Columbo creator and Peter Falk argued over whether Mrs. Columbo actually exists

The truth behind Columbo's best fan theory.

Image: The Everett Collection

Every Columbo fan knows that you can thank Peter Falk for all the little details that make Columbo Columbo. That includes the frumpy raincoat, the beat-up Peugeot and the cigars he chomped.

When it came to Columbo, the award-winning actor didn't just embrace his iconic TV character, he wrapped his mind completely around the personality, forming just about every odd tick the detective displayed onscreen, whether he's grazing snacks from a buffet at a party that he's not been invited to or shooting pool while interrogating a suspect. He's a strange guy, and that's what we all loved about him.

However, there was one aspect of Columbo that according to series co-creator William Link, he and Falk didn't always see eye to eye on. It all started when Link made a comment in an interview that suggested that even though Columbo frequently references his family, most of all his wife, the detective might not actually be the straightforward family man that many viewers understood him to be.

In an interview with the Archive of American Television, Link explained, "I have an argument with Falk.” He then went on to tell a story of a time in 1999 when Peter Falk went on Inside the Actors Studio to be interviewed. According to Link, the host James Liptop repeated Link's comment to Falk, saying in the interview that "William Link says that maybe talking about all these relatives and the wife, maybe that’s a fantasy and that Columbo uses this to befuddle and be-fog the murderer." Link said on Lipton's show, Falk laughed off this theory, saying, "Oh, no no, all those people exist."

Link notes, Falk must have changed his mind on this particular point over the years, because Link said if you crack open that esteemed 1989 tome The Columbo Phile, Falk contradicts his later Lipton interview and confirmed that Link's theory could be true and that Columbo actually could have no wife, and in fact, no family at all: "Peter in [the book] says, yeah it might be a fantasy. He forgets [in Inside the Actors Studio that 10 years before] he said that this whole thing might be figments that he uses. That he’s really a bachelor who lives in a one-room walk-up." As for Link, he still likes the interpretation, insisting it's very plausible and "Could be!”

This leads to a very obvious question for any serious Columbo fans who must be reading this and wondering: How can there be no wife if there was, in fact, a series called Mrs. Columbo?

According to Link, if he and Levinson had had their way, not only would there never have been a Mrs. Columbo series, but you also would've never seen Columbo's office in later episodes of the show. Link said the purpose of eliminating concrete family ties and avoiding putting Columbo in intimate/personal spaces was that filling in those particulars would've been revealing too much of the man behind the enigma: "We wanted to keep him almost mythological. He comes from nowhere and goes back into nowhere.”

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TinaMarieHaddadRhodes 2 months ago
Of course Columbo had a wife and family. In the first series he would talk to his wife on the phone, if no wife on the phone it adds up to a mental issue on Columbos behalf. That would not make sense. And in a few episodes he talks about his wife being pregnant. And there was also and episode were he was at his nieces wedding and Columbo is shown congradulating the happy couple and the bride I believe calls Columbo Uncle.
JosephFreymuth 3 months ago
The Columbo character was obviously married. In more than one episode, he was seen talking to her over the phone with no one else within earshot. In one episode, he was also seen on a cruise ship asking the staff if they knew where his wife was. Either the Columbo character had a wife or he was delusional I doubt that any TV show made in the 1970s would feature an insane protagonist.
TrevorMyers 3 months ago
There was ONE actress that I remember seeing and thinking she would have been perfect as Mrs. Columbo if they ever wanted to actually cast her: Joanne Linville. She appeared as Jackie Cooper's wife in the episode, "Candidate For Crime." There is a scene between her and Peter and they seemed to have an on-screen chemistry, even in such a short scene. I'm sure nobody else will agree, but to me, she seemed like a perfect fit with Peter Falk.
I agree she would of been perfect to play Columbos wife.
Always would/should/could have. Never would/should/could of.
daDoctah 3 months ago
"one aspect of Columbo that according to series co-creator William Link, he and Falk didn't always see eye to eye on."

Really, MeTV? Eye to eye?
FrankCollins 3 months ago
Of course, Peter Falk had a wife, who he managed to squirrel into lots of the episodes, and even played a song she recorded into one of them.
Joseph 3 months ago
I prefer to think he had a wife, but it's really immaterial. He's a fictional character, so there's no right or wrong answer. It's whatever the fan wants to believe.
Shioux 3 months ago
I'm a big fan of the 70's episodes and not so much of the 90's episodes. I've always wondered if his wife references we're valid. The same way he would reference a niece or nephew who happened to have something in common with the killer. In the episode "A friend Indeed", Columbo tricks the criminal police commissioner into planting evidence into Columbo's own apartment; a small, dumpy, one room apartment in which all of the items in the drawers etc belong to Columbo. There is a photo of a family member, but not his wife. This makes me wonder if she really didn't exist in the 70s episodes, but maybe they changed their minds about her existence in the 90s.
AndrewHass 3 months ago
I'm sure Columbo had a wife because he mentioned her enough times.However i do wonder if Columbo wanted to keep his home life away from his work life.Plus maybe Columbo knew if a suspect met his wife she could be in danger and so that could be why whenever his wife was supposed to be at a function or whatever with a suspect Columbo came up with a story why she couldn't make it.
RedSamRackham 3 months ago
In the episode where Columbo was on a cruise ship vacation (& solved an on board murder) we should've seen his wife even if only from back of the head. ☺
Pacificsun 3 months ago
It can't be disputed what the Falk and Linke have said according to the interviews cited. However they've discounted the importance of 2 episodes. (One) is "Troubled Water" where at the end of the story, after the crime has been solved, Columbo is chasing around the cruise ship saying that he is looking for his wife (who's apparently just on the other side of a crowded room) on the cruise. Unless Falk is breaking the "fourth wall" (meaning for the benefit of his audience) there would be no point (related to the plot) in adding this "bit" at the end of the story. And (two) in "Rest in Peace, Mrs. Columbo" the episode is built around the villain threatening Columbo's wife. True she's never seen, but it wouldn't be a plausible story line for the villain to be threatening a truly fictional person.

The very point of writers making those Columbo references to his wife, is to add a human touch, as a more relatable character (fallible) which makes his crime solving achievements that much more noteworthy! [Btw us: little is done in drama without purpose. And "Columbo" was particularly crafted for effect!]
cperrynaples Pacificsun 3 months ago
"RIP..." is the episode I refered to in the post below, for which I posed the question if she [the killer] didn't kill Mrs. Columbo, then who did she kill? Some posters suggested a photo identified as Mrs. Columbo solves the mystery, but Columbo himself says the photo is his sister-in-law!
Pacificsun cperrynaples 3 months ago
Well I don't believe the real Mrs. Columbo of the series actually was killed even as part of the story line. It's been awhile since I've seen that episode, but I think the ruse was to make the villain "think" she had succeeded and then stun her at the end by admitting the burial was a ploy. Didn't the villain's attempt at murder have to do with a jar of honey or jam ...
cperrynaples Pacificsun 3 months ago
No, Mrs. Columbo DIDN'T die! The detective set up a sting to get a confession! He called his wife after the arrest! Yes, the killer used poisoned jam but the police intercepted it, so Mrs. Columbo was never in danger! Now that I remember this, that woman was only arrested for 2 attempted murders, one of only 2 episodes where no one died! Anyone remember the story of the other one?
Pacificsun cperrynaples 3 months ago
Yes, that is probably the best evidence that she was a real (off-screen) character in Columbo's life (as wife).
garykevinware Pacificsun 3 months ago
It was lemon marmalade.
TomTerrrific 3 months ago
Even with the incidents you mention, his wife could still be a fiction that he created. But there are one or two episodes when he calls her and talks to her on the phone. I agree with Peter Falk; Columbo is a really clever man, but he's not that duplicitous that he would go to such lengths.
Pacificsun TomTerrrific 3 months ago
Yes, and I don't think any Police Department would allow one of their Officers to continuously misrepresent themselves.

My hunch is Falk and Linke ran out of stuff to talk about regarding an endless string of Columbo analysis, they figured out a way to give Fans yet a little more to think about πŸ˜‰
CarnivorousVulgaris 3 months ago
Columbo did have a wife and family. I call your attention to "Columbo Goes To College" (1990). Columbo tricks the killers into planting the murder weapon in a suspects car. The suspects car turns out to be Mrs. Columbo's car with a picture of his niece.
Well, how about the episode where the suspect "killed" Mrs. Columbo and tried to poison the detective? if she didn't kill Mrs. Columbo, then who did she kill?
Pnut67 cperrynaples 3 months ago
Exactly! They did a whole episode on Mrs. Columbia, without once showing her on screen. I believe the producers & writers got paddle minded in their later years, something they claim Peter Falk as being. Plus, I don't remember the episode, but there's one (possibly more) episode where they show a picture of his wife on his desk. The picture is of his real life wife....cant remember her name, but she starred in a couple episodes with him, cause she was an actress as well....& a knockout!
Peter Falk was married twice: 1. Alyce Mayo {1960-1976.} Second marriage was to Shara Danese {1977-2011.} I think it was his second wife who appeared in Columbo with Peter.
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