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Who’s the fairest of them all? Chronicling Columbo’s loveliest ladies

Columbo lovely ladies

My golden rule of writing: never commit anything to paper or screen that Mrs Columbo might feel uneasy about.

Therefore when the idea of paying tribute to the most devilishly handsome and bewitchingly beautiful leading men and ladies from Columbo came to mind, I naturally had to tread carefully.

So worried was I about being seen to objectify the show’s stunning actors and actresses – and in turn enraging fans – that I ran the idea past my friends on Twitter, none of whom were aghast. Quite the opposite, in fact. Indeed many rose to the occasion to name-check their personal favourite beefcakes and beauties.

“I apologise right now if you’re saddened that I’ve plunged Columbo into lewd wolf-whistling territory.”

There were a lot of beautiful people in Columbo, so I’ve doubled up and will write two separate articles, the one you’re reading now on the show’s most dazzling female stars, and one to follow about Columbo’s hottest hunks (or words to that effect).

I apologise right now if you’re saddened that I’ve plunged Columbo into lewd wolf-whistling territory. If you’re heart is a-flutter at this outrage, please immediately visit this safe page featuring images of Columbo cudding Dog.

If you’re still here, please read on! My thoughts on Columbo‘s loveliest ladies are listed below in no particular order apart from the top three.

Marcy – Playback (1975)

Noble Playback

Hello you…

Played by Aussie stunner Trisha Noble, the eye-catchingly dressed ‘Marcy’ absolutely caught the eye of Harold Van Wick as he crafted his alibi in Playback.

Indeed, despite being at an art show, popular opinion has it that our mate Harold didn’t look at a single painting, so enrapt was he in the scorching brunette at his side. And for those cheeky chaps who say ‘Who can blame him?‘, just remember that his lovely and loving wife Elizabeth was waiting for him at home.

Lisa Chambers – Double Shock (1973)

Lisa Chambers

She’s a bit flighty and giggly for some (including the livid Mrs Peck), but Lisa Chambers, played by the gorgeous Julie Newmar, has a heart of gold and thousands of admirers.

Although not squeezed into anything as provocative as her Bat-Man catsuit, her figure-hugging yoga outfit certainly seemed to be appreciated by one Lieutenant Columbo, who admitted he was simply ‘happy to watch’ her working out on her balcony.

Lisa was absolutely a lover, not a fighter, and had met her soulmate in poor, murdered Clifford. Some fans* stifle a chortle when she coos about how much Clifford ‘loved our bodies’. ‘Yes, we bet he did!‘ they chorus, giving a knowing wink to their fellow viewers. But she and Clifford shared a bond and a fate that was arguably the saddest of them all.

*Some fans, I said, but not me…

Vanessa Farrow – Columbo Likes the Nightlife (2003)

Jennifer Sky

“Excuse me miss, there’s just one more thing…”

It was hardly a classic in the mould of the 70s’ finest, but Columbo‘s final outing in 2003 had a lot to like about it, not least Jennifer Sky’s excellent turn as Vanessa Farrow.

She was a very modern leading lady as befitted the era and the rave scene backdrop to the episode, and unlike some of the supposed ‘sexy ladies’ in 90s Columbo, she really was an astonishingly good-looking young woman.

Jennifer is a great lady in real life, too, being a strong advocate for protecting young models from exploitation, and she has always spoken extremely highly of the Columbo experience and of working with Peter Falk.

Enjoyably down-to-earth, she even joined in a #ColumboTV livetweet a couple of years ago. How cool is that? Well worth a follow on Twitter, that’s for sure!

Goldie – Blueprint for Murder (1971)

blueprint for murder goldie

You want sass? You want fun? You want a mischievous big personality? You got all of that with Janis Paige’s Goldie, who was one of the great minor characters from the 70s’ series.

To quote my Twitter pal Butch Maidment, ‘Goldie was TROUBLE, but the sort of trouble you’d happily get into’. Never a truer word spoken…

Joan Hudson – Prescription: Murder (1968)

Katherine Justice

Joan’s so damn cool she even makes red hair and a magenta dress work

With flawless skin and the delicate features of a silver screen goddess, alluring redhead Joan Hudson (played by Katherine Justice) was the epitome of late 60s’ chic.

She had fashion sense to die for and could hold her own when the going gets tough – as she proved by not capitulating when an angry Columbo tried to harangue her into confessing her part in the murder of Carol Flemming.

We know that the ‘good doctor’ Ray Flemming was using Joan, but the wily old cad wasn’t afraid to mix business with pleasure – as clearly demonstrated when he ran out his own anniversary party to cavort with a bikini-clad Joan at her luxury pad in the hills!

Lauren Staton – It’s All in the Game (1993)

Lauren Staton

Played by Faye Dunaway, who was as radiant as ever at the age of 52, Lauren Staton was the only female adversary who seemed capable of making the Lieutenant forget about his wedding vows.

For all intents and purposes Staton and Columbo were engaged in a love affair, featuring cosy dinners, exchanges of gifts and open displays of affection. Of course, Columbo claimed to have just been playing the same game as she was (she to escape his investigations, he to ensnare her), but you can’t tell me his heart wasn’t racing when she planted a smacker on him.

Timelessly classy and beautiful, she is arguably the discerning viewer’s (and Lieutenant’s) choice.

“Lauren Staton was the only female adversary who seemed capable of making the Lieutenant forget about his wedding vows.”

Lorna McGrath – Negative Reaction (1974)

Miss McGrath

Ace photographer Paul Galesko’s assistant and muse, Lorna McGrath’s (played by Joanna Cameron) bewitching good looks (and the best legs the show ever sees) are enough to drive a man to distraction – or even to murder.

Galesko certainly saw Miss McGrath as a more amiable companion than his gin-soaked nagging wife, Frances, who chided Paul right up till the last moment when he finally pulled the trigger and rid himself of the old ball and chain.

With his wife newly-dead, Paul’s ambitions for his relationship with Miss McGrath are immediately apparent as he plans to whisk her away to a tropical getaway to ‘take photos’ in the Philippines – and she seems just as keen as he does. What sort of photos you might wonder? Don’t ask…

Kay Freestone – Make Me a Perfect Murder (1978)

Perfect Murder

With amazing 70’s power hair that’s at times so big you could lose a grown man in it, and a wardrobe that Anna Wintour would appreciatively nod at, Trish Van Devere’s Kay Freestone is a femme fatale par excellence.

Ruthless and ambitious in a male-dominated industry, Kay’s confidence in herself is part of what makes her so sexy. And her coolness under pressure when racing the clock to get back to the projection booth after committing the murder is outstanding. Not that I’m advocating murder, you understand. Hate the sin, love the sinner…

“Trish Van Devere’s Kay Freestone is a femme fatale par excellence.”

Leslie Williams – Ransom for a Dead Man (1971)

Ransom1

Like Kay Freestone, Lee Grant’s ice-cold Leslie Williams has class by the truckload and she may be the most stylish Columbo killer of them all.

Always immaculately turned out, she’s powerful, confident, intelligent and fearless, allied with a sensuality that she has evidently used to her advantage throughout he career – not that that helps her against the good Lieutenant.

3. Elizabeth Van Wick – Playback (1975)

Playback Rowlands

Gena Rowlands was never more stunning than in her turn as Elizabeth Van Wick – the extremely wronged wife of fiendish German electronics mogul Harold from Season 4’s Playback.

Combining silver screen beauty, charm, intelligence and vulnerability (due to a disability that has her wheelchair bound), Elizabeth is one of the most sympathetic and likeable of all Columbo guest stars.

2. Beth Chadwick – Lady in Waiting (1971)

Lady 1

Beth Chadwick V2.0 was a somewhat sultrier model

The metamorphosis of Beth Chadwick from downtrodden Plain Jane to sultry minx is one of Season 1’s most intriguing character arcs – and boy does Susan Clark play Beth V2.0 to perfection!

After shedding the long hair and Grandma-ish clothing, the new Beth is an all-drinking, all-smoking temptress, whose amazing dress sense and complete makeover are absolutely dazzling. Sure, the power goes to her head pretty quickly, but for the viewer it’s one hell of a fun ride.

1. Jessica Conroy – An Exercise in Fatality (1974)

Exercise6

Who else? The apple of many a viewer’s eye for more than 40 years, Gretchen Corbett’s bikini-wearing Jessica Conroy takes the number one spot by a distance!

From the moment she opens the front door of Milo Janus’s house to the confused Lieutenant, it’s all eyes on her. We’ll never know for sure if it’s the sight of Jessica looking trim, taut and terrific in her tiny, cherry-patterned bikini that so addles Columbo, but he’s certainly thrown off kilter during the subsequent conversation with beefcake Milo.

Jessica rocks a variety of looks throughout the episode, but it is the bikini scene that places her firmly in the role of true Columbo icon. Gretchen Corbett, we salute you!

“Gretchen Corbett’s bikini-wearing Jessica Conroy takes the number one spot by a distance!”

Not forgetting…

Hot stuffs montage

Heidi Bruhl – The German bombshell was a singer in her homeland, even performing in the Eurovision Song Contest in 1963, before moving to the USA where, among other things, she starred as lovely Linda Robinson in The Most Dangerous Match. After beating cancer at the age of 20, Heidi sadly succumbed to the disease in 1991, aged just 49.

Rebecca Staab – The former Beauty Queen was cast as the chief love interest Tina in Columbo Cries Wolf, which gave decent insight into the tacky world of glamour modelling. If you dig late 80s/early 90s fashion, music and swimwear, Rebecca will steal a piece of your heart.

Patricia Mattick – I’m well aware that Patricia Mattick is deemed desirable by many, as I’ve seen the Google search terms people enter about her that lead them to this site (hint: they don’t find what they’re looking for)! Her Margaret from Ransom for a Dead Man was a bit of a psycho, but behind those slightly terrifying steel-framed glasses there was a beautiful and talented young actress, and one who was sadly taken from us way too soon as she died of cancer in 2003, aged 52.

Joyce Jillson – Joyce’s hipster hottie Joan Stacey from Any Old Port in a Storm was destined to become Mrs Enrico Carsini before Adrian bumped his brother off, but the blonde stunner at least had a gaggle of uber-cool pals from the lakeside club to help her drown her sorrows.

Mariette Hartley – Some viewers doubtless conjur up images of Mariette’s belly dancing garb in Try & Catch Me, but if you ask me she was at her hottest while rocking the red stetson look at the restaurant in Publish or Perish, as book editor Eileen McRae. Either way, she had plenty of admirers – Jack Cassidy allegedly being one of them…

“Mariette Hartley had plenty of admirers – Jack Cassidy allegedly being one of them.”

Of course, there could have been many more. If I haven’t included your favourite, let me know who you think warrants a place on the list in the comments section below.

And naturally, because this is an equal opportunities blog, I followed this post up with another about Columbo’s hottest hunks. So head there for some slammin’ bods, dangerously cute dimples and burly beefcake action.

Dunaway kiss

Hey Lieutenant, who was your favourite leading lady? Lieutenant…? Oh, never mind…

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34 thoughts on “Who’s the fairest of them all? Chronicling Columbo’s loveliest ladies

  1. Pingback: New art show to celebrate the women of Columbo | The columbophile

  2. 1. Susan Foster- Last Salute To The Commodore
    2. Tisha Sterling- Candidate For Crime
    3. Gretchen Corbett- Exercise In Fatality

    Honorable Mention- Santini’s daughter- Now You See Him
    – Nurse on cruiseship- Troubled Waters

  3. I’m stunned that nobody has mentioned my favorite, Lesley Ann Warren as Nadia in A Deadly State of Mind. Her hypnotized final moments are pretty amazing.

  4. Pingback: Columbo’s most handsome devils | The columbophile

  5. A great list. Gretchen Corbett used to be Jim Rockford’s lawyer (though she never rocked anything like she rocket the bikini) and Susan Clark was the dutiful assistant to Forbin in the Forbin Project. It’s hard to shake Jessica Conroy out of the mind, but I would love to have a chance with Goldie. There’s a woman who likes being a woman, and likes being around men. She’s got the personality that would attract any man.

    Vanessa Farrow was a great exclamation point to the Columbo franchise. A real beauty and very appealing. And finally Kay Freestone is a combination fire and ice that is attractive, even more so when you see the faithless men who she is surrounded with.

  6. I’m going to throw in here for Suzanne Pleshette … yes, I know there was none of the interplay between the Lieutenant and her character, but just thinking about her and hearing that voice in my head … oh, yeah!

  7. My inner wolf says singer Rosanna Wells (Poupée Bocar) from ‘Troubled Waters’ is #2 (#1 will always be Julie Newmar in anything). Beth Chadwick is a no. Kay Freestone is an also ran in beauty as she is in executive talent (why does her voice always sound dubbed?). Next to Julie Newmar, the most beautiful woman who appeared on ‘Columbo’ was Anne Francis, but they did their damndest to unglam her up on this show. Mention should be made of Miss Dudley from ‘Dagger of the Mind’ for all trouble she caused in 20 seconds of screen time. As played by Sharon ‘Playmate of the Month October 1972’ Johansen, 20 seconds is all it takes. I can’t speak to the ABC shows.

    • Good choice, forgot about Ann Francis. Yeah, they made her as frumpy an assistant as possible. It shows her range though; she went from somewhat mousy in ‘Dagger of the Mind’ to a powerful performance as a both strong and caring nurse in ‘A Stitch in Time’.

    • I remember a bunch of college students getting up at 9am on a Saturday to go to the TV room to watch two things……..Star Trek The Animated Series, followed immediately by “Almighty Isis!” Yea, those legs…….

  8. Although a bit older than most of the other ladies, I really like Janis Paige who played Goldie Williamson in Blueprint for Murder. Her directness, perseverance and witty personality only enhanced her outer attractiveness into a comlplete package.

  9. I would also mention the actress who played Jennifer Welles in Etude In Black (and his wife was very pretty too).

    • Jennifer Wells was played by Anjonette Comer and Janice Benedict was played by Blythe Danner who was pregnant with Gwynith Platrow at the time the episode was shot.

  10. Excellent choices and very much in the same order as I’d have done. My lone omission from this stellar list would be ravishing redhead Barbara Rhoades, who went from second tier opposite Susan Clark in “Lady in Waiting” to a more noticeable role as a photographer in “Identity Crisis,” in which her halter top failed to hide the stunning bikini tan underneath. Even more breathtaking as scantily clad Veronica Veil in Levinson and Link’s ELLERY QUEEN – “The Adventure of Veronica’s Veils.” All things considered, any votes for Shera Danese (apart from Peter Falk himself!).

    • Yes, Barbara Rhoades! Great catch. I’ll also add, from my own omissions, Susan Damente as Melissa the nurse in “Troubled Waters” and Cynthia Sikes as Della Santini in “Now You See Him.”

  11. Oh, there is just one more thing. Even though her character was it seemed a complete basket case, there’s no denying the allure of young Kim Cattrall as Joanne Nichols in “How To Dial A Murder”.

  12. A near perfect list, but not without omissions. Pity you didn’t mention Vivian Dimitry (Helen Shaver) “Rest In Peace Mrs. Columbo”), and any list of beauties without Suzanne Plechette (Helen Stewart in “Dead Weight) is incomplete. This guy also always had eyes for Sandra Smith (Cathy Goodland “Greenhouse Jungle) and I’d give a final nod to Tisha Sterling (Linda Johnson “Candidate For Crime”.)

    • Sandra Smith was a real looker in “Greenhouse Jungle” as well as Gloria. NBC seemed to have a stable of stars that were in several crossovers. Gloria (Arlene Martell) played Spock’s future possible wife T’Pring in “Amok Time”. Has there been a post on the Star Trek connection with Columbo?

      • Arlene Martel was also a saleswoman at a jewelry store in “A Friend In Deed.” You can add Joanne Linville (“Candidate For Crime”) to the Star Trek connection.

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