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Mrs Columbo Revealed!

The miracle of Mrs Columbo is that although she is never seen or heard, she makes her presence felt throughout "Columbo".  Without ever showing her face, she remains  a major character in the show,  capturing our imagination and affection.  Her success is a testament to the power of good writing in "Columbo".

Editor's Note: We have never seen Mrs Columbo -- all we know about her is what we can gather from her husband's remarks over the past 30 years.  The picture that thus evolves is  a vivacious woman of endless energy and wide-ranging interests, who keeps her husband going and is never far from his mind.

But Columbo is a notoriously unreliable historian.  Part of Columbo's charm is that we never know when he is speaking literally, or when he is embellishing and improvising -- especially if he is talking to the murderer.  So anything Columbo says must be taken in context. 

Everything we are told about Mrs Columbo must be viewed against this background.   What we present here is just what Columbo claims about his wife at various times -- the real truth about Mrs Columbo is something each viewer must judge personally.

Does Mrs Columbo Exist?

Mrs Columbo has proved so elusive over the years, never showing up even when her appearance has been foretold, that a few fans have put forth the bold theory that maybe there is no Mrs Columbo -- perhaps she lives only in his imagination, to be used as a handy rhetorical device.

Do we know for sure that Mrs Columbo exists?

There are several reliable reasons to believe that she does.

At least three independent witnesses have reported sighting or dealing with her:

In Troubled Waters" the ship's captain (Patrick Macnee) assures Columbo that he saw Mrs Columbo get on board.  And Columbo's agitation in looking for her is real -- he has no ulterior motive to pretend that he has lost his wife on the

Mrs Columbo

Later in the same episode, the ship's purser (Bernard Fox) sees her at least twice.

And in Caution: Murder Can Be Hazardous To Your Health the dog groomer has received instructions directly from Mrs Columbo -- she orders the special pedicure for the dog.

In No Time To Die Columbo is at the wedding of a close family member and he is asked about his wife. Of course Mrs Columbo is not present!... but we may infer that guests at a Columbo family wedding would not be asking about Mrs Columbo if she were a figment of his imagination.

And we have seen Columbo talking with his wife by telephone on several occasions -- or if she is not his wife, he is talking to a woman who is clearly on an intimate basis with him, and who orders him to buy groceries for her.

So we have a pretty good idea that Mrs Columbo is a real person.  Everything else about her must be seen in our own imagination.

What Does Mrs Columbo Look Like?

In a recent chat on "The View," Barbara Walters asked Peter Falk what Mrs Columbo was like.  His answer began, "Well, I knew right from the get-go that we would never see her, so I didn't waste a lot of time thinking about what she was like".

But astute fans will note that we have several clues to Mrs Columbo's physical appearance.

Mrs How tall

In the opening scene of  Troubled Waters Columbo is desperately looking for Mrs Columbo, so we may assume that his description is accurate.   She is shorter than Columbo --  he says that she comes up to about his hairline.  And she has black hair, apparently quite long, which she is wearing up in a bun.

We also know that Mrs Columbo "was never thin," and it is implied that she is rather voluptuous.  In "An Exercise In Fatality," Columbo describes Mrs Columbo's struggle with her weight, and explains that he "wouldn't let her" be
too thin. 

Mrs How tall

Columbo says "Y'see, I happen to like a woman who's..." -- here, Columbo holds his hands in front of his chest, seemingly starting to cup his hands in a gesture for "got big breasts" -- then he catches himself, and abruptly changes the subject.   A fascinating glimpse of Columbo's taste in women, and the closest we get to a description of his wife.

Wasn't Columbo's Wife Played By Kate Mulgrew?

Not Mrs Columbo

No.  The official pronouncement of everyone associated with "Columbo" is thatthe character played by Kate Mulgrew, in the series initially called "Mrs Columbo," was married to some other cop who happened to also be named Columbo.

"Mrs Columbo" was the brainchild of  NBC entertainment president Fred Silverman, who hoped to carry on a little of the "Columbo" mystique without Columbo, soon after "Columbo" ended its NBC run..  Richard Levinson and William Link regarded the idea as heresy, but Silverman said he'd do it without them.   "The magic of Columbo's wife is that you never see her," Levinson protested.

The "Columbo" creators wanted no part of the concept, but they urged Silverman that if the show had to be done at all, a suitable actress would be Maureen Stapleton.   Fred Silverman refused, insisting that Mrs Columbo would be young
and gorgeous.  Link and Levinson stormed out, and the talented but miscast Kate Mulgrew got the role.

Mulgrew's Kate Columbo was a part-time reporter for a pennysaver newspaper, who often found herself engaged in crime-solving.

Peter Falk was blunt: "It was a bad idea.  It was disgraceful."

The show ran from February, 1979 through December, 1979.  In that short time, the show underwent several major overhauls and had four titles, going from "Mrs Columbo" to "Kate Columbo" to "Kate the Detective," then "Kate Loves a Mystery."

The show was long gone before the real "Columbo" made his return on ABC, but Levinson and Link had an idea of how to treat this series on "Columbo".   They wanted to have Columbo complaining, "There's a woman who's running around pretending to be my wife.  She's a young girl.  She's charging things.  I wish my wife was like that.  She's an imposter."

Apart from the off-camera statements by the "Columbo" creators, the shows themselves provide evidence that the Kate Mulgrew character was not the wife of the famous Lieutenant.  In one of several major changes over the series, Kate Mulgrew's character was DIVORCED and took on the name Kate Callahan.
But it is clearly known in "Columbo" that the Lieutenant has never been divorced -- "Heaven forbid!"

As further proof that Mulgrew's "Kate" was not married to the "Columbo" character, consider her age. Even if we accept Fred Silverman's notion that Columbo married a younger woman, Kate was so young that the marriage not only would be a stretch -- it would be illegal almost anywhere in America!

Kate Mulgrew was age 24 when cast by Silverman in 1979, which means that when we first heard Columbo discussing his wife in "Prescription: Murder," she was 13 years old.

So, "Columbo" fans are welcome to enjoy the Kate Mulgrew show on its own merits, or as an amusing footnote in "Columbo" history.  But do not be fooled -- the real Mrs Columbo has never been seen, and probably never will be.

"Where Is Your Wife, Lieutenant?"

Mrs Columbo

Forgotten Lady "Well, she's a little under the weather, ma'am."

Mrs Columbo

Any Old Port In A Storm "Well, we had a little trouble with the baby sitter...You know what it is when you have kids."

UndrGlasWhereswife.jpg (15833 bytes)

Murder Under Glass "Well sir, it's her night school , final exam in accounting . She was dyin to come here, but at the last minute she decided, she better take the exam."

Mrs Columbo

No Time To Die "She had to go to Chicago to look after her mother. She fell and broke her hip. Her mother, she was having fun at the time, ma'am -- learning how to skateboard."

Mrs Columbo

A Matter Of Honor "It's my cousin Vito's anniverary tomorrow, so I put her on a bus to Los Angeles."

Mrs Columbo

Rest In Peace, Mrs Columbo "This woman's schedule, I mean, you wouldn't believe it..."

Mrs Columbo

Caution: Murder Can Be Hazardous To Your Health "Gee, she was here a minute ago...probably in the ladies room..."

Troubled Waters "Lef'tenant, isn't that your wife -- getting into the launch?"

Love And Marriage

Columbo talks about  his wife so often, with such ease and familiarity, that we feel she has been in his life forever.  But that is not the case.

It is clearly established in "Death Hits The Jackpot" that Columbo is celebrating his 25th wedding anniversary in 1991.  This is corroborated because he is talking to fellow cops about it and we see him shopping for a present. (Columbo
makes vague comments about a slightly different wedding date in "Rest In Peace, Mrs Columbo", but admits he's not sure at the time.) 

So Columbo was married in 1966, barely a year before we first meet him in "Prescription: Murder".  This puts Columbo's chatter about his wife in its true perspective -- he is filled with thoughts about her as they are practically newlyweds.  And over the years, his fascination for her never dies.

In "The Columbo Phile," the great Columbo historian Mark Dawidziak suggests that Lieutenant Columbo and his wife were childhood sweethearts, but the basis for this theory is not given, and we have reason to doubt it.

Without getting into the whole chronology of Columbo's life and career -- which will be the subject of a future article -- we know that Columbo moved to Los Angeles from another area, most likely New York, in the late 1950s.  So Columbo got married long after he moved to California, and probably met his wife there. 

Mrs Columbo's mother lived in Fresno, California, as of 1974 (Mind Over Mayhem), consistent with Mrs Columbo growing up as a California native. 

Also, Columbo once took his wife on "a trip" to see the house where he grew up, which implies that she had never been to the place where Columbo spent his childhood - Make Me A Perfect Murder

While we have several reasons to think that Columbo met his wife in California,  we see no evidence that instead they were childhood sweethearts. We have heard  Columbo mention two of  his crushes from younger days, and neither of them was Mrs Columbo:

When Columbo was in the third or fourth grade, he wanted the attention of a pretty red-haired girl in the front row, so much that he taught himself the art of thumb-flipping small objects, probably spitballs, with pinpoint accuracy
(Dagger Of The Mind). 

So we know that from a young age, Columbo had an eye for the ladies and would go to considerable lengths to gain their approval. But this girl was not Mrs Columbo, who has black hair, not red.

In high school, Columbo went steady with a girl named Theresa, clearly not the future Mrs Columbo.  He gave Theresa his ID bracelet.  Columbo describes with obvious pride how  he ran into Theresa many years later, and she told him that she had kept the bracelet -- he was quite "impressed". - By Dawn's Early Light.

We can only speculate as to how many other women Columbo dated before he met the one great love of his life.  There are indications that he is shy, or at least modest, about matters of sex, but Columbo is clearly a man who appreciates women. We have seen his eyes light up around many beautiful women,  and heard his eccentric flirtatious remarks,   and we can see his gregarious and deeply romantic nature.  So we may assume that Columbo pursued an active
social life whenever his crazy job allowed the time.

Apparently at some point Columbo decided to make some major changes in his life.  He uprooted himself in the middle of his police career and moved to California, where he met the future Mrs Columbo.  Love came to Lieutenant Columbo well into his adulthood, and it would be the romance of a lifetime.

How long did Columbo date his wife before they were married?

In "Lovely But Lethal" (1973), Columbo tells Viveca Scott that he has been seeing her image on all of Mrs Columbo's make-up products for the last 12 years -- since 1961.  So for at least five years before the wedding, Columbo and his future wife were intimate enough that he was familiar with her make-up
-- which might even suggest that they were living together.  They enjoyed a long courtship.

In "No Time To Die," Columbo recalls their wedding day with dreamy nostalgia.   The reception was held at an Italian restaurant. He held Mrs Columbo in his arms, and as they danced to the musical strains of "Vinnie Scavelli and His
Paisanos", she was light as a moonbeam. 

They have been together now for close to forty years, and Columbo has never looked back.

"My Wife Is A Big Fan Of Yours..."

Columbo has arrested more than his share of evil celebrities, and it seems that without exception, all of these murderers are especially admired by Mrs Columbo.  If Columbo is to be believed, his wife is a "big fan" of every famous killer in Los Angeles.

Or is Columbo just flattering these suspects to get them talking?... perhaps seeking an autograph to get their fingerprints?  You decide.  Here are a few examples of Mrs Columbo's fatal fandoms over the years:

She's a big fan of the  TV cooking show hosted by Dexter Paris (Martin Landau) - Double Shock

She's "very enthusiastic" about wanting to attend a seminar given by Dr Eric Mason (Nicol Williamson) - How To Dial A Murder

She's the first to put in her order at the library whenever there's a new mystery book by Abigail "The Best In Murder" Mitchell (Ruth Gordon) - Try And Catch Me

She and Columbo "never miss" Detective Lucerne (William Shatner) on television - Fade In To Murder

She's a fan of  the sex book written by Dr Joan Allenby (Lindsay Crouse) - Sex And The Married Detective

She never misses "Crime Alert", a TV show similar to "America's Most Wanted",  hosted by Wade Anders (George Hamilton), and she is always trying to spot a fugitive from the show - Caution: Murder Can Be Hazardous

She's a big fan of Nora Chandler (Anne Baxter), and has seen every one of her movies - Requiem For A Falling Star

She is also a big fan of Grace Wheeler (Janet Leigh), and has seen all of her musicals - Forgotten Lady

She uses only "Beauty Mark" cosmetics -- Columbo has seen her use that brand for 12 years (1973),  and each jar bears the likeness of Viveca Scott (Vera Miles) - Lovely But Lethal

She likes the music of  Tommy Brown (Johny Cash) - Swan Song

She's a great fan of Congressman Paul Mackey, who is part of Oscar Finch's murder cover-up in "Agenda For Murder", and she'd love to get his autograph.

"My wife would love to have your autograph."
"What's her name?"
"Mrs Columbo."

Mrs Columbo: Crime Solver

In "Double Exposure," Columbo says that his wife has "got no head for crime" -- when they watch mystery movies, "she always picks the wrong guy as the murderer".  Nevertheless, she provides vital help to Columbo on his cases.

In "Mind Over Mayhem," Columbo gives this description of his wife's important role in his crime-solving methods:

"When a case gets too tough, I gotta talk to my wife.  She doesn't talk about the case, she talks about everything else."  In other words, she helps him to think.  Her interests are so broad and so varied, that she is always likely to say
something to trigger a crucial inspiration.

We have seen a few cases where her input was quite specific.

In "Lady In Waiting," we hear that Mrs Columbo has "got a proverb for every situation...For her, a rolling stone gathers no moss, look before you leap...," and in the middle of an argument, she told him "You're putting the cart before the
horse."  It was this last proverb that solved the whole crime for Columbo: he realizes what's been bothering him , that the killer's boyfriend heard the shots before he heard the burglar alarm -- "the cart before the horse".

In "The Conspirators," Columbo has been trying to figure out the meaning of a note left by the victim -- "LAP 213".  The solution is found by Mrs Columbo, thanks to her voracious reading habits.  She reads in the newspaper that a ship bound for Ireland will be loading at Los Angeles Pier 213, which turns out to be the gun-running vessel that is key to the wholemurder.

Mrs Columbo fills her husband such love and devotion that he observes each tiny detail about her, which has helped Columbo on the job in surprising ways.  In "Murder In Malibu," Columbo solves the whole case by noticing that Mrs Columbo always puts on her Maidenform panties with the label on the left.

With her active mind, Mrs Columbo stimulates her husband to explore new areas of  his brain.  Mostly she helps him just by being herself.

Fast Fun Facts About Mrs Columbo

Here is a collection of  facts about Mrs Columbo.


She loves to dance - No Time To Die

Besides being "a terrific dancer," she is also "a very good singer" - Forgotten Lady

"She's crazy about music...Beethoven, that guy who wrote Marriage of Figaro...rock music too, it's on all the time when the nieces are over" - Identity Crisis

She plays piano -- "not very well," but he never tells her that. - Rest In Peace, Mrs Columbo 

She loves Chopin - Rest In Peace, Mrs Columbo

Her favorite piece of music is Madame Butterfly - Identity Crisis

Arts and Literature

She and Columbo both like Bette Davis movies - they watch Bette Davis movies together at 2 am - Publish Or Perish

She paints a little -- a lot of landscapes, the kind where you paint by the numbers -- "They come out pretty good" - Playback

She reads romance novels - Murder In Malibu

She reads Ann Landers' "advice to the lovelorn" columns, "like it's The Bible"
- An Old Fashioned Murder

She says that "Citizen Kane" is a masterpiece - How To Dial A Murder

She likes to watch soap operas - Butterfly In Shades Of Grey, - Rest In Peace, Mrs Columbo

She reads the whole newspaper -- including the obituaries, the personals, and even the shipping news - The Conspirators

Hobbies and Habits

For a while she was into soybeans and wheat germ - An Exercise In Fatality

She loves flowers - Playback

She has "gotten into plants ...she even talks to em" - Last Salute To The Commodore

She loves African violets - The Greenhouse Jungle

She buys a lot of flowers, and has "not a garden, more like a flower bed" -- but she has "a dead a green thumb, only the other way around ...everything she plants, dies" - Rest In Peace, Mrs Columbo

She buys pottery at The Farmers Market, like the Arabian-style urn on their dining room table - A Case Of Immunity

She bid $80.00 at an auction, for a footstool made out of coffee cans
- Death Hits The Jackpot

She's "a whiz" at crossword puzzles - The Bye Bye Sky High IQ Murder Case

She has a home computer, and "she loves it" - Agenda For Murder

She goes to night school, and at one point was studying for her "final exam in accounting" - Murder Under Glass

Between Columbo and his wife, "she's the athlete" - Murder By The Book

She bowls - The Most Crucial Game

She belongs to a bowling league -- they have an annual dinner dance, $17.50 per couple - Candidate For Crime

She loves marmalade - Rest In Peace, Mrs Columbo

Her busy schedule includes watching her sister Ruth's kids - Rest In Peace, Mrs Columbo

She does volunteer work at the hospital - Rest In Peace, Mrs Columbo

She is involved with church activities -  Rest In Peace, Mrs Columbo

She's fascinated by dreams -- writes hers down, and has been telling Columbo about them for years - Murder, A Self Portrait

She walks the dog five times a day - Rest In Peace, Mrs Columbo

Her most embarrassing habit is that every time they're in a fancy restaurant, she steals an ashtray - "She loves momentos" - Requiem For A Falling Star

Married Life

She's a neat housekeeper -- she keeps house "like a sergeant major"
- Grand Deceptions

She's "a remarkable woman...has lots of interests, but cooking isn't one of them"
- Murder Under Glass

Her cooking is "a disaster" - Swan Song

Columbo does all the grocery shopping for her - Double Exposure

Sometimes the Columbos entertain dinner guests at their home, such as Harry and Ethel, Norman, and "Uncle Gene and the twins" - An Exercise In Fatality

"When she hits a department store, she can forget anything -- even the fact that I'm outside waiting" - Suitable For Framing

She wants them to get a shag rug - Death Lends A Hand

She taught Columbo how to dance - No Time To Die

She used to "drag" Columbo to movie musicals - Forgotten Lady

Columbo would like to have a pinball machine in the living room, but she "would never go for it" - The Conspirators

She wants Columbo to quit smoking cigars because she says the smoke is harmful to her plants - Last Salute To The Commodore

When she does crossword puzzles, she gets Columbo to do them --  "It drives me crazy" - A Bird In The Hand

She takes care of Columbo's social life
- Candidate For Crime

When she "gets steamed," Columbo doesn't say too much
-- he waits "til it's safe"
- Murder In Malibu

Sexy, expensive lingerie is "something she wouldn't ordinarily
buy for herself"
- Death Hits The Jackpot

When a bookstore saleslady catches Columbo staring
at a book of erotic art, Columbo says that his wife would
"never go for it".  The saleslady suggests,
"Your wife might surprise you," and Columbo says:
"That's a fact, ma'am, but not fifty-five dollars worth"
- The Conspirators

She read a sex book called "The Courtesan Complex"
and she was "most anxious" for Columbo to read the
"sex fantasy" part
- Sex And The Married Detective

She's been hinting that they should get a water bed
- but when Columbo tries one, it makes him feel
"swimmy," and he says "It makes me wonder what
Mrs Columbo had in mind"
- Sex And The Married Detective

Every morning she gives Columbo a pencil, and
every day he loses it
- Prescription: Murder

When Columbo gets food poisoning from "bad clams,"
she treats him with soup made from chicken-fat
and lentils
- Strange Bedfellows


She's "very well organized"
- Candidate For Crime

She was "always a happy woman," but for
a while got depressed, thought she was
getting too fat --  she was binging on
lasagna and rigatoni.  But a TV exercise
show "saved our marriage"
- An Exercise In Fatality

She's never had her picture taken - she
believes she looks lousy in photographs
- Rest In Peace, Mrs Columbo

She's "very sentimental" about things
like wedding anniversaries -- she took a
bus home from Mexico, leaving Columbo behind, so
she wouldn't miss his cousin Vito's
11th anniversary 
- A Matter Of Honor

She cries easily --
"She cries when she loses at bowling"
- Swan Song

She "likes to have a good time,
and sometimes she gets carried away"
- Troubled Waters

Personal and Miscellaneous

She uses an eyebrow pencil to write
the grocery list
- Lovely But Lethal

She has "a cold nature," unlike her
husband's "warm nature" -- she's very
slow to get into a pool, and uses a hot
coffee cup to warm her hands
- It's All In The Game

She won a vacation cruise to Mazatlan in a
Holy Name Society raffle
- Troubled Waters

She wears only Maidenform panties, with
the label on the left
- Murder In Malibu

She likes antique jewelry
- An Old Fashioned Murder

Her car (in 1990) is a 2-door, green 1976 Ford,
license plate no 2SBI653
- Columbo Goes To College

She has been treated by an osteopath, who in turn
referred Columbo to a chiropractor
- Make Me A Perfect Murder

She loves marmalade - Rest In Peace, Mrs Columbo

She never goes anywhere, especially to dinner,
without going to the bathroom at least twice
- Rest In Peace, Mrs Columbo

Mrs Columbo Comments On Her Husband

She likes Columbo's hair grown out long
- Forgotten Lady

She prefers that Columbo smoke a pipe, instead
of cigars - but he "can't get used to em,  too
much stuff to carry around"
- Prescription: Murder

She suggested that Columbo get psychiatric help,
because of his feeling that he bothers people
- Prescription: Murder

"You're very observant, Lieutenant."
"That's not what my wife says"
- Death lends A Hand

She says Columbo doesn't have enough
- Death Lends A Hand

She says Columbo is so forgetful that he ought
to have strings tied around all ten fingers
- Prescription: Murder

She says she's gonna send Columbo's suit out
"to be cleaned and burned"
- Columbo Goes To College

She claims that Columbo is "compulsive" about
tying-up loose ends
- Lady In Waiting

She claims he is "the second best man on the force
- there are 80 other guys tied for first"
- Short Fuse

She tells him that he has soft feet because
they sweat so much
- A Bird In The Hand

She claims he has a closed mind about movies,
books and music
- Rest In Peace, Mrs Columbo

She tells him the chili is going to kill him
- Rest In Peace, Mrs Columbo

Lieutenant Columbo Comments On His Wife

"I don't know what I'd do without her."
- Rest In Peace, Mrs Columbo

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