For my money, I think Lieutenant Columbo might be one of the greatest characters ever created for television. William Link and the late Richard Levinson created him, but Peter Falk was the one who breathed life into him and made him one of the true icons that most everyone that ever watched TV knows. In the introduction, I was surprised to learn Falk was the third actor to play the role.
Bert Freed was the first in a live television production on THE CHEVY MYSTERY SHOW, a summer replacemant. Enough Rope was the title. From there the pair developed it into a play. It starred Agnes Morehead, Joseph Cotten as the murderer, and a character actor named Thomas Mitchell as our favorite detective. Retitled PRESCRIPTION MURDER, it played for a year and a half all over the country and Canada. The two creators noticed during one show that Mitchell was getting bigger ovations than the the big star Cotten.
Which set them thinking. The whole history is touched on in Link’s forward to this set of twelve stories.
Columbo, of course, became a big hit and lasted for many years on television. For me, I think it was this little man matching wits with killers that were usually smarter(or at least they thought they were, heh, heh). We came to learn quickly that the little man in the rumpled raincoat, slightly befuddled, that constantly spoke of his wife and was ALWAYS interested in whatever the killer did for a living, the constant “one more question,” the slowly building irritation with this civil servant, was all a pose. A very sharp mind lurked under that timid exterior. Since we always knew the identity of the killer, the fun for us was watching the battle of wits between them and Columbo. Little did they know they were hopelessly outmatched the whole time.
It was a “duel” of wits they couldn’t win. In one of the stories here, a police officer Columbo had zeroed in on refers to it as a duel and tells Columbo, I know all your little tricks. It doesn’t help.
I enjoyed this visit with an old friend I hadn’t seen in years, not since the late William Harrington’s series of six original novels that connected Columbo with real cases(The Grassy Knoll, The Helter Skelter Murders, The Hoffa Connection, The Hoover Files). This one comes to us from Crippen And Landru, publishers of fine crime collections, both old and new.
I look forward now to the next set in this series(hint,hint).
added note: I very nearly forgot. This is my first post on the first day of the blog’s third year of existence.