Columbo creator and Peter Falk argued over whether Mrs. Columbo actually exists
The truth behind Columbo's best fan theory.
Image: The Everett Collection
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.”