Columbo, a master of mystery

by K.B. Owen

We Misterio Press authors like to gather our inspiration from all sorts of places, one of them being the wonderful detective characters that have come before. Here’s one of my favorite:

Columbo

Publicity photo 1973, Margie Korshak Associates. Wikimedia Commons.

Publicity photo 1973, Margie Korshak Associates. Wikimedia Commons.

Some interesting facts about Peter Falk and the Columbo series:

1.  Bing Crosby was first offered the role of Columbo, but he didn’t want to commit to a series.  He joked that it would interfere with his golfing. Peter Falk (June 1927-Sept 2011) landed the role.

2.  The series was first aired on NBC on March 1, 1971, and ran continuously until May of 1978.  It was brought back in 1989 (on ABC) for 5 more continuous seasons.  The final season (#13) aired 5 episodes, between 1998 and 2003.  It has won multiple Edgars, Emmys, and Golden Globes.

3.  William Link and Richard Levinson, the show’s creators, did something that was unusual for the time, especially in a mystery series:  instead of a “whodunnit” format, where the progress of the episode moves towards the revelation of the murderer, it was a “how’s-he-gonna-catch-em,” where the opening scene reveals the conventional save-it-for-the-ending details: who did it, why he did it, and how. So what’s left? Lots of great detecting: the hounding, the questioning, and the drawing of the net tighter and tighter around the murderer, until he cannot escape.

4.  Another great aspect of the series is the star-studded guest-murderer cast.  Here are a few of the well-known names:  William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy (separate episodes), Robert Conrad, Johnny Cash, Eddie Albert, Anne Baxter, Dick Van Dyke, Dabney Coleman, Faye Dunaway, Janet Leigh, Ricardo Montalban, Roddy MacDowall.

 

Columbo’s appeal:

photo from Wikimedia.org, according to Creative Commons licensing

1.  The suit, which looks like it was purchased from a thrift shop and perpetually slept in since then.

2.  The car, always breaking down, making a clatter when it did run, and having various parts break off.  It took me a while to figure out it was a Peugeot.

3.  The “Dog” – of course Columbo has to have a bassett hound, one of the best sniffer dogs out there.  But what’s also a given is that it wouldn’t be your typical bassett hound. This particular canine has a collection of neuroses and odd behaviors.

4.  The cigar, which doesn’t seem lit most of the time, but is chewed on and spoken around a good bit.

5.  The game.  Ah, the wonderful cat-and-mouse interaction that goes on between Columbo and the murder suspect: the persistence, the squirming, the murderer’s initial coolness and control inevitably giving way to exasperation, rage, and the mistake(s) that will prove his undoing.  Masterful!

6.  The show’s humor:  remember the odd little personal side-tracks that Columbo experiences while working a case?  His depressed “Dog” (yep, that’s his name, “Dog”) who Columbo has to take along on cases from time to time, and even to the vet in one episode, because the dog doesn’t “do” anything; the expired driver’s license, which requires Columbo to take a road test with a DMV instructor (hilarious!); the police gun certification that requires him to go back to the shooting range (even though he never carries his gun); various snippets about his wife’s personal habits; his car always breaking down…the list goes on and on.

Peter Falk as Columbo. NBC Television, 1973, via wikimedia commons (CC).

Peter Falk as Columbo. NBC Television, 1973, via wikimedia commons (CC).

Oh, there’s just one more thing….

Columbo’s demeanor:  fumbling (does the man ever have a writing implement on his person?), self-effacing, overly-polite, rambling off-topic.  These characteristics make an effective smoke screen (to the murderer, not us, of course) for his sharp mind and keen attention to detail.  The following mash-up clip gives you a good idea of how this works:

Great sites for more info:

Ken Tucker’s TV

Wikipedia’s Columbo entry

Columbo

My Wee Columbo Page

 

Do you remember watching the Columbo series?  What did you like most about the character?  We’d love to hear from you.

Thanks for visiting!

~Kathy

P.S. – I hope you’ll check out my recent novelette, Never Sleep. It’s the first story in a new series entitled Chronicles of a Lady Detective, and is available for the Kindle/Kindle app for only 99 cents.

cover art by Melinda VanLone

cover art by Melinda VanLone

November 1885

Although Penelope Hamilton Wynch does not especially miss her estranged husband, she does yearn for the excitement of the old days, when they worked together on assignments from the Pinkerton Agency. So it is no surprise that, despite their irreconcilable differences, she finds herself agreeing to help him on a case once again. He needs her to infiltrate the household of H.A. Comstock, a wealthy industrial magnate who has been the victim of factory sabotage and an assassination attempt, just as the family is about to sponsor a cotillion for their debutante daughter.

As Pen works the case while dodging her husband’s attempts at reconciliation, she encounters another old flame who is looking more and more like the prime suspect. Pen must resist her renewed feelings for the man, as she races against time to stop the saboteur and would-be assassin before he tries again.

Click here to see Never Sleep on Amazon.

Posted by Kathy Owen (aka K.B. Owen). Kathy is a recovering former English professor with a PhD in 19th century British literature. She is a mom to three boys and working on Book 4 in the Concordia Wells series of historical cozy mysteries. Her twitter handle is @kbowenwriter, or you can connect with her on her Facebook page.

We blog here at misterio press once (sometimes twice) a week, usually on Tuesdays. Sometimes we talk about serious topics, and sometimes we just have some fun.

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20 thoughts on “Columbo, a master of mystery

  1. Patricia

    Ah yes, Colombo. Great television watching. I remember that show well and I couldn’t imagine Bing Crosby having the role. Not a good fit in my opinion.

    Patricia Rickrode
    w/a Jansen Schmidt

    Reply
    1. K.B. Owen Post author

      I agree! Bing was a great guy, but Peter Falk was a little more folksy and rough around the edges. Perfect. 😉

      Reply
  2. Rhonda Hopkins

    One of my all time favorites! I love Columbo. Okay — confession time. As a court investigator, I often used his “One more thing…”, especially when I knew someone was lying or thought they were holding back. And it worked nearly every time. I’d get to the door and you could almost feel their relief that I was done and they’d gotten away with something. Then I’d turn around and say “Oh. One more thing…” and hit them with a zinger. The expressions were priceless. They usually had already let their guard down and weren’t expecting it and couldn’t control their facial response. At that point we both knew I had them. It’s a great technique. I probably chaneled Columbo more than any other detective/investigator I watched as a kid– and I watched them all. 🙂

    Reply
    1. K.B. Owen Post author

      Wow, Rhonda, I would have loved to have seen you in action! Stellar. Work it, girlie!

      Reply
    1. K.B. Owen Post author

      It just goes to show that today’s (well, last 40 years) mystery buff craves more than just the puzzle. Thanks for stopping by, Margot!

      Reply
  3. Bill Bliss

    Great blog. Kathy.

    You didn’t mention Patrick McGoohan. but he was my favorite heavy. He had just the perfect sort of arrogance to be neatly and ultimately undone by his inferior. Very satisfying. Columbo reminds me of William Herndon’s description of Abe Lincoln: “Those who mistook him for a simpleton, soon found themselves on their backs, lying in a ditch”. Touche.

    The guests you mentioned were also excellent — also because of their natural egos (Shatner, Montalban, Conrad .. how do you beat those?)

    It never occurred to me that the basset didn’t have a name, but I should have figured. Columbo’s wife was always “My wife .. That’s Mrs. Columbo ..” What I wouldn’t give to meet her. Clearly no dish, mind you, but surely an amazing woman — Heck, she’s married to Columbo (who, come to think of it, also lacked a first name — only a rank). It is better I not meet her, of course, she is more effective as a disembodied spirit.

    What a character. I miss Peter Falk.

    -bill

    Reply
    1. K.B. Owen Post author

      Oh yes, Patrick McGoohan was wonderful! I like your Abe Lincoln parallel, Bill. I love how Columbo and his wife never had first names! I miss him, too.

      Reply
  4. Amy Kennedy

    Kathy! I was just thinking of Columbo the other night and wondering if it’s on Netflix…I’m fairly certain I watched it from the start of the series in 71, I was 13 and had such a crush on him. Kinda weird, I know, but he was so lovable. Anyway, I need to go check out Netflix now. Thanks!

    Reply
    1. K.B. Owen Post author

      Isn’t that a funny coincidence! I hope it’s on Netflix. I have seasons 1-7 on DVD, but not the later series. And I understand the crush, Amy, I really do. I should show you my Columbo tee shirt sometime. I’m a major fan girl. 😉

      Reply
  5. Kassandra Lamb

    Oh Rhonda, I’ve got a mental picture of you pulling that lie on people. I’ll bet it did get them to spill the truth more often than not!

    I agree, Patricia, if Bing Crosby had gotten the part, it would have been a totally different show. Peter Falk was perfect for the role.

    Reply
  6. Jenny Hansen

    Yep, I loved Columbo. I was young at the time, so I should probably go back and watch some of these. Dog slayed me, even as a kid.

    Great post, Kathy! (I just bought the novella. 🙂 )

    Reply
    1. K.B. Owen

      The Dog was fond of ice cream cones, I remember. Hope you get a chance to watch them again, Jenny! And thanks so much for buying my story – you made my day! 😀

      Reply
  7. Karen McFarland

    Masterful indeed Kathy. I remember watching Columbo. I had just entered high school during its first season. Yep, I’m that old. And I can never forget how historical his character was. That show was so well written. And then of course throw in Peter Faulk and you had a masterpiece. Thanks for a walk down memory lane and congrats on your newest release! ((Hugs)) 🙂

    Reply
    1. K.B. Owen Post author

      Thanks so much, Karen! I’m old, too, LOL. And I agree, his character was hysterical. *wink*

      Reply

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