13 little details you probably missed in 'Columbo'

See how Jeff Goldblum and Captain Kirk fit into the Columbo universe.

A good detective has a sharp eye for details. No wonder Columbo is packed with little hidden treasures and trivia that likely escaped your eye. Naturally, Lt. Columbo himself would have sniffed them out if he were watching.

Columbo worked cases for nearly 30 years, as Peter Falk slipped into his iconic trenchcoat to solve murders on television between 1971 and 2003. Over those decades, the mysteries packed in dozens of surprising guest stars (before they were stars) and recycled props in fascinating ways. Let's examine the scenes.

1. Jeff Goldblum makes an uncredited appearance.


In "A Case of Immunity," Columbo must solve a crime at the embassy of a fictional Middle East country named Sauria. Outside the gates of the embassy, young protestors march with signs. The tall fellow in a dark windbreaker with sideburns and spectacles? That's Jeff Goldblum, uncredited in his first television appearance. His face briefly flashes onscreen, though he can be see picketing from a distance in other shots.

2. Jamie Lee Curtis serves Columbo a doughnut.


A season later, in "The Bye-Bye Sky High IQ Murder Case," Columbo chats with a man in a restaurant about halfway through the story. The surly waitress is none other than Jamie Lee Curtis in just her third ever screen appearance.

3. Columbo does secretly reveal his first name, once.


Columbo's first name is never said aloud in the series. However, it is flashed before your eyes. In the early tale "Dead Weight," Columbo visits a house. He flashes his badge. The signature clearly reads "Frank Columbo."

4. Captain Kirk makes a cameo.


William Shatner steals scenes with Shatnerian glee as a devilish killer in "Fade in to Murder." He plays an actor — who must have also starred in Star Trek.  A headshot of Captain Kirk can be seen framed behind his character's living room couch. Does this mean that Star Trek and Columbo are set in the same universe?

5. A PT Boat from 'McHale's Navy' turns up, too.


Earlier that same episode, as Shatner strolls the backlot of a movie studio, the hull of a PT boat used in McHale's Navy can be seen dry-docked on the street.

6. The house from the first episode turns up again.


In the first episode, "Murder by the Book," Columbo questions a mystery novelist named Ken Franklin. The writer lives in a gorgeous modernist white-brick home by the ocean. The same house turns up in "The Most Crucial Game," as the abode of a wealthy sports owner.

7. The author from the first episode has books in later mysteries.


Speaking of recycled items from the first episode…. The murder centers around writing partners who create a popular series of mystery novels involving a crime solver named Mrs. Melville. In "Dead Weight" (the one with the badge) you can spot these fictitious bestsellers in a bookcase inside Gen. Hollister's (Eddie Albert) house.

8. There is a cheeky tribute to Steven Spielberg.


We've mentioned a couple fun facts about that first episode without highlighting one key detail — Steven Spielberg directed "Murder by the Book." It was one of his earliest pieces of work. The writers later paid tribute to the precocious Hollywood hotshot by naming a "boy genius" character in "Mind Over Mayhem" Steve Spelberg.

9. Peter Falk himself directed one episode.


While we're talking directors, did you ever notice Falk stepped behind the camera just once in his entire career? He helmed the episode "Blueprint for Murder."

10. Coach from Cheers also directed.


Oh, and Nicholas Colasanto, the beloved "Coach" from Cheers, also directed two episodes, "Etude in Black" and "Swan Song."

11. Roddy McDowall wears the same paisley blouse in 'Night Gallery.'


Rewinding a bit, in "Short Fuse," Roddy McDowall, a brilliant character actor who brought apes to life in Planet of the Apes, sports a rather gaudy blue blouse. He wore the same paisley, poofy top in the pilot episode of Night Gallery.

12. Those are real Oscar awards.


In "Requiem for a Falling Star," Columbo pops in the office of Edith Head, a legendary Hollywood costume designer. Most younger people would better recognize her as the inspiration for a character in Pixar's The Incredibles movies. Hard to miss her distinctive black glasses and bowl cut. Anyway… the scene was shot in Head's actual office. On her desk you can see her the honest-to-goodness Oscars she won. There are seven of them. She would eventually earn an eighth Academy Award.

13. NBA legend Pat Riley make an appearance.


At one point in "The Most Crucial Game" Columbo questions Paul Hanlon (Robert Culp) in a basketball court. A sweaty game is going on in the background. The players? They would be the Los Angeles Lakers. The dude in the white T-shirt with the righteous mustache is guard Pat Riley, who would of course go on to coach the Showtime Lakers, the New York Knicks and the Miami Heat. The other guys are no slouches. LeRoy Ellis, Happy Hairston, Jim McMillan and Keith Erickson also ball in the scene. This team would win the 1973 NBA Championship.

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merlin20000 22 months ago
You missed one! In the episode, "Murder by the Book", if you look on the shelf of Lilly's store, you will see a book titled, "PRESCRIPTION MURDER" - the pilot movie starring Gene Barry.
GenePopa 43 months ago
Great trivia! Here's a further tidbit for #10: "Etude in Black" guest starred the legendary actor/director John Cassavetes (one of Falk's closest friends, by the way). Out of respect for Cassavetes, Nicholas Colasanto invited him to direct several scenes in that episode, uncredited.
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