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.
Facts about Columbo the show
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 1959 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!
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.
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).
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 appears to be yes, as Columbo states that ‘three eyes are better than two’ when helping a colleague conduct a search for evidence in 1997’s A Trace of Murder.
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.
If you’ve got a fact about the show you think should be featured here please let me know in the comments section below! I’ll start a readers’ contributions section and happily credit the sources.