Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
- This article is on the television program Columbo. For information on the city, see Colombo.
Columbo was an American crime fiction TV series created by Richard Levinson and William Link . It aired regularly from 1971 to 1978, and sporadically from 1989 to 2003. It starred Peter Falk as Lieutenant Columbo, a homicide detective with the Los Angeles Police Department.
History of the show
The character of Columbo first appeared in 1960 on the NBC anthology series The Chevy Mystery Show. Columbo was played by Bert Freed . The episode, titled "Enough Rope," was adapted by Levinson and Link from their short story "May I Come In."
The teleplay in turn was adapted into a stage play called Prescription: Murder, with Thomas Mitchell in the role. The production starred Joseph Cotten as the murderer and Agnes Moorehead as the victim.
Up to this point the writers had regarded Columbo as only a supporting role, but they soon found that he was stealing attention away from the stars.
Finally, the play was made into a television movie for NBC in 1968. Mitchell had died, and the writers suggested Lee J. Cobb and Bing Crosby for the role, but Cobb was unavailable and Crosby turned it down. Director Richard Irving convinced Levinson and Link that Falk, who wanted the role, could pull it off even though he was much younger than what the writers had in mind.
The TV-movie pitted Falk's Columbo against a murdering physician played by Gene Barry.
The popularity of the character prompted the creation of a regular series on NBC that premiered the fall of 1971 as part of the wheel series NBC Mystery Movie, initially on Wednesday night. Columbo was an immediate hit in the Nielsen ratings and Falk won an Emmy Award for his role in the first year of the series. In the second season it was moved, along with the other shows in the Mystery Movie rotation, to Sunday night and ran for a total seven seasons. After cancellation in 1978, it was revived in occasional made-for-television movies on ABC.
Falk's Columbo was a shabby, apparently slow-witted police detective, although, as the criminals eventually learned, appearances can be deceiving. Columbo solved his cases through close attention to tiny inconsistencies in a suspect's story, hounding them until they confessed. Columbo's signature technique was to exit the scene of an interview, invariably stopping in the doorway to ask "just one more thing" of a suspect, which always brought to light the key inconsistency. In the 1970s, the character rose to the level of an icon on American television.
The series is noted by TV critics and historians for the way it reversed the cliches of the standard whodunit story. In a typical murder mystery, the identity of the murderer is not revealed until the climax of the story, and the hero uncovers clues pointing to the killer. In an episode of Columbo, the audience sees the crime unfold at the beginning and knows exactly who did it. This allows the story to unfold more from the criminal's point of view, rather than that of Columbo himself. The real star of the story is the criminal, and the audience watches as he (or she) frantically tries to cover his tracks, being hounded by the persistent police lieutenant at every step, until he finally slips up and Columbo catches him. As the killer is nearly always wealthy, the show can be seen as an expression of class conflict.
Guest stars who played murderers included Ed Begley Jr., Theodore Bikel, Ian Buchanan, Johnny Cash, John Cassavetes, Jack Cassidy (three times), Billy Connolly, Robert Conrad, Robert Culp (three times, sporting various moustaches!), Tyne Daly, Faye Dunaway, Dick Van Dyke, Hector Elizondo, José Ferrer, Ruth Gordon, Laurence Harvey, Louis Jourdan, Richard Kiley, Martin Landau, Janet Leigh, Ida Lupino, Ross Martin , Roddy McDowall, Patrick McGoohan (many times!), Vera Miles, Ray Milland, Ricardo Montalban, Leonard Nimoy, Donald Pleasence, William Shatner (twice), Fisher Stevens, Rip Torn, Robert Vaughn, George Wendt, and Oskar Werner. Peter Falk's wife, Shera Danese, appeared in six Columbo episodes.
Famed murder victims include Greg Evigan, Leslie Nielsen, and Martin Sheen. Actors such as Jamie Lee Curtis and Jeff Goldblum have had small roles or cameos in various episodes early in their careers.
A spin-off TV series, Mrs. Columbo, was aired in 1979, but it received a dismal reception and was swiftly cancelled. It disappointed fans of the original movies because it had "Mrs. Columbo" as Detective Columbo's divorcée. Many Columbo episodes featured the detective speaking about his wife and the fans found the possibility of divorce unthinkable. Eventually, it was established that the character of Kate Columbo (played by Kate Mulgrew) was of no relation to the detective, thereby allowing the never-seen Mrs. Columbo to continue to play a part in the Peter Falk TV movies. The spin-off was renamed Kate Loves a Mystery and the main character likewise renamed "Kate Callahan", but the series lasted only thirteen episodes.
What's in a name?
Columbo's first name is never explicitly revealed in the series. When pressed, he would insist that it was "Lieutenant". Several sources cite the name "Philip Columbo", variously claiming that the name was either in the original script for Prescription: Murder or that it was visible on his police badge. Peugeot even ran an advertising campaign that mentioned "Lt. Philip Columbo" as the most famous driver of the Peugeot convertible.
The name "Philip Columbo" was, in fact, invented by Fred L. Worth , author of The Trivia Encyclopedia, who planted the information in his book (and its sequels) in an attempt to catch out anyone who might try to violate his copyright. Fred's ploy was, however, only partially successful.
In 1984 he filed a $300 million lawsuit against the distributers of the board game Trivial Pursuit, claiming that they had sourced their questions from his books; even to the point of reproducing mis-prints and typographical errors. The ace up his sleeve was "Philip Columbo", which appeared in a game question, despite the name being an invention of Fred's.
Trivial Pursuit did not deny they sourced material from Fred's books (amongst others) and submitted that copying from a single source is plagiarism, but compiling information from several sources is called research. The judge agreed, ruling in favour of Trivial Pursuit and the case was thrown out of court.
The matter of Columbo's name was finally laid to rest by the release of the first series on DVD. In the episode Dead Weight where Columbo introduces himself to General Hollister, the audience is shown a close-up of his badge, complete with the signature of "Frank Columbo".
Biography of Lt. Columbo
The following details of Lt. Columbo's life have been gleaned from statements the character has made (it should be kept in mind that he may have been lying about any or all of these to establish a rapport with the person he was speaking to, though some facts, like his marriage, have enough other support to establish them as definitely factual):
Columbo was born and raised in New York City in a neighborhood near Chinatown. The Columbo household included the future policeman's grandfather, parents, five brothers and a sister. His father wore glasses and did the cooking when his mother was in the hospital having another baby. His grandfather let him stomp the grapes when they made wine in the cellar. He is Italian on both sides.
Columbo's father, who never earned more than $5,000 a year, taught him how to play pool, an obsession that stuck with the future detective. His boyhood hero was Joe DiMaggio, and he also liked gangster pictures.
Hardly a model child, Columbo broke street lamps, played pinball and ran with a crowd of boys that enjoyed a good prank. The trick of putting a potato in a car exhaust — which doesn't break anything, but the car won't start — served well on one of his cases. He became a cop in part to make up for these juvenile pranks.
During high school, he dropped chemistry and took wood shop. While he dated a girl named Theresa in high school, he met his future wife. After serving in the Army during the Korean War, Columbo joined the New York police force and was assigned to the 12th precinct. He trained under Sergeant Gilhooley, a genial Irishman who tried to teach him the game of darts. He moved to Los Angeles in 1958.
Columbo is compulsive about little details. Little things keep him awake at night and he likes to bounce ideas off his wife. The Columbos have an unknown number of children and a basset hound named Dog. Columbo doesn't carry a gun. He drives a 1959 Peugeot 403 convertible. He is prone to airsickness and seasickness and he can't swim. He is squeamish and doesn't like autopsies or even looking at photographs of 'messy' murders.
He is not good with numbers. He likes cooking, limericks, Westerns, Italian opera, Strauss waltzes, golf, classical music, bowling, and football on television. He is a self-proclaimed expert at tuning in TV sets. In 1972, he made $11,000 a year. He is extremely stingy and for his 25th wedding anniversary, rather than buying her silver he considered taking his wife camping. His parents and his grandfather are dead. His favourite food is chili (with crackers) which he eats at a greasy spoon owned by Barney who he sometimes chews over a case with. Columbo also loves coffee and drinks it black. He loves cigars (usually the cigarette-cigar kind), which he smokes regularly. He speaks Italian and a little Spanish. He is a whistler - in almost every episode you can hear him whistle the childrens song "This Old Man Came Rolling Home".
List of episodes
- Prescription: Murder (2/20/68)
- Ransom for a Dead Man (3/1/71)
First season (1971-1972, 7 episodes):
- Murder by the Book (9/15/71)
- Death Lends a Hand (10/6/71)
- Dead Weight (10/27/71)
- Suitable for Framing (11/17/71)
- Lady in Waiting (12/15/71)
- Short Fuse (1/19/72)
- Blueprint for Murder (2/9/72)
Second season (1972-1973, 8 episodes):
- Etude in Black (9/17/72)
- The Greenhouse Jungle (10/15/72)
- The Most Crucial Game (11/5/72)
- Dagger of the Mind (11/26/72)
- Requiem for a Falling Star (1/21/73)
- A Stitch in Crime (2/11/73)
- The Most Dangerous Match (3/4/73)
- Double Shock (3/25/73)
Third season (1973-1974, 8 episodes):
- Lovely But Lethal (9/23/73)
- Any Old Port in a Storm (10/7/73)
- Candidate For Crime (11/4/73)
- Double Exposure (12/16/73)
- Publish or Perish (1/18/74)
- Mind Over Mayhem (2/10/74)
- Swan Song (3/3/74)
- A Friend in Deed (5/5/74)
Fourth season (1974-1975, 6 episodes):
- An Exercise in Fatality (9/15/74)
- Negative Reaction (10/6/74)
- By Dawn's Early Light (10/27/74)
- Troubled Waters (2/9/75)
- Playback (3/2/75)
- A Deadly State of Mind (4/27/75)
Fifth season (1975-1976, 6 episodes):
- Forgotten Lady (9/14/75)
- A Case of Immunity (10/12/75)
- Identity Crisis (11/2/75)
- A Matter of Honor (2/1/76)
- Now You See Him... (2/29/76)
- Last Salute to the Commodore (5/2/76)
Sixth season (1976-1977, 3 episodes):
- Fade in to Murder (10/10/76)
- Old Fashioned Murder (11/28/76)
- The Bye-Bye Sky High IQ Murder Case (5/22/77)
Seventh season (1977-1978, 5 episodes):
- Try and Catch Me (11/21/77)
- Murder Under Glass (1/30/78)
- Make Me a Perfect Murder (2/28/78)
- How to Dial a Murder (4/15/78)
- The Conspirators (5/13/78)
Eighth season (1989, 4 episodes):
- Columbo Goes to the Guillotine (2/6/89)
- Murder, Smoke, and Shadows (2/27/89)
- Sex and the Married Detective (4/3/89)
- Grand Deceptions (5/1/89)
Ninth season (1989-1990, 6 episodes):
- Murder, a Self Portrait (11/25/89)
- Columbo Cries Wolf (1/20/90)
- Agenda for Murder (2/10/90)
- Rest in Peace, Mrs. Columbo (3/31/90)
- Uneasy Lies the Crown (4/28/90)
- Murder in Malibu (5/14/90)
Tenth season (1990-1991, 3 episodes):
- Columbo Goes to College (12/9/90)
- Caution: Murder Can Be Hazardous to Your Health (2/20/91)
- Columbo and the Murder of a Rock Star (4/29/91)
Eleventh season (1993-1994, 3 episodes):
- It's All in the Game (10/31/93)
- Butterfly in Shades of Grey (1/10/94)
- Undercover (5/2/94)
- Death Hits the Jackpot (12/15/91)
- No Time to Die (3/15/92)
- A Bird in the Hand... (11/22/92)
- Strange Bedfellows (5/8/95)
- A Trace of Murder - 25th Anniversary Movie (5/15/97)
- Ashes to Ashes (10/8/98)
- Murder With Too Many Notes (3/12/01)
- Columbo Likes the Nightlife (1/30/03)
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