Tag Archive: NBC


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.

Peace.

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Bat-Masterson

William Barclay “Bat” Masterson (November 26, 1853 – October 25, 1921) was a noted figure of the American Old West.

Known as a buffalo hunter, U.S. Marshal and Army scout, avid fisherman, gambler, frontier lawman, sports editor and columnist for the New York Morning Telegraph, he was the brother of lawmen James Masterson and Ed Masterson.

The actor Gene Barry played Bat Masterson in a U.S. television series loosely based on the historical character. The show ran on NBC in 107 episodes from 1958 to 1961, and featured Masterson as a superbly dressed gambler, generally outfitted in a black suit and derby hat, who was more inclined to “bat” crooks over the head with his gold-knobbed cane than shoot them.

Here’s a taste of what the show was like (video comes courtesy of YouTube):

And here’s what history has to tell us about the man:

His Early Years

William Barclay Masterson was born on November 26, 1853, at Henryville, Canada East, in the Eastern Townships of what is today Quebec, and was baptized as Bartholomew Masterson. He adopted the forename William Barclay, in later life.

His father, Thomas Masterson (or Mastersan), was born in Canada, of an Irish family; and his mother, Catherine McGurk (or McGureth), was born in Ireland.

William was the second child in a family of five brothers and two sisters. They were raised on farms in Quebec, New York, and Illinois, until they finally settled near Wichita, Kansas.

In his late teens, he and two of his brothers, Ed Masterson and James Masterson, left their family’s farm to become buffalo hunters.

While traveling without his brothers, Bat took part in the Battle of Adobe Walls in Texas, and killed Comanche Indians. He then spent time as a U.S. Army scout in a campaign against the Kiowa and Comanche Indians.

Gunfighter

His first gunfight took place in 1876 in Sweetwater, Texas (later Mobeetie in Wheeler County).

Bat was attacked by a soldier, Corporal Melvin A. King – allegedly because of a girl. The girl in question, Mollie Brennan, stopped one of King’s bullets and was killed.

King (whose real name was Anthony Cook) died of his wounds.

Masterson was shot in the pelvis, but recovered. The story that he needed to carry a cane for the rest of his life is a legend perpetuated by the TV series starring the late Gene Barry.

Lawman

In 1877, he joined his brothers in Dodge City, Kansas. Jim was the partner of Ed, who was an assistant marshal.

Soon after his arrival, Masterson came into conflict with the local marshal over the treatment of a man being arrested. He was jailed and fined, although his fine was later returned by the city council.

He served as a sheriff’s deputy alongside Wyatt Earp, and within a few months was elected county sheriff of Ford County, Kansas.

As sheriff, Bat won plaudits for capturing four members of the Mike Roark gang, who had unsuccessfully held up a train at nearby Kinsley.

He also led the posse that captured Jim Kenedy – who had inadvertently killed an entertainer named Dora Hand in Dodge. Masterson brought Kenedy down with a shot through the shoulder.

Masterson continued as Ford County sheriff until he was voted out of office in 1879. During this same period his brother Ed was Marshal of Dodge City and died in the line of duty on April 9, 1878.

Ed was shot by a cowboy named Jack Wagner – who was unaware that Bat was in the vicinity.

As Ed stumbled away from the scene, Masterson responded from across the street with deadly force, firing on both Wagner and Wagner’s boss, Alf Walker. Wagner died the next day but Walker was taken back to Texas and recovered.

Tombstone

For the next several years, Bat made a living as a gambler moving through several of the legendary towns of the Old West.

Wyatt Earp invited Masterson to Tombstone, Arizona Territory, in early 1881.

Earp owned a one-quarter interest in the gambling concession at the Oriental Saloon, in exchange for his services as a manager and enforcer. He wanted Bat’s help running the faro tables in the Oriental.

Bat remained until April 1881, when he received an unsigned telegram that compelled him to immediately return to Dodge City:

COME AT ONCE. UPDEGRAFF AND PEACOCK ARE GOING TO KILL JIM.

Battle of the Plaza

Jim Masterson was in partnership with A. J. Peacock in Dodge City’s Lady Gay Saloon and Dance Hall. Al Updegraff was Peacock’s brother-in-law and bartender.

Jim thought Updegraff was dishonest and a drunk, and demanded that Peacock fire Updegraff, which Peacock refused to do. Their disagreement grew until threats flew, at which time Bat received the telegram.

Masterson got the next stagecoach out of Tombstone and arrived in Dodge City on April 16.

Jumping off the train before it stopped, Masterson saw Updegraff and Peacock. He accosted them.

Recognizing Bat, the two retreated behind the jail, and the three began exchanging gunfire.

Citizens ran for cover as bullets ripped through the Long Branch Saloon. Other individuals began firing in support of both sides until Updegraff was shot.

Mayor Ab Webster arrested Masterson, and only then did he learn that his brother Jim was fine.

Updegraff slowly recovered, and since it could not be determined who shot Updegraff, Masterson was fined $8.00 and released.

Updegraff and Peacock did not explain why they were headed towards the train depot, guns under their coats.

The citizens were outraged, warrants were issued, but Bat and Jim were permitted to leave Dodge.

Denver, Colorado

In 1888 Masterson was living in Denver, Colorado, where he dealt faro for “Big Ed” Chase at the Arcade gambling house.

That same year, he managed and then purchased the Palace Variety Theater. It was probably there that Bat first met an Indian club swinger and singer called Emma Moulton, born as Emma Walter near Philadelphia in 1857. The pair subsequently lived together, and it has been widely reported that they married in Denver on 21 November 1891. Although no record of the marriage has come to light thus far (and Emma was not divorced from her first husband until 9 November 1893), the partnership was to survive until Bat’s death.

While in Denver, Bat also met and maintained a long term friendship with the infamous confidence man, Soapy Smith, and members of the Soap Gang.
In 1889 the two friends were involved together in the famous Denver registration and election fraud scandal.

Travels, West

In 1892 Bat moved to the silver boom town of Creede, Colorado, where he managed the Denver Exchange Club until the town was destroyed by fire. On the 1900 Federal Census record for Arapahoe County in Denver he lists his name as William Masterson with his birthplace as Missouri in 1854. His wife is listed as Emma Masterson married for 10 years and he lists his occupation as Athletic Club Keeper.

Bat continued to travel around the boom towns of the West, gambling and promoting prize fights. He began writing a weekly sports column for George’s Weekly, a Denver newspaper, and opened the Olympic Athletic Club to promote the sport of boxing.

New York: A Call to Service

Masterson left the West and went to New York City by 1902, where he was arrested for illegal gambling

Some time later, President Theodore Roosevelt, on the recommendation of mutual friend Alfred Henry Lewis, appointed Masterson to the position of deputy to U.S. Marshal for the southern district of New York, under William Henkel. Roosevelt had met Masterson on several occasions and had become friendly with him.

Masterson split his time between his writing and keeping the peace in the grand jury room whenever the U. S. Attorney in New York held session. He performed this service for about $2,000 per year from early 1908 until 1912, when President William Howard Taft removed Masterson from the position during Taft’s purge of Roosevelt supporters from government positions.

Newspaper Man

Bat Masterson’s career as a writer started around 1883, and ended at his death in New York City in 1921. He worked as a sports writer and editor; and a columnist.

He wrote a letter published in the Daily Kansas State Journal, on June 9, 1883, that mentioned his arrival in Dodge City, the famous Long Branch saloon, and his famous cohorts who made the Long Branch their headquarters during the so-called “Dodge City Saloon War.” It was during this time that Bat met newspapermen Alfred Henry and William Eugene Lewis.

Masterson penned a weekly sports column for George’s Weekly sometime after his arrival in Denver, Colorado, in the late 1890s.

Masterson continued his writing career in New York at the New York Morning Telegraph, (a sporting newspaper featuring race form and results, whose reputation was part of what was known as “a whore’s breakfast,” which consisted of a cigarette and the Morning Telegraph), c. 1904. Hired by the younger Lewis brother, William Eugene Lewis, he reprised his role as sports writer, later becoming the paper’s sports editor.

The politics, sporting events, theaters, fine dining establishments, and varied night life of his adopted city became fodder for his thrice weekly column “Masterson’s Views on Timely Topics” for more than 18 years.

W. E. Lewis eventually became the general manager and president of the company and promoted his friend Masterson to vice president and company secretary.

The Latter Day Masterson

Alfred Henry Lewis eventually wrote several short stories and a novel, “The Sunset Trail”, about Masterson. He encouraged Bat to write a series of sketches about his adventures which were published by Lewis in the magazine he edited, Human Life (c. 1907–1908). Masterson regaled his readers with stories about his days on the frontier and his gunfighter friends. He also explained to his audience what he felt were the best properties of a gunfighter.

It was during this time that Masterson sold his famous six-gun -“the gun that tamed the West” – because he “needed the money.”

Actually, Masterson bought old guns at pawnshops, carved notches into the handles and sold them at inflated prices. Each time he claimed the gun was the one he used during his career as a lawman!

Bat Masterson’s Death

Bat Masterson died at age 67 on October 25, 1921, while living and working in New York City. He collapsed at his desk from a heart attack after penning what became his final column for the New York Morning Telegraph.

His body was taken to Campbell’s Funeral Parlor and later buried after a simple service in Woodlawn Cemetery in The Bronx, New York.

His full name, William Barclay Masterson, appears above his epitaph on the large granite grave marker in Woodlawn.

His epitaph states that he was “Loved by Everyone.”

I hope you loved this one.

And that you’ll join me, for the next.

Till then.

Peace.