Tag Archive: Bing Crosby

Lieutenant Columbo

Lieutenant Columbo is a homicide detective with the Los Angeles Police Department, and the central figure in a mystery television film series created by William Link and Richard Levinson.

The show popularized what’s come to be known as the inverted detective story format. There’s no “whodunit”, here; the perpetrator’s identity is already known to the audience. The plot revolves mainly around how he or she will finally be caught and exposed.

The Man

Columbo is a friendly, chatty, disheveled police detective who is consistently underestimated by his suspects. They’re initially reassured and distracted by his rambling speech, then increasingly irritated by his pestering behavior. Right up to the point where he nabs them, for murder.

Though the name “Frank” can often be seen relatively clearly on his police ID (badge number 416, if you’re interested), Columbo’s first name is never explicitly mentioned, during the series. When asked, he always emphatically answers “Lieutenant”.

The character first appeared in a 1960 episode of the television-anthology series “The Chevy Mystery Show”, entitled “Enough Rope”. This was adapted by Levinson and Link from their short story “May I Come In”. This teleplay is available in the archives of the Paley Center for Media, in New York City and Los Angeles.

The first man to portray Columbo, Bert Freed, was a stocky character actor with a thatch of gray hair. Freed’s Columbo wore a rumpled suit and smoked a cigar, but otherwise had few of the other now-familiar Columbo mannerisms.

In 1968, the same play was made into a two-hour television movie on NBC. The writers suggested Lee J. Cobb and Bing Crosby for the role of Columbo. Cobb was unavailable, and Crosby turned it down. Director Richard Irving convinced Levinson and Link that Peter Falk, who wanted the role, would be ideal – even though he was much younger than what the writers had in mind.

Columbo’s wardrobe was provided by the actor himself; they were Falk’s own clothes, including the high-topped shoes and the shabby raincoat which made its first appearance in 1968’s “Prescription: Murder”.

Columbo’s unsettling, uneven-eyed stare was due to Falk’s own visual impairment; he had a glass eye in his right eye socket. It remained a mystery for 25 years whether the character had one as well, until 1997’s “Columbo: A Trace of Murder”, where he jokes: “You know, three eyes are better than one.”

Falk would often ad lib stuff like fumbling through his pockets for a piece of evidence and discovering a grocery list, asking to borrow a pencil, or becoming distracted by something irrelevant in the room at a dramatic point in a conversation. He inserted these into his performance to keep his fellow actors off-balance, and to help make their confused and impatient reactions to Columbo’s antics more genuine.

Here’s a YouTube compilation, to give you a bit of a character study:

His Method

Columbo reversed the format of the standard “whodunit”.

In almost every episode, the audience sees the crime unfold at the beginning, and knows the identity of the culprit. The murder isn’t always premeditated, but in each case the killer attempts to hide their crimes, creating a false scenario of how the death occurred, often trying to implicate a false culprit. The killer will drop numerous pieces of misleading evidence, and have a water-tight alibi for the murder.

The beauty of these tales lies in the way Columbo finds and follows the clues that lead him to the truth, and the tricks he uses to obtain information, or even a confession. The story unfolds in parallel, from the point of view of Columbo and the murderer, as they play cat and mouse.

In the first part of each episode, the soon-to-be murderer is introduced, and their professional or lifestyle setting is explored. Other characters (including the soon-to-be victim) are introduced through their relationship to the murderer.

As the premise and motivation for murder becomes apparent, the killer typically puts into motion a well-arranged plan, involving the death of the victim and the establishment of a viable cover story.

The second part begins with Columbo’s appearance after the discovery of the body, and usually opens at the scene of the crime, some time after the arrival of the police. So in some cases, Columbo doesn’t appear until halfway through an episode.

When he does, the murderer is usually keen to demonstrate a desire to assist Columbo in his investigations, and to be available for questioning. Which is the Lieutenant’s cue to pop up at all hours, with deceptively shrewd observations and follow-up questions.

Columbo generally maintains a friendly relationship with the murderer, apologizing repeatedly for taking up their time, even as his true suspicions become increasingly apparent.

As more and more evidence is revealed, Columbo shares with the killer his thoughts on the case, pointing out contradictions between the new evidence and the killer’s stated version of events in his bumbling, amiable style. Columbo’s formidable eye for detail and relentless approach, though apparent to the viewer, often become clear to the killer late – too late – in the story line.

During the final act, Columbo drops any remaining pretence of uncertainty, and shares with the killer details of his findings and his arrival at the conclusion of the killer’s guilt.

The killer’s reaction varies, with some conceding in a friendly manner the error that closed the case, and others becoming aggressive or despondent. After this, the episode generally ends, with no following or concluding scenes.

His Caseload

Originally a one-off TV-Movie-of-the-Week, 1968’s “Prescription: Murder” had Falk’s Columbo pitted against a psychiatrist (Gene Barry). Due to its success, NBC requested a pilot for a potential series be made, to see if the character could be sustained on a regular basis.

The 1971 film, “Ransom For a Dead Man” had Lee Grant playing the killer. The popularity of this second movie prompted a regular series on NBC. “Columbo” premiered in the fall of 1971 as part of the wheel series, NBC Mystery Movie rotations: McCloud, McMillan & Wife, and other whodunits.

The network arranged for the “Columbo” segments to air once a month on Wednesday nights, to allow for Peter Falk’s other commitments as a motion picture star.

“Columbo” aired regularly from 1971–78 on NBC. The series was revived on ABC between 1989 and 2003 for several new seasons, and a few made-for-TV movie “specials”.

His Legacy

Despite solving numerous murders over several decades, in Falk’s last appearance as Columbo in the 2003 cable-TV movie “Columbo Likes the Nightlife”, the detective is still a lieutenant.

To his senior brass, Columbo is the preferred investigator for high-profile crimes – a dedicated case officer who’s something of a legend, and thus has a powerful position within the police force.

Obviously doing something right.

Peter Falk died on June 23, 2011, aged 83.

That’s it, for this one.

Hope you’ll join me, for our next installment.

Till then.



As do my two favorite Christmas songs, of all time. Songs, not carols, mind. I’m talking popular music hits, here.

Both tunes were released in 1973, and it’s a toss-up as to which of them I prefer, over the other.

“Merry Xmas Everybody” is by Slade, an English rock band. Written by lead vocalist and guitarist Noddy Holder and bass player Jim Lea, it was Slade’s sixth number-one single, in the UK. It made the Christmas Number One slot in December 1973, and held that position for nine consecutive weeks, until February 1974.

The song has been re-released every decade since 1973, and spawned cover versions by numerous artists. And did I mention that it rocks? Because, it does.

“I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday” was a 1973 hit for the English glam rock band, Wizzard. Written and produced by Wizzard front man Roy Wood, it reached number four in the UK singles chart, that year.

The song features lead vocals by Wood, with backing provided by “The Suedettes”, and the choir of The Stockland Green Bilateral School First Year. Additional noises were produced by “Miss Snob and Class 3C”.

And such cool noises they were, too.

Speaking of cool…

Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas” appeared originally in the 1942 film musical “Holiday Inn.” The record went on to win an Academy Award, for Best Song From A Motion Picture.

My favorite mix of the tune is from 1954, and features the wailing Doo-wop tones of The Drifters.

Still sends chills up my spine. Good ones, though.

The quintessence of Christmas cool remains to this day in Nat King Cole’s 1961 rendition of “The Christmas Song.”

Cole recorded the song – sometimes known as “Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire,” from its opening lyrics – at least three times, and wrote the tune himself, in conjunction with Mel Torme.

Rounding out my selection of old faves is “Fairytale of New York,” a classic folk ballad uniquely re-interpreted in 1987 by Irish folk / punk rockers The Pogues, and the late great songstress, Kirsty MacColl.

It ain’t genteel, but it is brilliant.

“Santa Claus is Coming to Town” was written in 1934, and first performed on the Eddie Cantor radio show. Bruce Springsteen’s version has sold millions of copies since then, and seems to get played on the radio at Christmas time, like, every 5 minutes. God alone knows why. Can’t stand this version. Sorry.

Others in my bad wish list include:

“There’s No One Quite Like Grandma”, by the St. Winifred’s School Choir: A gut-churningly sweet lyric, sung by a bunch of school kids who should have spared us the agony by going outdoors, and doing something constructive. Like build a snowman.

“All I Want for Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth” (Melissa Lynn): Yeah. Too much saccharin will do that, to you.

“Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer” (Doctor Elmo Shropshire): She was the lucky one, believe me. Because she never had to listen to this.

“Please, Daddy (Don’t Get Drunk This Christmas): Country and Western music legend, John Denver. Pretending to be an 8-year old. Pleading to his father not to come home inebriated at Christmas, and pass out under the Christmas tree. Truly, the mind boggles.

Hope you all got a kick out of some of this, at least.

Keep rocking.