A LIEUTENANT COLUMBO CHARACTER SKETCH

«It was one of those once-in-a-lifetime weddings of character and actor. They come along very rarely.» — RICHARD LEVINSON (сo-creator of Columbo)

«Mystery is solving a problem, not gunplay and fights and car chases.» — VINCENT PRICE

«You sure don’t look like a policeman.» — MRS. WALTERS (KATE REID)

«This is a murder now, and I kind of figure that’s my department.» − LIEUTENANT COLUMBO

Lieutenant Columbo, portrayed by Peter Falk, with dog by 04_ \\chewbakka.com
Lieutenant Columbo, portrayed by Peter Falk, with dog by 04

Richard Levinson and William Link (creators of Columbo tv series) believed that the less we knew about Columbo, the more interesting he would be. That formula worked. Of course, one can’t always go by what Columbo says. He is apt to make something up just to throw off the murderer.

«I always figured that Columbo was full of it in the best sense of the term,» said writer Steven Bochco. «Nothing came out of his mouth by accident. It always was carefully calculated. He didn’t even cough by accident.» Peter Falk confirms that interpretation. Ask him about specifics and he responds, «Oh, I’m not going to talk about that. That’s the beauty of it. Everyone can think about what the wife should look like. Did he have children? Did he have one? Did he have ten? That’s up to them to decide. You never know when Columbo is genuine. I tried to play it so you could never tell whether the politeness was part of his nature or part of his act. Let the viewers decide. You always have that ambiguity. Almost everything he does can be taken two ways. A lot of what he says he might be making up while he’s sitting having chili somewhere.» With that warning in mind, let’s look at what we know about Columbo. After all, often we hear him talking to his wife when there is no need for an act. Sometimes he reveals something about himself when there is no reason for lying. Lieutenant Columbo was born and raised in New York City. Located near Chinatown, the Columbo household included the future policeman’s Italian grandfather, parents, five brothers and sister. His father wore glasses and did the cooking when his mother was in the hospital having another baby. His grandfather let him stomp the grapes when they made wine in the cellar. He is Italian on both sides.

Columbo’s father, who never made more than $5,000 a year, taught him how to play pool, an obsession that stuck with the future detective. Hardly a model child, Columbo broke street lamps, played pinball and ran with a crowd of boys that enjoyed a good prank. His boyhood hero was Joe DiMaggio, although he liked gangster pictures. During high school, he dropped chemistry and took wood shop. While he dated a girl named Theresa in high school, he also met his future wife at this time. After serving in the Army during the Korean War, Columbo joined the New York police force and was assigned to the 12th Precinct. He trained under Sergeant Gilhooley, a genial Irishman who tried to teach him the noble game of darts. He moved to Los Angeles in 1958 (better substantiate that one: in «Requiem for a Falling Star,» shot in 1972, Columbo says that he has been in Los Angeles for fourteen years).

Columbo drives an ancient Peugeot (license plate 044 APD). He doesn’t carry a gun. He’s a poor shot. He’s easily winded. Columbo doesn’t like great heights, flying, needles, elevators, the sight of blood, guns. He is prone to air sickness and seasickness. He has allergies. He needs eight hours of sleep. He is frugal (a family trait) and compulsive about little details. He is not good with numbers. He likes pool, cooking, limericks, bowling, Westerns, Italian opera, Strauss waltzes, golf, classical music and football on television. It is normal for his blood pressure to be a little low. Little things keep him awake at night and he likes to bounce ideas off his wife. He goes bowling when depressed. Mysteries relax him, but he can’t figure them out. He can’t hold on to a pencil. His favorite song is «This Old Man.» In 1972, he made $11,000 a year. His parents and his grandfather, who wore dentures, are dead.

His very favorite food is chili (with crackers), which he eats for lunch between games of pool at a greasy spoon called Burt’s. Columbo also loves coffee and drinks it black. His breakfast usually consists of coffee and a hard-boiled egg. Other favorite foods and beverages include hot dogs (charred), seafood («anything that comes out of the sea»), root beer, hamburgers, raisins, candy bars, malts, ginger ale and cream soda. He likes beer. He’s been known to drink both scotch and bourbon whiskey. He prefers red wine to white. Cooking is a hobby. He speaks Italian and a little Spanish (he took it in high school). He can’t swim. The Columbos have children but the exact number is not certain (really better substantiate this one: he mentions children in «The Most Crucial Game,» «Any Old Port in a Storm» and «Mind Over Mayhem»). They also have a basset hound named Dog.

Columbo outlines the closest thing he has to a code in «The Bye-Bye Sky High I.Q. Murder Case»: «You know, sir, it’s a funny thing. All my life I kept running into smart people. In school, there were lots of smarter kids. And when I first joined the force, sir, they had some very clever people there. And I could tell right away that it wasn’t going to be easy making detective as long as they were around. But I figured that if I worked harder than they did—put in more time, read the books, kept my eyes open—maybe I could make it happen. And I did. And I really love my work, sir.»

Less reliable than all of this is the chronicle of Columbo relatives. If he is to be believed, the lieutenant has a sister who likes modern furniture, a nearly perfect cousin Ralph, a nephew who wears contact lenses, a brother-in-law named George, a niece named Marilyn (his wife’s sister’s girl, who got divorced and remarried a cop with six kids), a father-in-law who loves Western movies, a brother-in-law who’s a lawyer, a brother-in-law who loves photography, a brother-in-law in the National Guard, a brother-in-law who’s a waiter, an uncle who played bagpipes with the Shriners, a cousin in Albany who wears thick glasses and plays chess, a nephew majoring in dermatology at UCLA, a brother who’s thirty-eight and still has his high school sneakers, an uncle who drove a bus until he made a killing in real estate, a cousin and a brother-in-law who run an auto body shop in the Valley, nieces who like rock music, a sisterin-law who drinks, a nephew who is a champion weightlifter and needlepointer, a nephew who wants to be an accountant, a teenage nephew who wants to be a director and a mother-in-law in Fresno.

Peter Falk remains very proud of the fact that Columbo became an international hit. Distributed around the world, the sloppy lieutenant was a hero in several countries. «It’s a very good image for America around the world,» the actor said. «It’s a nonviolent show. There’s no cheap sex in it. It has a main character who does not rely on force, fighting, shooting and car chases. You’re not wiping out forty people a second, so death means nothing.» Columbo was described as «TV’s cult hero» in Great Britain. He was a runaway hit in Russia. And the series became a national obsession in Japan. Actor Yves Montand told Bill Link that Columbo was his favorite program. Film director Federico Fellini has left dinner parties to catch Columbo episodes.

THE REAL MRS. COLUMBO

Using the information provided in the episodes, we can put together a brief sketch of Mrs. Columbo. The Columbos were high school sweethearts. «Never exactly thin,» Mrs. Columbo is something of an athlete. She’s an expert bowler and belongs to a league. Although not a good cook, she has many other abilities. She handles the finances and does the taxes. She takes accounting courses and other night classes. She’s a good dancer and singer.

Mrs. Columbo reads constantly. She loves crossword puzzles, Ann Landers, African violets, opera, classical, country and rock music. She loves having a good time and can get very loud when carried away. She gives her husband a pencil every morning. She has a proverb for every occasion. She would prefer her husband take up a pipe, but he can’t get used to it.

CLASSIC COLUMBO LINES
This is a compendium of the Columbo wit and wisdom. If some of it sounds repetitive, well . . .
Lieutenant Columbo, portrayed by Peter Falk, with dog by 04_ \\chewbakka.com
Lieutenant Columbo, portrayed by Peter Falk by 04

«Gee, you don’t have a pencil, do you? Thanks. You know, my wife, she gives me one every morning and I just can’t seem to hold on to it.» \\ «Oh, one more thing . . .» \\ «There’s one detail that bothers me . . .» \\ «I seem to be making a pest of myself.» — Prescription: Murder (1968)

«You’ve got some beautiful place here.» \\ «Do you have a pen?» \\ «I worry. I mean, little things bother me. I’m a worrier. I mean, little insignificant details — I lose my appetite. I can’t eat. My wife, she says to me, `You know, you can really be a pain.» — Ransom for a Dead Man (1971)

«There’s just one thing I’m not clear about.» \\ «I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to bother you. . . . I’m making a pest of myself. . . . It’s because I keep asking these questions, but, I tell you, I can’t help myself.» \\ «Do you have a match?» — Murder by the Book (1971)

«Gotta match?» \\ «After a while, the old nose just tells you when someone’s not giving you the truth.» \\ «That bothered me.» \\ «Sorry I bothered ya’.» — Death Lends a Hand (1971)

«Say, you got a beautiful place here.» \\ «Gotta match?» \\ «Oh, one thing I almost forgot . .» \\ «There are a couple of loose ends I’d like to tie up. Nothing important, you understand.» — Dead Weight (1971)

«I’ll tell ya’ what’s botherin’ me.» \\ «Oh, listen, one more thing . . .» \\ «I get bugged by those little things.» — Suitable for Framing (1971)

«There were a couple of points that were bothering me.» \\ «I have this bug about tying up loose ends.» \\ «Just one more thing.» — Lady in Waiting (1971)

«I didn’t mean to interrupt like this and barge in.» \\ «There are other things.» \\ «Do you have a lighter?» — Blueprint for Murder (1972)

«That’s me. I’m paranoid. Every time I see a dead body, I think it’s been murdered.» \\ «Terrific place.» \\ «Do you have a match?» \\ «Beautiful place you have here.» \\ «I hate to keep bothering you people.» \\ «Oh, listen, just one more thing.» — Etude in Black (1972)

«I’m in lousy shape.» \\ «That bothered me. As a matter of fact, I couldn’t sleep last night.» — The Most Dangerous Match (1973)

«Well, there are a couple of things that bother me.» \\ «I’m sorry about being untidy. I’m just like that. I just can’t correct that. I’m just very untidy. It’s just my nature.» \\ «I have never met a cop with flat feet.» — Double Shock (1973)

«I’m sorry, forgive me. I didn’t mean to intrude.» \\ «Oh, listen, there’s one other thing I wanted to ask you about.» — Lovely but Lethal (1973)

«You don’t have a pencil, do you?» \\ «Just point me in the right direction. I’ll find him. I’m good at that.» \\ «I’m probably the only Italian in the world who can’t sing.» \\ «My handwriting is so bad sometimes I think I should have been a doctor.» \\ «Do you have a pencil I could borrow?» \\ «I’m sorry to bother you, ma’am. I just wanted to ask you one more question.» — Any Old Port in a Storm (1973)

«Pencil?» \\ «You don’t have a match, do you?» \\ «Oh, there one thing I almost forgot. . . . It’s just one other thing that bothers me.» \\ «Every once in a while I think about getting a new coat, but there’s no rush on that, sir. There’s still a lot of wear left in this fella.» — Candidate for Crime (1973)

«Just one more thing.» \\ «One more thing.» \\ «Some people say I’m snoopy.» \\ «Oh, one other thing.» — Mind Over Mayhem (1974)

«I hate to bother you like this.» — A Friend in Deed (1974)

«Oh, there is one other thing.» \\ «May I borrow a pencil?» — An Exercise in Fatality (1974)

«I’ll tell you what bothers me about this.» \\ «There are a couple of things that bother me.» \\ «One more thing, sir.» — Negative Reaction (1974)

«I just want to ask one question.» — By Dawn’s Early Light (1974)

«I’ll keep on something until it is finished.» — Troubled Waters (1975)

«Oh, this is quite a place.» — Forgotten Lady (1975)

«I can’t think of a time when I wasn’t working.» — The Bye-Bye Sky High I.Q. Murder Case (1977)

«I like my job a lot.» — Try and Catch Me (1977)

«The two — trouble and murder — they seem to go together. At least that’s been my experience, sir.» — Murder Under Glass (1978)

«It’s just that I enjoy the pleasure of the game.» — How to Dial a Murder (1978)

HOW THE MURDERERS SEE COLUMBO

«You’re the most persistent creature I ever met, but likable. The astonishing thing is you’re likable.» \\ «You’re a sly little elf.» \\ «You never stop, do you?» \\ «You’re an intelligent man, Columbo, but you hide it.» − DR. RAY FLEMING (GENE BARRY) Prescription: Murder (1968)

«You know, Columbo, you’re almost likable in a shabby sort of way. Maybe it’s the way you come slouching in here with your shopworn bag of tricks. . . . The humility, the seeming absentmindedness. The homey anecdotes about the family, the wife. Yeah, Lieutenant Columbo, fumbling and bumbling along, but it’s always the jugular he’s after. And I imagine that more often than not, he’s successful.» \\ «You’re very lucky, Lieutenant. No, congratulations, you’re very smart.» — LESLIE WILLIAMS (LEE GRANT) Ransom for a Dead Man (1971)

«I’m beginning to like you.» − KEN FRANKLIN (JACK CASSIDY) Murder by the Book (1971)

«You are so transparent, Columbo . . . a compulsively suspicious bureaucrat. . Would you please do me a favor and stop pestering me.» − DALE KINGSTON (ROSS MARTIN) Suitable for Framing (1971)

«Lieutenant, anybody ever tell you you’re very much like an arachnid . . . a tick. They’re quite common but excessively tenacious. They hang on. They let go only under extreme prodding.» − ELLIOT MARKHAM (PATRICK O’NEAL) Blueprint for Murder (1972)

«You’re a great detective.» − ALEX BENEDICT (JOHN CASSAVETES) Etude in Black (1972)

«Columbo, you’re marvelous—transparent but marvelous.» — JARVIS GOODLAND (RAY MILLAND) The Greenhouse Jungle (1972)

«You’re priceless.» − NORA CHANDLER (ANNE BAXTER) Requiem for a Falling Star (1973)

«Believe me, if there’s anybody who could do anything about it, it’s going to be Lieutenant Columbo.» \\ «Lieutenant Columbo, you’re remarkable. You have intelligence. You have perception. You have tenacity. You’ve got everything but proof.» − DR. BARRY MAYFIELD (LEONARD NIMOY) A Stitch in Crime (1973)

«Lieutenant, you’re a pleasant enough man. You work hard. And I respect your motivations. But, please, stop this pretense.» — EMMET CLAYTON (LAURENCE HARVEY) The Most Dangerous Match (1973)

«You really are a very stubborn man.» − VIVECA SCOTT (VERA MILES) Lovely but Lethal (1973)

«Lieutenant, you really are one of a kind.» \\ «You’ve learned very well, Lieutenant.» − ADRIAN CARSINI (DONALD PLEASENCE) Any Old Port in a Storm (1973)

«You’re about as subtle as a train wreck.» \\ «If I didn’t find you an extraordinarily amusing fellow, I might even be offended.» \\ «You are an incredibly stubborn man.» — DR. BART KEPPLE (ROBERT CULP) Double Exposure (1973)

«I really do admire your enthusiasm. The force could use a hundred like you.» − MARK HALPERIN (RICHARD KILEY) A Friend in Deed (1974)

«You know something, Columbo? You’re a devious man.» \\ «I don’t care what you think. I don’t care what you suspect. I don’t care what visions you see when you look at your cigar ashes.» − MILO JANUS (ROBERT CONRAD) An Exercise in Fatality (1974)

«You’re like a little, shaggy-haired terrier—he’s got a grip on my trousers and he won’t let go.» \\ «Lieutenant, you’re priceless. You’re a gem. A little flawed and not too bright, but you’re one of a kind.» − PAUL GALESKO (DICK VAN DYKE) Negative Reaction (1974)

«I think you’re working too hard, Lieutenant. Everything is not a murder, you know.» — COLONEL LYLE C. RUMFORD (PATRICK MCGOOHAN) By Dawn’s Early Light (1974)

«You know, Lieutenant, you’re a marvelously deceptive man. You know the way you get to the point without ever getting to the point?» − DR. MARCUS COLLIER (GEORGE HAMILTON) A Deadly State of Mind (1975)

«I’m not what I appear to be, and then again, neither are you.» — THE GREAT SANTINI (JACK CASSIDY) Now You See Him (1976)

«Really, Lieutenant, really well done.» — WARD FOWLER (WILLIAM SHATNER) Fade in to Murder (1976)

«You say a thing when you’re ready to say it and not before.» − RUTH LYTTON (JOYCE VAN PATTEN) Old Fashioned Murder (1976)

«You’re a very able man, Lieutenant. I respect that. But I really don’t care for you very much.» − PAUL GERARD (LOUIS JOURDAN) Murder Under Glass (1978)

MEMORABLE EXCHANGES ABOUT COLUMBO’S CAR

[«Etude in Black» 1972]

MECHANIC: Have you ever thought about getting a new car?
COLUMBO: I already have two cars. Of course, my wife drives nothing special. That’s just for transportation. You understand.
MECHANIC: I only work on foreign cars.
COLUMBO: It is a foreign car.
MECHANIC: Oh, I know, but there are limits, man.

[«Short Fuse» 1972]

ROGER STANFORD: You mean that old heap out there is yours?
COLUMBO: Oh, yeah. Needs a coat of paint, doesn’t it?

[«Any Old Port in a Storm» 1973]

VALET: Boy, you sure don’t see very many o f these things around.
COLUMBO: I’ve got over 100,000 miles on it. You take care o f your car, it’ll take care of you.

[«Candidate for Crime» 1973]

POLICEMAN: You ever consider getting another car?
COLUMBO: I got another car. My wife drives it. But that’s nothing special, just transportation.

[«Mind Over Mayhem» 1974]

COLUMBO: I don’t want you to work on my car. It’s running beautiful.

[«A Friend in Deed» 1974]

CHARLIE SHOUP: (used car salesman): Yes, indeed. It’s a real honey. You know we don’t get to see many of these around anymore — especially in this condition.
COLUMBO: Well, I try to take good care of it.

[«A Deadly State of Mind» 1975]

COLUMBO: But I don’t see any European cars here. Only my car.
SERGEANT KRAMER: You’ve got a European car?
COLUMBO: That’s a French car. Yeah, my car’s a French car.