8 celebrities who directed episodes of Columbo

You know them better as stars of shows like 'Cheers' and 'The Prisoner.'

Columbo brought in dozens of notable guest stars over his long career. Everyone from William Shatner and George Wendt to Faye Dunaway and Janet Leigh portrayed killers. (And that's no spoiler. The joy of Columbo is knowing the culprit and watching the detective snare them in a trap.) 

The long-running mystery series — Columbo solved cases on TV from 1968 to 2003! — also lured some notable directors. You probably know some of them for their work as actors. Take a closer look.

1. Peter Falk


Where else to start but with Columbo himself? In his long career, the actor earned just one single directing credit on his resume, and it came quite early in Columbo's run. The star directed "Blueprint for Murder," the seventh and final episode of the first season. In that case, Columbo catches the killer, played by Patrick O'Neal, through a radio station tuned to classical music.

2. Steven Spielberg


We are going to focus mostly on actors in this list, but the biggest name here is undoubtedly Spielberg. The E.T. and Indiana Jones director helmed the Columbo series debut, "Murder by the Book," back in 1971. It was one of his earliest credits in Hollywood. The visionary was a mere 24 years old when the episode aired. Previously, he had directed an episode of Marcus Welby and some segments of Night Gallery.

Image: The Everett Collection

3. Nicholas Colasanto


You know him as Coach on Cheers, but Colasanto had numerous television directing credits to his name. He helmed episodes of Bonanza, CHiPs, Starsky and Hutch, McCloud, Ironside and Garrison's Gorillas, to name a few. For Columbo, he directed "Étude in Black" and "Swan Song." He also sat behind the camera for seven episodes of Run for Your Life, which brings us to our next name…

Image: The Everett Collection

4. Ben Gazzara


On Run for Your Life, from 1965-67, Gazzara portrayed a lawyer with just two years to live. Fortunately, this wonderful actor had a career that stretched much longer. Younger folks might even recognize him as Jackie Treehorn, the adult film producer who sets off the entire bizarre noir mystery in The Big Lebowski. Long before that, he was appearing in classics like Anatomy of a Murder (1959) and, um, Road House (1989). The Emmy Winner did not direct too much over his career, but he did helm the episodes "Troubled Waters" and "A Friend in Deed."

Image: The Everett Collection

5. Patrick McGoohan


As the star of Secret Agent and the pioneering, trippy series The Prisoner, McGoohan became associated with hip spy thrillers in the 1960s. In the following decades, he stayed remarkably loyal to Columbo. Not only did he play the killer in four separate episodes, he directed a whopping five episodes over the span of a quarter century — "Murder with Too Many Notes" (2000), "Ashes to Ashes" (1998), "Agenda for Murder" (1990), "Last Salute to the Commodore" (1976), "Identity Crisis" (1975).

Image: The Everett Collection

6. Leo Penn


Leo Penn might now be best remembered for his sons — actors Sean and Christopher, and musician Michael. But dad had an impressive career himself. On the small screen, he is best known as Dr. David McMillan on the hit '60s medical drama Ben Casey. You can also spot him on The Untouchables and Have Gun - Will Travel. His Columbo episodes — "Goes to the Guillotine," "The Conspirators" and "Any Old Port in a Storm" — are just a fraction of his television directing credits. He also worked on In the Heat of the Night, Magnum, P.I.Trapper John, M.D., Hart to Hart, Kojak, Bonanza, I Spy… and so much more.

Image: The Everett Collection

7. Jonathan Demme


He won the Academy Award for directing Silence of the Lambs and demonstrated his range in movies as diverse as Philadelphia, the Talking Heads' Stop Making Sense and Married to the Mob. Demme has very few television credits to his name, but his earliest is the Columbo episode "Murder Under Glass."

Image: The Everett Collection

8. Richard Quine


Quine became a Hollywood star in the years before World War II, largely as fresh young face alongside his pal Mickey Rooney. Babes on Broadway, with Rooney and Judy Garland, gave him his breakout role. A year later, he played Garland's brother in For Me and My Gal. In the mid-'50s, Quine created The Mickey Rooney Show with his old friend. For Columbo, he would direct "Dagger of the Mind," "Requiem for a Falling Star" and "Double Exposure."

Image: The Everett Collection

SEE MORE: 13 little details you probably missed in 'Columbo'


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

Are you sure you want to delete this comment?


JD401 52 months ago
That's a nice photo of an older Patrick McGoohan that I hadn't seen before... THOSE EYES... (sigh)...
cperrynaples 62 months ago
Run for Your Life ran for 3 years, which of course begs the question how could that happen If he had 2 years to live? According to my research, the creator thought that since series of that era did 26 episodes, and that every episode took place over a week, he planned for 4 years. NBC chose a third season of Star Trek over a fourth season of RFYL, so no closure like The Fugitive! I believe in Lebowski Gazarra gave Bridges the mickey that led to the bowling dream [Just Dropped In To See What Condition My Condition Was In]!
What's the connection with Columbo and Star Trek? This should be an easy question for you and for anybody.
Well, I hope you don't mean the obvious fact that both Shatner and Nimoy were killers!
Are you sure you want to delete this comment?