Masters of Mystery Monday: Columbo


Welcome to Masters of Mystery Monday, where each week we feature a fictional detective and examine his or her unique contribution to the mystery genre.  You are invited to challenge yourself with a short detective quiz, and see the answers to the previous week’s quiz.

Today’s post celebrates actor Peter Falk, who passed away last Friday, and his long-running portrayal of the popular television detective:


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.

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 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 we see right away, in the opening scene, who did it, why he did it, and how, and then the rest of the episode is the detective hounding, questioning, and drawing the net tighter and tighter around the murderer, until he cannot escape.

4.  One of the cool things about 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, according to Creative Commons licensing

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

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 what kind it was (see quiz, below).

3.  The “Dog” – of course Columbo had 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, and is instead 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 another 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.

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 clip gives you a good idea of how this works:

Great sites for more info:

Ken Tucker’s TV

Wikipedia’s Columbo entry


Want the answers to the last quiz?

Match the detective with the actor who portrayed him in television/film:

1.  Sherlock Holmes – Basil Rathbone

2.  Father Dowling – Tom Bosley

3.  Nero Wolfe – William Conrad

4.  Perry Mason – Raymond Burr

5.  Charlie Chan – Warner Oland


a.  Warner Oland

b.  Raymond Burr

c.  Basil Rathbone

d.  Tom Bosley

e.  William Conrad


Be your own “Master of Mystery”: take this week’s quiz!

In honor of Peter Falk/Columbo, let’s make this an all-Columbo quiz:

*1.  What is the murder method of choice in the Columbo series?

  • stabbed
  • bludgeoned
  • shot
  • poisoned

*2.  There are two actors who each played the murder in the series three times.  They were:

  • Robert Culp and Jack Cassidy
  • William Shatner and Dick Van Dyke
  • Ricardo Montalban and Leonard Nimoy

3.  What kind of car did Columbo drive?

  • Chevy
  • Volvo
  • Ford
  • Peugeot

4.  What trademark tune does Columbo whistle (beginning with the episode “Any Old Port in the Storm”) which the producers worked into the musical theme?

5.  Which eye was Peter Falk’s glass eye?

*These trivia questions are courtesy of the site My Wee Columbo Page


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

Thanks for joining me today.  See you soon!



1 person likes this post.

11 thoughts on “Masters of Mystery Monday: Columbo”

  1. Donna NewtonDonna Newton

    I loved Columbo, and have a very soft spot in my heart for Peter Falk. I remember when I was a kid, my dad driving past his house in Beverly Hills. Then, when going to the studios, I saw his car. He seemed to be everywhere we went on that holiday. Reading this brought back some wonderful childhood memories. Thanks Kathy xx

  2. Loree HuebnerLoree Huebner

    I loved Columbo when I was younger. Your post brought back many memories of watching it with my dad. Peter Falk was perfect in the role.

    BTW, I’ve had 2 female hummingbirds as constant rivials for my feeders. Today, I saw the first male. I was thrilled!!

  3. Shellie SakaiShellie Sakai

    Peter Falk was one of my favorite actors. I love him. I have a murder spoof movie he did called “Murder by Death”. He was the spoof of Sam Spade. Hilarious!

    Thanks Kathy. >:)

  4. Margot KinbergMargot Kinberg

    Kathy – Thanks for profiling one of the great TV detectives. I loved Columbo. Mostly, I think, what I liked was that he used his wits and his observational skills to outwit the culprit. No need for gun battles, car chases and other “fillers.” I liked that.

  5. Tiffany A WhiteTiffany A White

    GREAT Masters of Mystery Monday post, Kathy! I loved Columbo – I actually grew up watching it with my dad. Peter Falk was one of his favorites….I don’t think they’ll ever be a show quite like it (although Monk was close).

  6. David N. WalkerDavid N. Walker

    Great write-up about a man and his series I always loved. Thanks.

  7. Paul OwenPaul Owen

    I think I’m torn between two favorite episodes – when Dick Van Dyke played a photographer and when Leonard Nimoy played a surgeon. Of course, William Shatner was great, too – especially when Columbo reveals that he forgot to wipe his fingerprint off the bullet casing. Priceless!

    And don’t forget there were one or two episodes where the audience is deceived into believing that the wrong person is the murderer.

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