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.
Columbo’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 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.
Rather 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.
Pop 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
The 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.
Columbo 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.
Columbo 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.
Columbo 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.
What was the overall social commentary in the series regarding rich, entitled, Angelino’s? Their homes, automobiles, and occupations- all elitist, bourgeois, criminals compared to the poor working class stiff (the police detective who always outsmarts them). So what’s the common thread in every episode? It’s really a Marxist theme, the overworked, regular working man who prevails over the entitled upper class who kill for greed and lust. Love it in the Cold War years of the 70s.
My favorite episodes are with Ross Martin, Ricardo Montalban, and Martin Landau playing twin brothers. Spock killing Grandpa Walton was also a stretch. I love it when Ricardo Montalban tells Columbo he must leave his house. Columbo was always sick because he ate too many hard boiled eggs and chili.
I used to watch Columbo when I was still a kid, probably 35 – 40 years ago. My wife and I were scrolling through available series to watch (because there’s almost nothing worth watching on anymore) and we came across Columbo. She said she’d never heard of the show (which amazed me), and I mentioned how I always liked it, but I didn’t think it was her kind of show. But she decided to watch a few episodes anyway. Turns out she is into it. Peter Falk cracks us up and it’s cool seeing so many old stars / celebrities. So now we watch a couple episodes each week. We’re up to season 4 at this point .. just watched the episode on the military base with the exploding cannon (not sure the title).
…just one more thing
It’s great finding the “Columbophile Blog”, keep up the good work!
My wife and I watch a lot of detective shows, particularly British detectives. And most all the detectives are basically unhappy people: lonely, alcoholic, damaged, depressed. After watching one such show last night, my wife remarked, “I know of only one truly happy TV detective. Columbo. Loves his work. Happily married. Loves his dog.” Maybe that’s one secret to the show’s never-ending appeal.
The third actor to play Columbo was Howard Wierum, in the stage play. Thomas Mitchell became ill near the start of the play’s run and Howard Wierum who was the understudy took over the rest of the run, about three quarters of it. In theatre programmes Thomas Mitchell was still listed even though he had totally left the production. I found out with research about this in the past, I think mostly from a book on the career of Agnes Moorehead.
Not exactly “near the start of the play’s run.” Mitchell fell I’ll in Philadelphia, the 15th stop on the play’s nationwide tour (although one of its longer stops). [Joseph Cotten’s autobiography, “Vanity Will Get You Somewhere” — the source cited in the Moorehead biography (“Agnes Moorehead on Radio, Stage and Television” by Axel Nissen) on this point — discusses Mitchell’s understudy assuming the part, although never mentions him by name.] Wierum originally was cast as “Dave Gordon,” the Assistant DA played by William Windom in the 1968 TV adaptation.
Yes, a bit further than “near the start”, but the point is that most Columbo fans learn about the stage play with Thomas Mitchell and nothing more on that, when really he wasn’t even in most of it! And they are not even aware of Howard Wierum.
Although it was Mitchell who wooed the audience so much that the play could only limp through the rest of its shortened run, and couldn’t come to Broadway, without him. And it was Mitchell who pulled the rug out from under Cotten by demonstrating, in Cotten’s words, that “the plot of the play did not concern a doctor who murdered his wife and was subsequently apprehended by a bumbling detective. Rather it concerned a bumbling detective who put together sufficient evidence to convict a murderer who happened to be a doctor.” In other words, Mitchell showed Cotten that he, not Cotten, was the star of the play.
hello all . i have just discovered this site . it is fantastic . i am a lifelong columbo fan . my wife says i could win contests on columbo trivia . i watch it daily and never get bored . it clearly is the greatest detective show of all time . thanks for this site , cant wait to dig in .
It mentions one of his interests is pool. After watching him in S7E4 How to Dial a Murder, he clearly shows by looking at his bridge hand and playing his shots, you can tell that he was more than just an avg player. He must have hung around some pool room in NY growing up.
There are other actors that play pool exceptionally well as well, such as Law and Order’s Briscoe (Jerry Orbach) and Matthew McConaughey.
There is so much about Lt. Columbo’s past we just guess at, and he uses that to his advantage. There is a foggy notion that he joined the LAPD circa 1960, at about 34, (about the same time he bought his uber-rare Peugeot 404 cabriolet. Mr. Falk was born in 1926.) We know he was a detective in the Hollywood-adjacent murder division in 1967. Just ask “Prescription Murder’s” deadly doctor, Gene Barry, one of, in my opinion, Columbodom’s most suave, heartless and ruthless killers. His graphic strangulation of noir-queen Nina Foch, interrupted by a vintage land-line telephone ( remember those?) is still hard to watch. Did Columbo start his career in NYC? Where Mr. Falk grew-up? Did he walk a “beat” or work a squad car, with a partner, like Car 54’s Herman and Grandpa Munster? We know he has an aversion to firearms, but really knows his Italian cuisine and wine. Mr.Falk grew-up near NYC’s Chinatown. The real mystery about Columbo IS Columbo himself!
I love this site. Has there ever been an actor/actress (although I think it would have been mentioned) who was both killed and killer?
Robert Vaughn was a killer in Troubled Waters, and a victim in Last Salute to the Commodore.
It wasn’t very smart for commissionaire halperin to ask for lieutenant Columbo after being an accessory to a murder in a friend in need given Columbos excellent apprehension record.
I found this site because I was trying to find out if ANYONE, had ever endeavored to list Columbo’s “Epiphany” moment, the moment when he realizes who the murderer is, in each episode.
I just re-watched the entire series (again) on Peacock. I love the show. I need to suspend my belief when all of the circumstantial evidence begins flying around like debris in a tornado, but it is all about Lt. Columbo for me. The show never would have made it if Peter Falk hadn’t created the perfect character.
It’s on Amazon Prime, too! I just started re-watching it. I was just thinking about Columbo’s epiphany moments after seeing Negative Reaction. He knew it was Galesko when he had to view his wife’s body. He said something like, “You’ll need the details for the report” very calmly. You can tell Columbo knew it was him instantly. 🙂
I use to watch, or I should say re-re-re-watch episodes of Columbo in Peacock. They finally marked all episodes as Premium so you can only watch if you pay. I thought this was bad move on their part.
The scene at the used car lot in A Friend In Need. Watch and listen closely to Falk. A short, quickly evolving scene where we see the classic chummy Lt. turn into the cop who needs to hear an answer, and assess the situation in real time based on findings, real or implied. You have to ‘be the cop’ for this scene, and if you do, Falk’s Columbo is on point 100%. Given the prominence of this case to his character’s career, you can see moment of confidence evolve like silent thunder, all in one seemingly unimportant scene (at the surface anyway); no need for prominent costars to share it. Crucial subtlety and story gravity have big music and lighting in Film, but here on well-produced TV during it’s golden era, a small scene with no score, shot in a used car lot in an unknown part of LA, and some choice, curt dialogue, with no fanfare, it is only the viewer’s interest to propel the plot evolution, the actual key to rewarding entertainment.
I do love the Columbo series but if you pay close attention there are a LOT of mistakes and if these were corrected, he couldn’t solve the mystery.
An interesting fact is the Blyth Danner is pregnant Gueneth Pawtro in Etude in black. You can see in some scenes, especially the tennis scene
Blyth was ready to pop when the episode aired Sept. 17 1972 and Gwyneth was born on Sept. 27th.
I do pay attention
closely, and rate
the episodes as much on their being a
mystery, as I do for entertainment value.
In fact, all the episodes rate the same
in entertainment, but differ in the ratings
I give to the clues leading Columbo to the
killer, and the final gotcha.
Fortunately, quite a few of them are almost
at the very top. I consider my rating system
quite objective. The scores shows me that
I consider many of them good mysteries,
My favorite show along with ( murder she wrote), I watch them both. That outfit he wore was something else.
I liked the Faye Dunaway episode. Puts the wanna -b’s to shame. (glenn close)
About the only genuine, watchable, classy, name-actress second-generation, low-budget Columbo. That Tyne Daly episode was pretty good. Innocent bystander death by exploding Rolls-Royce Corniche is always worth a peek.
Love Columbo, great website
After all those years of solving crimes and almost always bringing the criminals to justice and still a lieutenant
I always watch columbos entire series at least once a year. A great talented guy indeed.
Hello do you remember the yawl sailboat name in the episodes, I have the boat here in Canada but it has been renamed.
I am late to the party but the yawls name was Lisa. S. Named after his Young girlfriend who would’ve been his wife.
Glad he remained a lieutenant, otherwise he’d be behind a desk…
About the car. It says on the internet that it is a 1959, not a 1960. Also I just heard Columbo tell George Hamilton that it’s a 1950 model ! Right after the collision with his Mercedes Benz.
The website listed the couple who actually owned the car after the first run, who loaned it to the producers for the newer shows. So I think that they should know what model year it is.
Does anyone know which episode ended with a woman asking “You’re not stupid, are you, lieutenant?” and Columbo answered “No Ma’am, I’m not”
Columbo what a great guy.
Does anyone know why Columbo has some sort of malady in almost every episode? Cold, allergy, stomach issues. ??
I’m not positive but it could be from, Make Me A Perfect Murder. That sounds like something Kate (actress Trish Van Devere) would say to Colombo as she was leaving the portable tv control room for a merry-go-round shoot to take her final ride downtown.
Make Me A Perfect Murder is one of my top 5 episodes ever. Underrated, I think… It’s high energy from start to finish.
columbo has a daughter named jenny as per mrs columbo ep 1
We must NEVER consider ‘Mrs Columbo’ to be connected with the actual Columbo in any way!
Too bad they never made a crossover episode, with Mr. and Mrs. C. teaming up on a case.
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
No. Nobody should watch Mrs. Columbia for any reason.
I agree, and I really like Kate Mulgrew, who was wasted. She’s is a terrific Star Trek captain, though. She did a great one woman Katherine Hepburn stage play. I’m also REALLY worried about the proposed “Columbo” reboot. Setting it in 50’s NYC is provocative, but “Rebootitis” is usually fatal to both the original idea of a classic show, and the actors we have come to know, and pehrhaps love. Examples: Wild, Wild West; C H.I.P.S; Baywatch. And even though the new Hawaii-50 and Magnum, P.I. seem to be ratings successes, I don’t watch, or care for them. I’ll take a campy Jack Lord or understated Peter Falk, ANY DAY!
Mrs. Columbo is AWESOME. several episodes are included in the Columbo series dvd box set.
Who knew that he was married to Captain Janeway ! Why not. He did bust Captain Kirk twice.
He caught Spock also…
And let’s not forget Arlene Martel, “Mrs. Spock,” T’pring, (“Amok Time,” 1967) who played Gloria West, Tony Goodland’s (Bradford Dillman) mistress in the 1972 Ray Millan episode “The Greenhouse Jungle.” She also played a saleslady in “A Friend Indeed,” 1974.
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
Mrs Columbo appears in a photograph in “Goodbye Mrs Columbo”, so technically she was seen on screen.
Sorry I mean “Rest In Peace Mrs Columbo” and it’s near the end.
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.
exactly! Nice thread!!!
I believe it is mentioned that is a picture of his wife’s sister. His wife never appears.
Yes that’s right. The photo ain’t Mrs C – just a red herring to fool Vivian Dimitri.
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.
Does Mr. Columbofile, or anyone else, have access to Universal television production files? They usually have detailed notes relating to actors, filming locations and other data.Knowing how cheap UTV was, they probably didn’t want to pay for storage? They almost invented Hollywood “creative book keeping. ” I heard Rona Barrett say, on an old “Tattletales” show, that Universal banned her from the lot after she gave “Airport ’75” a bad review!
You are correct sir..
In Candidate for a Crime, Columbo appears in the first scene. Which episodes have his earliest appearances in the show?
In Troubled Waters and Make Me a Perfect Murder he’s in it right from the beginning, too.
I have the opposite question – in which episodes did Columbo appear the latest? I recall a few where it seemed a half hour or more before he appeared.
Death Hits the Jackpot is his latest appearance at 31 mins, with Prescription: Murder next at 30 mins. Quite a few more in the mid-20s.
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.
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-
What painting? That stuff really intrigues me. I’ll certainly look.
If you mean the Ross Martin, “Suitable For Framing” episode, those are all famous, museum-housed paintings, but so poorly reproduced and framed. It’s rather distracting how cheap they look. Yet the camera angles, and music that highlight them is top notch. That ” Bel Air” prop house exterior and interior get a LOT of haute-60’s and 70’s Universal TV action
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.
Sorry–no “edit” option–It’s titled “Butterfly–Shades of Grey”
Butterfly in Shades of Grey, and it’s on ME-TV tonight.
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.
Definitely not one of my favorite episodes, even among the new episodes.
Sorry, a lot of us kinda almost, sorta wish Shatner was the actual Columbo murder victim, in his appearances, rather than suspect.That early episode, where he plays the campy TV police “inspector” is just plum unwatchable. It also features the fabulous Frances Marion/Fred Thompson, luxe-Jazz-Age, Wallace Neff-designed, Benedict Canyon estate, possibly one of the most used Columbo location homes. Sadly cyber-tycoon Paul Allen purchased it, in perfect condition, a few years back, and TORE IT ALL DOWN!
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.
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?
I just love Columbo I mean love it.
Here is a pop culture reference to Columbo, this parody from The Carol Burnett Show, Cobumble, with Steve Lawrence playing the title role,
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.
Here’s another tribute to Columbo from ME-TV,
I got 29/30: https://metv.com/quiz/can-you-pass-the-colossal-columbo-quiz
good stuff. I will make sure to bookmark your blog.