Murderers often underestimated Lt. Columbo. After all, the rumpled raincoat wearing, cigar chomping, chili eating detective often put on a front as a bumbling, confused civil servant who was easily sent off on the wrong track by the overly helpful villains. Underneath that fabricated facade was a dogged and brilliant detective that would lull his suspects into a false sense of security and draw them out, usually giving them just enough rope to hang themselves.
With villains played by the likes of Jack Cassidy, Patrick McGoohan, and Robert Culp, Columbo was pitted against some formidable opponents. The lieutenant always prevailed in the end, sending overconfident killers to jail, usually in a state of shock that he’d found them out.
Peter Falk played the lovable Lt. Columbo for 35 years, 68 episodes, and 1 movie of the week. Falk garnered 4 Emmy Awards, 1 Golden Globe Award, and numerous other awards as Columbo and it was clear he relished the role for which he will always be remembered.
Notable Guest Stars
There were some actors and actresses that were seen frequently on the show. Some starred as the murderer or murder victim, but quite often they played secondary characters. Here are some of the guest stars who made more than one appearance on the show.
First, we must start off with the most notable trio: Jack Cassidy, Robert Culp, and Patrick McGoohan. All played Columbo murderers at least three times.
Patrick McGoohan claimed the highest body count at 4 murders.
“By Dawn’s Early Light” – Col. Lyle C. Rumford
“Identity Crisis” – Nelson Brenner
“Agenda For Murder” – Oscar Finch
“Ashes to Ashes” – Eric Prince
Robert Culp was also in a total of 4 episodes, but he was not the murderer in “Columbo Goes to College”.
“Death Lends a Hand” – Investigator Brimmer
“The Most Crucial Game” – Paul Hanlon
“Double Exposure” – Dr. Bart Keppel
“Columbo Goes to College” – Jordan Rowe
Jack Cassidy did the dirty deed in 3 episodes. Fans often cite his performances as their favorite and the most memorable of the series.
“Murder By the Book” – Ken Franklin
“Publish or Perish” – Riley Greenleaf
“Now You See Him” – The Great Santini
Bruce Kirby appeared in a total of 9 episodes, playing Sgt. George Kramer for 6 of those appearances, another sergeant for 1 episode, a lab attendant in another, and a tv repairman.
“Lovely But Lethal” – Lab Attendant
“By Dawn’s Early Light” – Sgt. George Kramer
“A Deadly State of Mind” – Sgt. George Kramer
“Identity Crisis” – Sgt. George Kramer
“Last Salute to the Commodore” – Sgt. George Kramer
“Make Me a Perfect Murder” – TV Repairman
“Columbo Cries Wolf” – Sgt. George Kramer
“Agenda For Murder” – Sgt. George Kramer
“Strange Bedfellows” – Sgt. Phil Brindle
Dog appeared in 8 episodes, the first of which was “Étude in Black”. Two basset hounds portrayed Dog, with a second younger one taking over after the first one died. The younger one had to have makeup applied to make it appear older.
There were 13 seasons of Columbo and 68 episodes.
Check out the Columbo Episode Guide.
The character of Lt. Columbo was first played on TV by actor Bert Freed in an episode of The Chevy Mystery Show titled “Enough Rope”.
The Lieutenant was born and raised in New York City, near Chinatown. He once remarked that as a child he ate more egg rolls than cannelloni (“Murder Under Glass”).
Columbo’s first name is never mentioned on the show, but in closeups of his badge (“Dead Weight”, “Death Hits the Jackpot”) show his name to be Frank. The rumor that his name was Philip was started by Fred Worth in a book titled The Trivia Encyclopedia, but has no basis in fact. Columbo often joked that his first name was “Lieutenant”. Mrs. Columbo’s first name is never revealed and neither is her face.
Columbo’s car was a 1959 Peugeot 403 convertible. Only 504 were made.
Bing Crosby was originally offered the role of Columbo. He refused it, joking that it would interfere with his golf game, but the real reason was that he didn’t want to be tied down to a series.
The Lieutentant is fluent in Italian (“Identity Crisis”, “Murder Under Glass”).