Here is but another of the alleys that researching can take you, if you are not wary, and even if you are. While looking up The Dow Hour of Great Mysteries — see the previous post — I found a short piece from the NY Times that suggested that Prescription: Murder, the first appearance of Lt. Colombo, the rumpled police detective made so famous by Peter Falk, made its first appearance on the Dow Hour.

   Not so, and I have Mark Murphy to thank for pointing me to a website that has the right stuff, or in other words, the correct information. Of course you can go there to read it for yourself, and in fact you should. I recommend it. But since I had it wrong in my previous post, it behooves me (I always wanted to say that) to at least set up the correct timetable of the events relating to Lt. Columbo in this one.

[Added 01-27-07] March 1960. According to Mark Dawidziak, writer of The Columbo Phile (Mysterious Press): “the very first appearance of the character wasn’t in a short story [by Richard Levinson & William Link] called “May I Come In?” The end of that story is a knock at the door: it’s the police, and if the door had opened it would have been Lieutenant Columbo standing there.”
   The story appeared in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, but someone, an editor perhaps, changed the title to “Dear Corpus Delicti.”

May 29, 1960. A drama anthology called The Chevy Mystery Show began on NBC. Hosted by Walter Slezak, new scripts were dramatized every Sunday. There were no recurring characters or actors.

July 31, 1960. “Enough Rope,” was that evening’s presentation, an original story written by William Link and Richard Levinson, introducing to the world a police lieutenant named Columbo, played by a veteran character player named Bert Freed, who received “second-to-last billing in the opening credits.” He is not even included in the IMDB listings for that episode.


1962. “Prescription: Murder” the stage play opened, with veteran movie and stage actor Thomas Mitchell playing Lieutenant Columbo. This was Mitchell’s last role: “He died while the show was touring the United States and Canada, before it reached its Broadway premiere.”
   It is not clear whether the play ever reached Broadway. Some sources I’ve seen so far say yes, others say no.


1968. Filmed in 1967, “Prescription: Murder” appeared as a made-for-TV movie, with Peter Falk in the starring role. It was intended to be a one-shot appearance for the character, but fate (and the character’s popularity) had a way of changing things.

   NOTE: What the author of the website cited above does, and in great detail, is to compare the story lines for each these first three appearances of Lt. Columbo, essentially the same story with differences, and how the character was presented and developed.

March 1, 1971. The pilot for the Columbo TV series was aired: “Ransom for a Dead Man.”

September 15, 1971. Columbo began its regular TV slot as a rotating part of the NBC Mystery Movie, with the first episode entitled “Murder by the Book.” When that overall umbrella series ended, Colombo continued to appear in a series of made-for-TV movies on a irregular basis. “Columbo Likes the Nightlife” was telecast in 2003, a stretch of some 35 years since Columbo began his run back in 1968.


   Peter Falk is now 80 years old. No one could possibly fill his shoes (or raincoat), so this may mark the end of Lt. Columbo on the small screen.

SIDEBAR: February 26, 1979, to March 19, 1980. Kate Loves a Mystery, starring Kate Mulgrew as Mrs. Columbo, had a short season of 13 episodes. The gimmick didn’t work out, the folks over at the Columbo lot disowned her, and by the end of the run, the leading character was named Callahan (and not even the wife of some other police detective named Columbo).

UPDATE [01-26-07] It’s later the same day, and I see that I’ve forgotten to list the books in which Lt. Columbo has appeared over the years, mostly as novelizations of various screenplays, I believe, although I could be wrong on that. It’s late, though, and I think it will wait for another day. (Tomorrow, I hope.)