Meet Columbo and His Dog
The Columbo series followed the title character, a homicide detective played by Peter Falk, as he relentlessly solved crimes. The show had a revolving door for celebrity guest actors to star opposite the goofy Peter Falk. Before we talk about his legacy, did you know these stars worked on the show?
JAMIE LEE CURTIS
In the episode "Bye-Bye Sky High IQ Murder Case", you'll probably recognize one of the waitresses as none other than Jame Lee Curtis! The episode aired in 1977. Her character gets annoyed with Columbo after he drops a donut and takes his sweet time thumbing through the menu.
If you didn't know, Jamie Lee's mother was also an actress! She previously starred in the show's episode 'Forgotten Lady" which aired the previous season. It's unclear if she had a hand in her daughter being cast but one can imagine it didn't hurt to have the connection! Jamie Lee went on to pave her stardom in Halloween.
Spielberg had such an impact during the show's reign as its story editor, the writers actually created a character named Steve Spielberg who was a boy genius. The young character was played by Lee Montgomery who became a teen idol in the 80s. Spielberg once said the show was like his film school.
Spielberg has a special history with the show. When he was 25 years old, he actually directed the "Murder by the Book" episode from 1971. This was the show's first episode on-air and was about a fatal partnership between two writers. The episode was ranked number 16 on TV Guide's 100 Greatest Episodes of All Time.
DICK VAN DYKE
On the 1974 episode "Negative Reaction", a Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer is covering up the murder of his own wife. The evil Paul Galesko is played by none other than the award-winning actor from the original 1964 Mary Poppins. Can you imagine the all-smiles Dick Van Dyke going such a thing?
Cassidy is revered as the most memorable killer in the series. Most notably, he was the first murderer of the series playing Ken Franklin. He later appeared as Publisher Riler Greenleaf in the season 7 episode "Publish or Perish" and then again in the "Now You See Him" as The Great Santini, an illusionist.
Sal Mineo really made a name for himself in the 50s for his break out role as "Plato" in Rebel with a Cause (1955). He earned two Oscar nominations for his role and went on to earn a Golden Globe for his performance on Exodus (1960). In 1975, he was introduced to us all on Columbo as Rachman Habib in "A Case of Immunity".
Not a lot of guest actors came back for seconds... or thirds. But in McGoohan's case, he couldn't walk away from the mystery! He played the murderer on the series four different times! Not only was he an actor on the show, but McGoohan also directed 5 episodes of the show.
His final appearance was in the season 13 episode 9 of the show, "Ashes to Ashes". He directed and starred in the episode as Eric Prince, the episode's murderer! McGoohan brought his daughter Catherine McGoohan to the filming and she is featured on the episode as Rita! Patrick won 2 Primetime Emmys during his time on the show!
Sci-fi fans got to see not one, but two members of the starship Enterprise! Captain Kirk and Spock both had their roles as killers on the mystery show. Captain Kirk starred in the 1976 episode "Fade in to Murder". You can actually see a signed headshot of the captain in his character Ward Fowler's office.
Leonard Nimoy starred in the series 3 years later with his role as Dr. Barry Mayfield in the season two episode "A Stitch in Crime". It's shocking to see the straight-forward officer of the starship play an immoral surgeon. He comes up with a plan to kill his partner until one of the nurses foils his plans.
The basset hound adopted by Columbo in season 2 quickly became a fan-favorite! In real life, the canine actor Henry was rescued from a Burbank animal shelter. It's been said that the network was looking for a young cop to become Columbo's new sidekick and the show's creators decided to give Lieut Columbo the furry companion.
THE SHOW’S SUCCESS
The show wasn’t only loved for its guest actors, it also gave Peter Falk the freedom to go off script a few times. He was known for fumbling through his pockets for a pen or paper and it’s been said that he did this just to bug the actors. “And just one more thing…” his catchphrase was never planned either!
THE COLUMBO CHARACTER
The creators, Richard Levinson and William Link, based the character off of Porfiry Petrovich from Crime and Punishment and Father Brown, the Catholic priest and detective from the literary novel of the same name. Columbo was known for always smoking a cigar and wearing a wrinkled coat.
Before the show was aired on NBC, his first portrayal was by Bert Freed in The Chevy Mystery Show. For the 1962 stage production of Prescription: Murder, the detective was portrayed by Oscar Award-winning actor, Thomas Mitchell who is best known for his role in John Ford’s 1939 film Stagecoach as Doc Boone.
PETER FALK'S EARLY CAREER
Falk was filling up his acting resume in crime and mystery before his time in Columbus. He was in a 1961 episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents as Meyer Fine. In the same year, he guest-starred in The Twilight Zone, The Law and Mr. Jones, and Target: The Corrupters!.
He got his big break as a lead in the CBS series The Trials of O'Brien which ran from 1965 to 1966 with 22 episodes. His character, O'Brien was a defense attorney in New York City who loved quoting Shakespeare. The final episode aired on March 18, 1966, and featured Gene Hackman as a judge. You know, Popeye!
Initially, Falk was not who the creators of the character had in mind for the movie adaptation. Director Richard Irving persuaded the two to give Falk a chance and he definitely “killed” that audition! He first appeared as Columbo in the NBC movie Prescription: Murder and the franchise took off!
Falk starred in the sequel Ransom for a Dead Men alongside the Oscar- and Emmy Award-winning actress Lee Grant in early 1971. Later that year, the show became a series airing monthly on Wednesday nights as a segment of The NBC Mystery Movie wheel series. After just one season, Falk earned an Emmy for his performance as Columbo.
FROM 1968 TO 2003
Falk is beloved for his role as the overly motivated and sometimes goofy lieutenant, but some fans don't know that Falk also directed season 1 episode "Blueprint for Murder". The murderer for this episode is the sly architect, Elliott Markham played by Patrick O'Neal.
The show stopped airing on NBC in 1978. Fortunately, about 10 years later, ABC revived the series and released several seasons and made-for-TV movies in the franchise. These included Murder with Too Many Notes which aired on March 12, 2001, and Columbo Like the Nightlife which aired on January 30, 2003.
Peter Falk met his wife Shera Danese while filming for the 1976 movie Mikey and Nicky. "He saw me walking down the street and that was it," said Danese in a Los Angeles Times interview from 1991. The couple stayed married for 33 years before the beloved actor's passed away.
You may remember seeing a familiar face throughout the series after 1976. Shera Danese first role on the series was as Molly in the episode "Fade in to Murder". She has the most credits in the show than any other female guest star on the show with 6 features between 1976 and 1997.
JUST ONE MORE THING
In 2006, Falk released his autobiography, Just One More Thing: Stories from My Life, where he wrote about his professional career growing up in Hartford, Connecticut. He also wrote extensively about his attempts at working for the Central Intelligence Agency before becoming an actor!
In 2008, tragedy struck when Peter Falk was diagnosed with dementia and Alzheimer's disease. The beloved actor spent several weeks receiving treatment at the Southern California Hospital up until Shera made the decision to bring him home before his last days. Peter Falk was 83 years old when he passed away on June 23, 2011.
THE FALK ESTATE
Most of Peter’s estate was left to his wife, Shera, including their home together, art collection, and investment portfolio. According to Daily Mail, Peter also left an estimated six-figure inheritance to his two adopted daughters from his first marriage, Catherine and Jackie.
It's been over 50 years since the series premiered, but the show will always be remembered for creating its own storytelling style in the crime drama genre. Additionally, we got to see Peter Falk's incredible dedication to his role as the Lieutenant. We couldn't name every guest star, so who do you remember starring the series?