Season 1

Can anyone solve this real-life Columbo mystery?

Model blog header

Every episode of Columbo features a mystery. However, as we know, the Lieutenant is well capable of solving the trickiest of cases, leaving no questions unanswered. But there’s a real-life Columbo mystery that remains unresolved more than 45 years on.

Simply put: who is the above-pictured beautiful actress, who played a small but notable part in Suitable for Framing back in 1971? The alluring blonde was seen briefly at Sam Franklin’s art show, swigging Champagne at a table in the presence of famous art critic Dale Kingston, among several others.

“The mystery girl certainly made an impression on the episode, despite her appearance being little more than a cameo.”

And the next day we see her again, this time wearing far fewer clothes, as the nude model who so abashes Columbo when he drops by to question Franklin about what Kingston was doing at the time of the crime. I always really enjoyed her performance here. As well as good-naturedly greeting the Lieutenant, she gives as good as she gets to the grouchy artist when he gives her grief. And when Columbo awkwardly shuffles away, she allows herself a sneaky glance after him with an enigmatic look suggestive that she’d taken a shine to the scruffy little detective.

She certainly made an impression on the episode, despite her appearance being little more than a cameo.

Suitable for Framing model

Columbo was immediately embarrassed by the mystery model’s lack of clothing, and couldn’t bring himself to look at her again during his stay.

So who is this actress? The character’s name was Chris, but it was an uncredited role. We know lots of people who it isn’t, despite some claims made online. It’s not Sharon Tate. Not Cybill Shepherd. Not Patricia Mattick. For a time I thought it might have been former Bond Girl Shirley Eaton, who would have been about the right age at the time (34). She looks similar, but I can’t find any proof, and I tend to think it’s not her. For one thing she retired from acting in 1969 to raise a family. Plus she was living in Britain. No, it’s not Shirley.

But one truth remains: someone played the role, and someone out there must know who it is! I’m not alone in wondering. One keen Columbo fan I know (@jadiepye for any Twitterati reading this) has even gone as far as contacting Universal about it. He’s never had a response.

Columbo mystery model

We know she isn’t Sharon Tate, Cybill Shepherd or Shirley Eaton. So who is she?

I will personally send a genuine 1970s’ Columbo film poster to the first person who provides definitive proof of who this actress is. So if you know someone, who knows someone, who once knew someone who walked dogs for showbiz types in LA, then put out the word to them.

Together we’ll crack this mystery for once and for all! The good-humoured mystery model deserves nothing less.

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64 thoughts on “Can anyone solve this real-life Columbo mystery?

  1. Pingback: 5 best moments in Suitable for Framing | The columbophile

  2. Since you guys are looking for some “missing person”, may I ask for another one?
    IMDB does not list her (I think), so it is really hard to look for her other films (if any).
    I’m talking about beautiful lady from hilarious scene in “Exercise in Fatality” (“Tricon is always happy to cooperate with the authorities”).
    Screenshot from the film: http://imgur.com/a/i6u2D

    • Also ‘Sally’ the police woman who helps columbo by running away in her heels to recreate what someone heard does not get a credit. Both her and ‘Chris’ had speaking parts so it is strange.

      • Woman from Columbo doesn’t look 42 (1974-1932)…
        In my estimation she is not more than 30 yo. 🙂

  3. The producers certainly cut corners on the show, often dubbing in dialogue for background roles, and of course rarely giving credit for many of Michael Lally’s speaking parts. My guess is she was a friend or relative of a crew member or someone in the production office.

  4. At first look, I thought she looked like Peggy Lipton of “The Mod Squad” but I’m sure that if it was her, that would already have been confirmed!

  5. Just checked Joanna Pettet’s picture and the image about looks like the spitting image of her. Born 1942 so she would have been late 20’s I think she’s our “suspect”!!!. #WhatwouldColumbodo

    • If that’s guaranteed it would be a neat trick the Columbo series started in 71 except for a prescription murder the one pilot episode a couple of years earlier and Sharon Tate died in 69

  6. posted b4…but can’t see where it posted..so here it is again…i think it’s peter fauks’ loving and poyal wife(real life wife) Shera Danese…really i think i am “almost” positive…type in ‘PETER FAULKS’ WIFE and look at newer pics as well as old…i believe it’s her…:)

  7. I’ve written a letter to Donald P Desmond who is credited with the Transportation for the production. He’s 91 but lives in California. I guess he might know. If he cares to answer. I have his number but it seems a tad rude to call him up.

  8. (touches forehead..stares into space..pauses)..oh..just one more thing b4 i go cp..could it be his devoted wife Shera..probably nothing sir..i was just wondering…::))…(shuffles away slowly… scratches back of head while putting lil stogie back in a half-smiling mouth)..love pf’s style…::))

  9. (touches forehead..pauses..stares into space…)oh just one more thing b4 i go…is it p.faulks’ devoted wife…Shera…perhaps…(puts stub in mouth…walks away shaking head thoughtfully).???

  10. and then i touched my forehead..tiled glance toward sky..and paused dramatically…just one more thing b4 i go….where were you??…ect ect…:))

  11. Pingback: Columbo episode review: Suitable for Framing | The columbophile

  12. driving me nuts as well. Looks like the only way to find out might be contacting one of the principals or the casting director (if still living). Please keep me posted

  13. I believe that it is an actress named Leoda Richards. It says on IMDb that she played an uncredited party guest at the art gallery, and when I googled images, those pictures of that blonde came up in that episode ‘Suitable for Framing.’ It also lists other Columbo episodes she was in as background.Museum Goer / Executive / Party Guest at Art Gallery / …
    – Old Fashioned Murder (1976) … Museum Goer (uncredited)
    – Lady in Waiting (1971) … Executive (uncredited)
    – Suitable for Framing (1971) … Party Guest at Art Gallery (uncredited)
    – Murder by the Book (1971) … Theatre Patron (uncredited)
    Sharon Johanson played Miss Dudley in ‘Dagger of the Mind’. Hope that helps.

  14. Is it the model Diane Davies? She was on the cover of Playboy in 1971 and cover of Cosmopolitan March 1969. There is also an IMDB listing for a Diane Davies in the movie “Loving” 1970. They look alike but…??

  15. I was able to do only a cursory bit of investigation on this, and I believe I have a suitable candidate for your mystery girl. I think it’s a strong lead, but I can’t state it with definity, so don’t go putting that Columbo film poster in a mailing tube, yet.

    I believe she is Sharon Johansen. Miss Johansen’s largest claim to fame is her stint as a Playboy Playmate—Miss October, 1972. However, she has at least one confirmed link with Columbo—she appeared in the Columbo episode “Dagger of the Mind”. In the opening minutes of the episode, she appears in the theatre as “Miss Dudley”, a script girl whom becomes the target of flirtation from Richard Basehart’s character.

    I’m old enough to have seen Miss Johansen’s pictorial when it came out in ’72, as well as having seen “Dagger of the Mind” when it originally aired. I’m an inveterate credit-reader, so I noticed her name in the closing credits.

    Initially, I thought her appearance in the October, 1972 Playboy would work against her being your Mystery Girl in “Suitable for Framing”, which aired in the previous year, 1971. (Most Playmates use their Playboy appearances as the springboard TO an acting career.) However, in checking with IMdB, I found that Miss Johansen had at least two credited television appearances in 1971. So she was performing BEFORE her Playboy issue.

    I noted in your plea for help uncovering the Mystery Girl’s identity, you stated “someone, who knows someone, who once knew someone who walked dogs for showbiz types in L.A.” I had to chuckle at that, for as happenstance would have it, Miss Johansen’s “day job” was dog walker/trainer.

    Hope this helps, and good luck!

    • Hello there. Thanks for this sterling groundwork and information. Someone previously suggested that Sharon could be the mystery girl. I’ve had a good look at what images Google throws up and I don’t think it’s her, although I can’t be sure. I just don’t think the faces are quite a match. However, it’s very difficult to know anything conclusively. I’ll keep you in the loop if I hear anything else!

      • My apologies. I didn’t know that someone else had already suggested Sharon Johansen; otherwise, I wouldn’t have wasted your time.

        I studied as many confirmed photos of Miss Johansen as I could against the pics of the Mystery Girl you posted above. I agree—it’s sketchy. Some of comparison photos looked spot-on to the pics of the Mystery Girl; others didn’t really pair up.

        There’s a stong similarity in the two girls’ facial structure: a narrowing, but prominent chin; a small but defined nose; wide-set eyes. But without any corroborating information, the resemblence is not enough to take it to the bank. I only meant the suggestion of Miss Johansen to be a starting point, from which, perhaps, you could obtain that corroboration.

        But I’m not 100% sold that it’s Miss Johansen, either. Too bad there’s no way, even in this era of social media, to ask her.

      • You weren’t wasting my time at all, fear not. Your suggestion had me studying the imagery very thoroughly just in case. I agree, it’s not conclusive either way and very hard to know how to get a definitive inside line on this, even in the social media age. But SOMEONE MUST KNOW!

  16. I was able to do only a cursory bit of investigation on this, and I believe I have a suitable candidate for your mystery girl. I think it’s a strong lead, but I can’t state it with definity, so don’t go putting that Columbo film poster in a mailing tube, yet.

    I believe she is Sharon Johansen. Miss Johansen’s largest claim to fame is her stint as a Playboy Playmate—Miss October, 1972. However, she has at least one confirmed link with Columbo—she appeared in the Columbo episode “Dagger of the Mind”. In the opening minutes of the episode, she appears in the theatre as “Miss Dudley”, a script girl whom becomes the target of flirtation from Richard Basehart’s character.

    I’m old enough to have seen Miss Johansen’s pictorial when it came out in ’72, as well as having seen “Dagger of the Mind” when it originally aired. I’m an inveterate credit-reader, so I noticed her name in the closing credits.

    Initially, I thought her appearance in the October, 1972 Playboy would work against her being your Mystery Girl in “Suitable for Framing”, which aired in the previous year, 1971. (Most Playmates use their Playboy appearances as the springboard TO an acting career.) However, in checking with IMdB, I found that Miss Johansen had at least two credited television appearances in 1971. So she was performing BEFORE her Playboy issue.

    I noted in your plea for help uncovering the Mystery Girl’s identity, you stated “someone, who knows someone, who once knew someone who walked dogs for showbiz types in L.A.”. I had to chuckle at that. In a curious happenstance, Miss Johansen had a “day job” as a dog walker/trainer.

    Like I said, I haven’t been able to nail it positively, but going over Google images of Miss Johansen, she’s a very strong resemblance. Anyway, it gives you a lead.

    Hope this helps, and good luck!

    • Sorry, this was my original post of my commentary above; I thought it didn’t take and that’s why I went ahead with the other one. This one must have been caught in cyber-space for awhile.

  17. I would love to know the answer. I love rewatching Columbo and drive my family crazy picking up on continuity errors. My favourite detective of all time. Please keep us informed.

  18. It looks like Joanna Pettet to me. She was in several of the nbc mystery movies. Banacek – project Phoenix and a McLoud episode that’s my guess.

      • It Joanna. I’m pretty sure. I’m portraitist and cartoonist and I’m really good at figures.

      • Funny, but I just watched this episode again tonight and wondered the same about who this mystery actress was playing the nude artist model. So I’ve been looking at the pictures of Joanna Pettet .. and I have to agree! I’m a photographer of people and good at this sort of thing. Is there anyway to confirm this? Ms. Pettet is 73 now, and living in the UK … quite an attractive woman back then and now!

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