The Lt. Columbo Forum

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Columbo's greatest fan and a great friend to us all.
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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.