the end of the episode he says the sister can pick the photo up tonight, and that they need to get a nice photo of Mrs Columbo taken at some point.

       
  4. According to IMDB, the top 5 actors ( excluding Peter Falk) by number of appearances on Columbo are:

    1) Mike Lally – 24 mostly uncredited episodes (all during the original run)
    2) John Finnegan – 13 episodes (6 from the original run, 7 from later episodes)
    3) Bruce Kirby – 9 episodes ( 6 from the original run, 3 from later episodes)
    4) Shera Denise – 6 episodes (2 from the original run, 4 from later episodes)
    5) Vito Scotti – 6 epidodes (5 from the original run, 1 from later episodes)

    Fred Draper also had 6 appearances, while Val Avery had had 4, along with 5 others, including MacGoohan and Culp.

    Mike Lally passed away in 1985, so he couldn’t have been in the later episodes.

     
    • If these numbers don’t coincide with the Columbophile’s, I’ll defer to the Columbophile’s stats. Anybody that devotes so much time to Columbo has more attention to detail than any industry website that has to cover tons of movie/television shows. I also like IMDB’s shooting locations they sometimes use.

      I use IMDB for Twilight Zone and Andy Griffith Show info along with my fave UK shows, like Last of the Summer Wine, Keeping Up Appearances, and Allo, Allo, and of course every flick from Hammer and Amicus Films.

      No one comes close to Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, both of which have at least one Columbo connection: Adrian Carsini himself, Donald Pleasance.

       
  5. In Candidate for a Crime, Columbo appears in the first scene. Which episodes have his earliest appearances in the show?

     
  6. In Double Exposure Columbo appears very addept at handling a gun and has his ballistics,etc facts down cold. Guess he just really knows his job.

     
  7. Would you know how one would go about finding the title of a painting in one of the episodes? Is there a database of that kind of stuff? Thanks-

     
  8. The first name “Frank was mentioned in one episode …. sorry I don’t know the name of this episode.
    The waiter in the bar addressed lieutenant by name.

     
    • My original comment (which apparently didn’t post) was directed at a later Columbo episode that I am watching–with William Shatner; and I mused as to why there were no comments about it on this site. I had said it was quite entertaining and well paced and acted. However, as I watch the final twenty minutes, it has gone from four+ stars to 2 after a scene with a call-in at the radio station that just didn’t work for me. Still I’m wondering why no comments.

       
  9. Thank you for this website, it’s fantastic, please keep up the good work. The episode guide is great, I can’t wait to see it finished.

     
  10. Did Lt. Columbo start his police career in Los Angeles, or possibly New York, where the character was born? In the 1973 Anne Baxter episode he tells her he has been an a LA policeman for 13 years,Assuming both Columbo and Falk were both born in 1926, he was 34 in 1960. A tad old to be joining the LA force. But, in the 1967 “Persciption Murder” he was, I think,then, an LAPD Lieutenant?

     
  11. Here is a pop culture reference to Columbo, this parody from The Carol Burnett Show, Cobumble, with Steve Lawrence playing the title role,

     
  12. I’m sorry to here that COZI-tv is cutting material from the classic, early Columbo shows. This is where a new generation of fans first get the Columbo “bug.” I was also wondering Mr. Columbophile, if you have had the opportunity to come out to Hollywood and visit the many locations used in the program? Sadly some important ones have been torn-down.

     

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