William Haynes intends to turn the venerable old institution into a coed
junior college. The idea is abhorrent to Rumford, who prizes tradition,
discipline and duty.
He is not about to relinquish his command, even if enrollment is
Down. The country needs places where boys learn to become men.
The impudent Haynes has become the enemy, and the enemy must be removed
There are only three occasions during the year when Rumford
fires Old Thunder, the cannon that proudly stands in the middle of the
parade grounds. One is Founders Day: the following day.
As dawn is breaking on Founders Day, Rumford stuffs a cleaning
rag down the barrel of Old Thunder. He's also doctored the shell
with a powerful charge. The results will be explosive. While preparing
the cannon for its murderous purpose, the iron-willed commandant
spots a jug or hard cider hanging in a barracks window. Later that
day, he orders Captain Loomis to conduct a painstaking search for
the fermenting fluid, which he assumes the crafty cadets will have
moved as a matter of always staying one step ahead of the officers.
During a morning meeting with William Haynes, Rumford goads
the board chairman into insisting on presiding at the Founders Day
ceremony. Those duties include firing Old Thunder.
Hayne's death looks like an accident. Roy Springer, a cadet with a
sloppy record, apparently left a cleaning rag in the cannon. But
Springer denies it and Lieutenant Columbo believes him. The
policeman, however, gets the feeling that Springer is holding
Slowly, Columbo starts to suspect Rumford. Why? Well, the
explosion was heard by people who never complained before about
the cannon's noise. Sure enough, lab reports turn up traces of a
powerful explosive in the fragments found on the field. And Rumford
is an explosives expert.
Only three people had a key to the storeroom containing the
cannon supplies: Springer, Captain Loomis and Rumford. A blueprint
found in Haynes' car supplies the motive. It is a redesign for the
academy gym. The alterations are for a girls' locker room.
When Roy runs away, Columbo learns that the cadet had an alibi.
The night before Founders Day, he was with his girlfriend, Susan
Now Columbo is sure of Rumford's guilt. yet he needs proof. He
gets It when the boys tell him about the cider. Rumford claims he saw
the cider the day before the explosion.
But that's not possible. The cider was hung out for the very first
time during the night before Founders Day. Rumford couldn't have
seen it in the dark. The cadets put the cider in another hiding place at
6:25 on Founders Day morning. So, the jug was visible only from
6:10 until 6:25. That's the only time there was enough light. And it
was only visible from one spot-directly behind the cannon. By
launching his investigation, Rumford has placed himself at the scene of
the murder a full thirty minutes before he claims to have left his bed
for morning coffee.
Shot on location at a South Carolina military school, "By Dawn's
Early Light" is a stylish and extremely satisfying departure for the
series. Director Harvey Hart's opening is one of the most memorable
since "Murder by the Book." The pacing is deliberately slow. There is
no music. Step by step, we see Rumford prepare for murder.
The camera plays on each detail, even the washing of hands. It is the calm
of dawn. It is the quiet before the battle.
Much of the credit for the episode's high quality must go to Patrick
McGoohan, the New York-born actor whose distinctive
Irish-British tones were heard in the sixties series Secret.Agent (an
expanded version of England's Danger Man) and The Prisoner (the
cult favorite he produced and created).
Usually associated with suave action roles, McGoohan must have
seemed like an odd choice to play a blood-and -guts American colonel.
But the versatile actor, like Falk. had a reputation as an
uncompromising artist. His portrayal of Rumford is every bit as quirky
and fascinating as Falk's detective. One gets the feeling of watching
two performers working on the same level and wavelength
McGoohan also says he contributed to the script, although exactly
how much is unclear. The teleplay is credited to Howard Berk, who
would work on several more Columbo scripts and author the final
episode of the series. Falk remembers that the script needed
polishing, but he doesn't recall how much.
"Peter would go crazy when the scripts didn't meet his standards,"
Medic chart explained. "Everett Chambers produced the first
Columbo I did, and he was responsible for talking me into it. I think
Ed Asner had been asked to do it. Then he couldn't do it, and Everett
asked me. It was a rare privilege for me. It was a classy show. It was
a pleasure to work on them [he'd end up working on three]. How many
TV series in the United States are done with that much care? M
A'S*H is the only one I can think of that's comparable. But the script
was in lousy shape. I got on the plane for South Carolina and was
going over the script when Peter, kicking all the world like Columbo, got
on board. There was a stopover. He finally walked over to me with his
head down and asked, 'What do you think of the script'"'
According to McGoohan, before he could really answer, Falk
was telling him what he thought of the script. Knowing that his guest
star was a talented writer, Falk asked him to polish the story.
McGoohan says he did a fair amount of rewriting on "By Dawn's
Early Light." "It needed fixing," he claimed.
Berk dismisses McGoohan's claims, calmly pointing out that the
Writers Guild decides who is entitled to credit.
"As a matter of fact," Berk said, "there were very few changes
made. There's little difference between the original script and what
ended up on the screen. I have no idea of what McGoohan says he
did. He couldn't have done all that much. There's no way he could.
There's no question about that. Patrick is a very flamboyant
Character-period, end of story.'
Both Hargrove and Fischer say some rewriting was necessary, yet
neither man remembers it being that extensive.
"All of the scripts needed some rewriting," Fischer said. "The job of
story editor requires, by necessity, a lot of rewriting. A lot of it is to
protect the character. Freelancers write terrific plots, but they get lost
because they don't understand the character. You have to have
Columbo, not semi-Columbo. I'd sit at my typewriter and do the
character as I was writing to make sure it sounded right. My
children would look at me like I was nuts. I wouldn't even realise I
was doing it. "
The question of who did what on "By Dawn's Early Light" was
further muddled by the appearance of MCA Publishing's British
edition of the Columbo novel The Dean's Death. The American
Popular Library edition, one of six tie-in paperbacks issued in a series,
says that it's an original novel by Alfred Lawrence. This seems entirely
plausible. Lawrence wrote the first book in the series, and it was an
original novel. The other four books were written by different authors
and were based on episodes. Yet the British copy says that The
Dean's Death is adapted from the episode "By Dawn's Early Light,"
written by Howard Berk.
What makes the reference all the more strange is the fact that The
Dean's Death bears almost no relation to "By Dawn's Early Light."
The murder is different. The characters are all completely different.
About the only similarity is the academic setting. Placed on the
campus of fictional Meredith College, Lawrence's novel deals with a
school president, Franklin Torrance, who kills Dean Arnold Borchardt
(with a lead pipe) to cover up an affair with Linda Kittredge, a
beautiful coed. The story is unfamiliar to Berk, so it's hardly likely that
Lawrence based his novel on any draft of the script.
"I have several copies [of The Dean's Death]," Berk said, "but I
must confess that I've never read it. It does sound like a bit of a
What we do know is that the Writers Guild was sufficiently
convinced that Berk's name belonged on the episode as the author.
McGoohan may or may not have fine-tuned his strong concept at
Falk's request. We also know that, whatever the process was, the
results were brilliant.
"That's probably my favorite [of the three Columbo episodes],"
McGoohan said. "It might be my favorite role in the United States. It
took a bit of work, but I thought it was excellent. It was on the basis
of that experience that I agreed to do the others."
The excellence of McGoohan's characterisation was recognised the
following May when he was awarded the Emmy for Outstanding
Single Performance by a Supporting Actor in a Series.
"It was a terrific part," he commented. "I made him somewhat more
neurotic. I didn't see the commandant as a villain. Not at all. He
thought he was doing the right thing He committed a murder because
of his ideals. He would live and die a soldier."
And you could say that Falk and McGooohan hit it off in a big way.
"Patrick McGoohan was great for the series." said Richard
Levinson, who was still keeping close tabs on the show. "I just loved
him. And so did Falk. They had a real love affair going on the set.
Their acting styles clicked. They both were very caring and dedicated,
so those episodes took forever."
"It was a very happy experience," McGoohan agreed. "With Everett
producing, the decision-making was quite simple. Peter has
extraordinary concentration, which, of course, is the essence of
Columbo. There's two marvelous things about Coiumbo You know
who the murderer is and Columho is always up against an able
protagonist. How is he going to catch him this time?"
Again, the humor was used wisely. When Rumford starts to take a
liking to Columbo, he asks. 'Do you have a first name?"
"l do," the lieutenant answers "My wife is the only one who uses it"
Since we never see Mrs. Columbo, the odds against learning his first
name are prohibitive. By now, viewers were demanding to know
Columbo's first name. it was never given, but columnists have
mistakenly said it's Frank and Joseph. Falk had a stock answer.
Whenever anybody asked him Columbo's first name, he would say it's
"Lieutenant." About ten veers after "By Dawn's Early Light" aired, a
popular trivia-minded board came incorrectly gave Columbo's first
name as Phillip.
"By Dawn's Eariv Light" is the first episode to feature character
actor Bruce Kirby as Sergeant Kramer. Kirby had already appeared
in the third season's "Loved hut Lethal" as a lab attendant. Kramer,
though, became a recurring character during the fourth and fifth
seasons. Kirby would appear in six episodes. Only Falk and Dog
appeared in more.
Return To Season 4 ...