You can quibble over what the greatest mystery show of all time is, but there's no denying that Columbo is one of the all time greats.
For more than 30 years, the brilliant LAPD detective kept entertained us as we watched him crack each case in his TV series and movies. But only the biggest Columbo fans will know all 13 of these facts about the series:
1. Let's start from the beginning
What set Columbo apart from other TV shows - aside from the writing, the acting, the great sense of humor, etc - was the unique reverse mystery concept. Each episode began with the murder (or other mystery) and the episode went on to reveal how Columbo solved the case.
Creators Richard Levinson and William Link call this twist on the classic TV mystery formula a "howcatchem," as opposed to a "whodoneit." it's no surprise that they went on to create other great mystery shows like Mannix, and Murder, She Wrote.
2. The original Columbo
While only Peter Falk is famous for playing Columbo, he wasn't the first one to step into the LAPD detective's shoes. Columbo first appeared in a 1960 episode of The Chevy Mystery Show called "Enough Rope," where he was played by Bert Freed. Later, the detective was recycled for a stage show named Prescription: Murder and was played by Thomas Mitchell.
It was the TV adaptation of Prescription: Murder that finally featured Falk as Columbo, beating out singer Bing Crosby for the part. Since then nobody has embodied the character like Falk.
3. An inspired character
Columbo is pretty unique, and Falk deserves a lot of credit for making his character stand out (more on that later). But a host of other famous detectives and fast-talking characters inspired Columbo. G.K. Chesterton's Father Brown character and Detective Porfiry Petrovich from Crime and Punishment were both big inspirations for Columbo.
4. Mrs. Columbo
While she never appears on-screen, Columbo loves to mention his wife, Mrs. Columbo, and fans have managed to compile enough hints and details about her for a full description. In a sneaky play on the Mrs. Columbo joke, Falk's real life wife Shera Danese made a number of cameos on the show. Very clever!
5. The other Mrs. Columbo
NBC tried to capitalize on Columbo's popularity with a spin-off show starring - yes, you guessed it - Columbo's wife Kate. Kate Mulgrew played the detective's wife, a crime reporter who solved mysteries of her own, but the show was a dud.
It was quickly renamed Kate Loves a Mystery, with the main character's last name changed to Callahan to erase any connection to the original show. Falk never appeared on the series, and by all accounts he hated the very idea of the spin-off.
6. There's a statue in Columbo's honor
See if you can crack this mystery: why did the citizens of Budapest, Hungary spend $63,000 to build a statue to the TV detective (and his dog "Dog") in the middle of the city? It turns out the statue is on Falk Miksa street, and Peter Falk is likely a distant relative of the 19th century politician behind its name. Now it all makes sense.
There are even more Columbo facts ahead, including the truth about Columbo's first name...
7. Columbo roasted Frank Sinatra
For one of Dean Martin's popular celebrity roasts, Falk showed up in character to tease Ol' Blue Eyes. Falk wasn't exactly a comedy writer, but it's pretty entertaining.
8. Spree killers
With 10 seasons and a number of TV movies, it's no surprise that a handful of actors played the baddie on multiple episodes of Columbo. William Shatner proved to be the guilty man twice, Robert Culp and Jack Cassidy were both caught three times, and Patrick McGoohan was the killer a shocking four times. Just lock him up already!
9. Columbo's signature look
Yes, Peter Falk's squint is caused by his prosthetic eye. The actor lost his eye to cancer at age three, and one of his first talent agents warned that he would never succeed on TV because of the prosthetic eye. Guess he proved him wrong.
10. The Columbo-mobile
Falk personally chose the 1959 Peugeot 403 convertible to be the detective's signature car, and his character wasn't kidding when he joked that there were "only three like it in the States." In fact only 504 of the convertible were ever produced, and when Columbo switched from NBC to ABC the network had trouble tracking one down.
The old network had sold Columbo's ride, and ABC was never actually able to find another one. Instead, a nice couple from Ohio let the detective borrow their car for certain episodes.
11. "Too good for Columbo"
The show hit the jackpot in the first season: after the pilot, the first episode of Columbo ever filmed was "Murder by the Book," directed by a young Steven Spielberg. The 25-year-old director was just starting out in the business, but already Falk could tell he was "too good for Columbo." Of course, Spielberg proved him right with films like E.T. and Saving Private Ryan.
12. Falk supplied his own wardrobe
Like his character's car, Falk felt that he had a good sense of what clothes would "fit" Columbo best, so he provided his own, including the iconic trench coat. He was once asked if the jacket was hanging in the Smithsonian, and replied that it was hanging in his upstairs closet.
Falk embodied Columbo so thoroughly that he would even ad lib as the detective on set, which did confuse a few of his co-stars.
13. Just one more thing....
Pop quiz: what's Columbo's first name?
Eagle-eyed fans will remember the detective flashed his badge in the show's first season, revealing his full name is Frank Columbo. But the show's creators say that was a mistake.
Another theory says that Columbo was named Phillip, as it says in The Trivia Encyclopedia. In fact this was a trick by the book's author Fred L. Worth. He hid the (made up) fact in his book, and when it appeared in a later edition of Trivial Pursuit, he was able to prove they had copied from his book.
Creators Levinson and Link are very clear about what Columbo's first name is: he doesn't have one. As far as they're concerned you can just call him "Lieutenant."
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