The Lt. Columbo Forum

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This Forum is fondly dedicated in memory of  "cassavetes45"  (Carleen Zink),
Columbo's greatest fan and a great friend to us all.
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Interesting question. Race and ethnicity were generally downplayed in the series. Not many blacks are seen--James McEachin was in both "Make Me A Perfect Murder" and "Etude In Black". In the first, when he is talking to Kay in the film booth, he affects a "ghetto" talk, otherwise he does not emphasize his blackness. "Lady in Waiting" has black servants but, again, their race is not made an issue.
In "Now You See Him" we have the matter of Nazism and Anti-Semitism. Santini (Jack Cassidy) is enraged by his daughter dating the singer Mark Green. He finally even fires her from the act. Although it is not stated explicitly, Mark Green is clearly a Jew (name and appearance). Interestingly, the actor playing the victim (who is clearly a very unpleasant character) is Nehemiah Persoff, who is a Jew born in Israel.
Regarding anti-Italian prejudice, the "Candidate for Crime" has an Italian dentist treating Columbo and complaining about how all Italians are stereotyped as being in the mafia. (this at the time the movie "the Gdfather" was made and political correctness prevent the producers from putting the word "Mafia" into the film!).


You forgot the part in A Friend in Deed, where that one detective questions the black guy who shows up at the house with extra scrutiny:

"Yeah, I can prove it (his alibi)"

"Yeah, I bet you can..."

That part always bothered me.


(Milo..hopefully this will come up directly after your post..but I always have a problem with that )

That detective...I think it was Doyle, played by Victor Campos...was a real wise-cracker throughout the whole episode...besides the one you mention...When Columbo is looking at the body of Janice Caldwell, he makes some crack about her not being a bad looking "broad".....and then after Margaret Halperin has been pulled from the pool he says something like, I guess she couldn't swim!...He was just rude all around!!


I can think of 2 other cases .....and I want to say this as gently as I can....
YM, you brought up the Black servants in Lady in Waiting. I always thought that the way the actor Joel Fluellen played the "butler" Charles sadly reminded me of how Blacks were protrayed in the old movies. Black actors were forced to take these stereotypical roles...and also forced to use wide facial expressions and have wide-eyed looks. And the fact that Beth refers to them as "servants" instead of butler and a little disheartening. I have never mentioned this before here...but the scene where Columbo confronts her in her office with the clean light bulb always makes me uncomfortable...when she says that bit about the light bulb is clean because servant cleaned it....well, that is upsetting to me...couldn't she have said Charles?
The other is from Etude in involves Pat Morita's character..the Asian "Butler"(


I guess I ran out of room!!! I will try and remember what the end of my post was!!Ok..about the "Butler"(


This is ridiculous!! I keep typing the end of my post and it wouldn't print it out!! Have I worn out my welcome here???? Maybe I'll try again later...


..........I think I may have figured out what happened...let me try this again... that "Butler" .....when he answers the door and Columbo is trying to explain who he is and he spells out his name, C-o-l-u-m-b-o, and then goes on to pointing at his picture and then to himself saying "me...police man...cop", I have always found that quite condescending...and after all that explaining they still have the character say "you musician!!!"....and when Alex comes down the stairs with him you clearly hear Alex call him Harry, many times...but in the credits he is not listed as Harry nor is he listed as "Butler"...he is listed as "The House Boy"


Ok...sorry to being taking so much room on this thread but the thing I did was I used that symbol for "less than" the one that is on the key with the comma...I was using it as an arrow and somehow anything I typed after it was deleted....this is the symbol....<


You make interesting points, but I didn't actually
relate to Beth's treatment of the servants in racial terms. She treated all "underlings" with contempt, even the executives of her firm, and finally, even her fiancee, when she announced their engagement without even consulting him.
Regarding "Etude in Black", the butler Pat Morita plays clearly doesn't speak English very well, and we don't really see him being treatedy badly.
Again, regarding the black servants in "Lady in Waiting"--this reminds me that when Greg Morris was offered the role of Barney in Mission Impossible (one of the first regular intelligent roles for a black), he was asked if he would mind being put into traditional "black" roles while he was carrying out the mission: butler, chauffeur, fry cook, etc, and he said that it didn't bother him.


The first black character in "Columbo", I believe, was the plaintiff being cross-examined in court by slimeball insurance company lawyer Lee Grant, in the pilot movie "Ransom For A Dead Man". He apparently has a legitimate personal injury case, but the killer manages to beat him down by distorting the evidence, smearing him as drunk and a welfare recipient. He's not quite a hero, but he is portrayed symathetically.

I also recall that, in at least one episode, Columbo has a black boss, who is tough and demanding, and definitely in charge. (I believe it's a later episode.)

A few years ago there was a debate here that got pretty spirited, on the issue of why there was never a black killer in "Columbo". I very carefully suggested, with many disclaimers, that the "Columbo" formula requires us feeling, on a gut level, that Columbo's adversary is more powerful and socially superior to Columbo. And I suggested that, in the 1970s, average TV viewers might subconsciously feel that a black character is the underdog. The danger (I thought) would be that on some level, we might think Columbo was picking on the guy, or engaging in racial profiling against him.

As I explained then, this is totally apart from the fact that obviously there were many blacks in real life who were far more wealthy and socially more powerful than Columbo. But the "Columbo" formula is ruined if we feel an unconscious reaction that the killer is disadvantaged compared to Columbo, in any way.

I'm not talking about real life. I'm discussing how TV casts its roles in visual stereotypes -- not in the sense of racial stereotypes, but meaning that, for example, the killer in "Columbo" is cast as taller than Columbo, because that subconsciously conveys to us that Columbo is the underdog.

Anyway, one argument against all of this, is that in truth, Levinson and Link did try to cast a black actor as a killer in "Columbo", although it didn't work out. (My copy of "The Columbo Phile" isn't handy, but some of you know what I'm taling about.)

Certainly I think a black killer could appear in "Columbo" today. Just as with the white actors, it would have to be someone who conveys a sense of power, for the proper contrast to the humble Columbo, such as James Earl Jones.


You may be right might have just been Beth's attempts at acting like she was superior to everyone and everything in her life....including that poor defenseless light bulb that she smashes in rage.

I suppose what I said are more so my feelings rather than my opinions. That is how I "feel" when I see those both Lady and Etude. I just "feel" that there is some sterotyping and prejudice there.


Ted, I know you must have had to walk on eggshells when you originally posted on that subject a few years ago. I understand totally what you mean, that back in the 70's our attitudes and views of how characters were portrayed on TV were quite different than they are today.
As far as Levinson & Link considering a Black actor for a murderer...the Columbo Phile book cites Sammy Davis Jr. as some show business type....but even though I loved Sammy, I don't think he would have made a very good murderer as juxtaposed against Columbo...first he was just too sweet a I have seen him act and he was pretty good and he probably could have pulled it off...but for me it would have been too hard to see past the lovable little Sammy that I was familiar with...and one other thing..simply put...he was too short...and as Ted pointed out..most of the murderers were taller than Columbo..I know not all of them...but most.
And L&L also thought James Earl Jones would be perfect, just as Ted thought, and I totally agree.


Oh..and I am sorry if I am changing the topic of this thread..but I would absolutely love to see Morgan Freeman as a guest there is an ACTOR!!


The actor William Marshall would have been a
great black guest Columbo villain in the 1970's. He is tall, good looking and played the haughty genius
Dr Richard Daystrom in the classic Star
Trek episode "The Ultimate Computer".


Yes, Marshall would have been perfect as a Columbo murderer. As Daystrom he was obsessive, brilliant, arrogant and often condescending, with a imposing voice and physical presence. Great idea, YM!


^^^^^ OJ wouldve been the perfect fit.