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"What Did You Pay For Those Shoes?"

A Look At Shoes, Clues, and Columbo  

Columbo created a defining moment for himself in "The Most Crucial Game", early in the second season.  

The family attorney, Walter Cannell, is pressing Columbo about his reason for nosing around the victim's home, when Columbo abruptly changes the subject, glancing down:

" don't mind if I ask you a personal question, do you?"


"What did you pay for those shoes?"

The lawyer is taken aback, but thinks he paid "about sixty dollars." Columbo, explaining that he ruined his shoes by stepping into some water at the murder scene, presses his luck:

"You don't know where I could get a pair that looks like that, for around sixteen or seventeen....?"

And so a part of the Columbo legend was born.

"What did you pay for your shoes?" became a Columbo catch-phrase. Although Columbo said it only once, the line became the standard joke for stand-up comedians throughout the 1970s and beyond, doing their Columbo impressions.

The question seemed to epitomize Columbo: the combination of silliness and impertinence, asking the question that seems both blunt and inane, masking the true purpose of the inquisitor.

Peter Falk himself embraced Columbo's association with this line, and played off it for years.  

When Columbo appeared at the Dean Martin Roast of Frank Sinatra (see "Columbo Meets Sinatra"), after being formally introduced by Dean Martin, Columbo studied Dean's tuxedo shoes, and asked him:

"One quick question, if you don't mind, uh...Those shoes, they're not rented, are they?"

Peter Falk has even imagined Columbo's most famous question following him beyond the grave and into eternity. On the Bravo interview show "Inside the Actors Studio", James Lipton asked Peter Falk one of Lipton's patented philosophical riddles, and got this response:

"If heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive?"

"What did you pay for those shoes?"

And so, let us take a look back at "Columbo and Shoes".

Columbo's Shoes: The Origins

Second only to the trademark raincoat, Columbo's shoes were the next part of Columbo's wardrobe which helped to create the character.

Like the raincoat and the suit, the shoes belonged to Peter Falk before they were Columbo's. Peter Falk is a purist of the old school, who believes that an actor is responsible for finding and putting together his own costume.

Peter found the shoes, already old and battered, by rummaging around in his closet. He decided that they would be Columbo's because they "looked like something an Italian immigrant would wear." Indeed, this style of high-topped shoes can be commonly seen in photographs of immigrants and their children from the late 1800s through about the 1930s.

Today, this kind of shoe is seldom worn by American men, but Columbo has never changed his style, and never will.

One Pair of Shoes  

In a later scene in "The Most Crucial Game", Columbo walks up to a spectator at a basketball game, who is wearing high-topped shoes similar to Columbo's. Staring intently at the man's feet, and without a word of introduction, Columbo asks him, "Where did you get those shoes?"

The man says "Miller's, on Wilshire". And perhaps Columbo paid a visit to Miller's, because afterward, at the travel agency, Columbo complains that his new shoes are killing him.  

Five years later, in "Try And Catch Me", Columbo again claims to be in the market for a new pair of shoes -- perhaps a different style -- in the scene where the victim's shoe is matched to a footprint in the garden.

In characteristic manner, Columbo shows off his extensive knowledge of shoe history:

"Wait a minute, let me see that shoe. Well that's a very nice shoe. You like that shoe, sergeant? It's practically new. That's terrific! I'm looking for a pair of shoes just like this. See, I like them rounded toes. It's French style. The French started that. [He looks inside the shoe] Oh, made in Italy. Well, what's the difference, I like em, see. Used to be very big in this country."

At this point, Abigail Mitchell approaches.

"How do, Maam!"

"Well if you fancy them, Lieutenant, as Edmund's legal heir, I'm empowered to make you a gift of his shoes."

"Aww,  that's very kind of you Maam, but no thanks. It's true I am in the market for a pair of shoes, and I was caught by the style, but they're not my size."

Also, in "Make me A Perfect Murder", Columbo claims that he is considering the purchase of a new pair of shoes...OR, a new bumper for the Peugeot.

But even though the writers contrived to give Columbo a fresh pair of shoes in 1972, and even if a new pair was made when the series resumed in 1989, mythically and practically it can be said that Columbo has only owned one pair of shoes.  

When Columbo's shoes are seen in close-up in "An Exercise In Fatality", only two years after "The Most Crucial Game," the shoes certainly look like they've been beating the streets for an eternity.  

"Butterfly In Shades Of Grey" features a commentary on the ancient and disreputable appearance of Columbo's shoes, carrying the tradition over to the ABC series.  

Columbo shows up at a television studio, during the filming of a soap opera scene  (set in a skid-row alley), and he is immediately mistaken for one of the extras in costume as homeless people.

The assistant director, marveling at Columbo's totally authentic look as a homeless person, says: "Nice shoes, I like the touch!"

Indeed, the only known exception to Columbo's customary footgear (other than his $16.95 tuxedo shoes or other "special" costumes) is in the hospital scene in "Prescription: Murder", where Columbo can be seen walking the halls in a conspicuous, light tan pair of hush-puppies. After this one awkward, early experiment, Columbo put his real shoes back on, and kept them on.

In reality, Peter Falk did wear the same pair of shoes as Columbo, throughout the run of the original NBC series.

Mike Lally, Jr, son of the ubiquitous "Columbo" extra Mike Lally, told The Ultimate Columbo Site that the wardrobe guy, an Irishman named Killen, had the task of carefully tracking Columbo's shoes and collecting them for safe storage at the end of each day. "They had lots of duplicates for Peter, but they only had one pair of shoes, so Killen had to have the shoes back every night."

Peter Falk tells the story of the time when one of Columbo's shoes almost came to ruin, and had to be resuscitated.

In "Forgotten Lady" there's a scene where a stunt man, dressed as Columbo, drops down from a tree. The stunt man landed badly, and injured his ankle. The ankle swelled up so much that the shoe had to be cut off - in fact, the shoe was sliced to ribbons.

Peter Falk, by then, had come to see Columbo's shoes as an important good luck charm. He refused to return to work without them.

Columbo's shoe crisis put the studio in desperation, so the finest shoe repairman in Beverly Hills was called in on the case. After a very expensive cobbling job, Columbo's shoe was saved, and Columbo went back to work.

And so Columbo's shoes, like Columbo himself, have lived on, a little battle-scarred but essentially unchanged.

"Shoes Clues"

Columbo's fascination with shoes has allowed him to spot clues that other detectives might have missed.

Over the years, Columbo has proven repeatedly that his interest in shoes is one of his best crime-fighting tools.

"An Exercise In Fatality"

Perhaps Columbo's most famous "shoe clue," inspired when Columbo sees a mother tying her son's shoelaces at the hospital. Columbo studies a photograph of the victim's sneakers, and compares the laces to those on the street-shoes found in the victim's locker.  

The way the sneakers were tied, proves that the sneakers were put on the victim, presumably after death, by the murderer. Milo Janus (Robert Conrad) is the only person who claimed to know, on the night of the murder, that the victim was wearing his exercise clothes - a fact that could only be known only by the killer who tied the laces on the dead man's sneakers.  

Another interesting bit of "shoe trivia" from this scene: Columbo displays his old sneaker, surely one of the rattiest shoes on earth. There's a big hole ripped in the top, threads are popping out all over, and the sides are splitting off the sole. This harkens back to Columbo's remark in "Candidate For Crime", that his brother is 38 years old and "still has his sneaks from high school." As Columbo told Nelson Hayward, "it's a family trait."

"Candidate For Crime"

Only a man with Columbo's eye for both character and footwear could have caught this clue: the victim's shoes don't match his watch.  

The watch is "a skinny little thing", whereas the shoes are heavy-duty with thick soles, built to take a beating and last forever. The shoes and the watch, he says, are "oil and water". Columbo sees this as evidence that the flimsy watch was planted and smashed to fake the time of death. (See "The Smashed watch Trick")

"Murder With Too Many Notes"

Columbo's eye for shoes is so sharp that he notices a clue so subtle, that only a magnifying glass can properly bring it out: an old photograph of the victim, wearing sneakers with a tuxedo.  

This explains why the victim showed no interest in shoes when renting his tuxedo (the tailor just guessed the size, and threw in the shoes with the rental), and why the victim was discovered in tuxedo shoes several sizes too large. Like the victim in "Exercise In Fatality", poor Gabe McEnery was put into his shoes by the killer.

"Lady In Waiting"

Columbo notes that no grass clippings were on the victim's shoes, despite the fact that the lawn had been freshly mowed. This is one of Columbo's clues that the victim really entered the house through the front door, and not through the glass doors directly into the killer's bedroom, as the killer claimed.  

Note the "goof" when Columbo explains this, out on the lawn. Columbo removes his own shoe, to show the grass clippings, then walks away with the shoe magically back on his foot. Even in the uncut version, there is no shot of Columbo putting the shoe back on.

"Fade In To Murder"

Columbo sneaks into Ward Fowler's trailer and examines the actor's shoes, then tries them on, discovering that Fowler wears "elevator" shoes as Detective Lucerne. This explains why the killer appeared shorter than Fowler, since he simply wore flat shoes at the time of the murder.  

Columbo neatly covers his warrantless intrusion by wearing Lucerne's hat together with the shoes -- so that when Fowler walks in and catches Columbo in the act, it appears that Columbo was not snooping professionally as a cop, but merely playing dress-up as a fan. Columbo's bashful grin, beaming from under the panama hat, is a masterful bit of acting.

"Murder, Smoke And Shadows"

Columbo examines the victim's shoe and instantly knows that it reflects the manner of death - electrocution, which caused the heel to blow right off the sole, leaving a sticky reside.  

Not only that, Columbo's expertise tells him that the shoe was probably "made in Portugal".

The missing heel is discovered at the murder scene, near the metal fence where Alex Brady had watered the street to better conduct the fatal jolt of electricity.

“Grand Deceptions” - Shoes at Gettysburg

The key issue is the timing of an elaborate table-top Civil War battle scene, with miniature models, that was set-up by the killer in the office of Col. Pagett, on the night of the murder.  The Colonel is therefore a crucial witness, so Columbo needs to win this man's confidence, and does so with his own knowledge!

Col. Pagett, at first reserved upon greeting Columbo, fancies himself the only Civil War expert in the room, when he shows Columbo the battle re-creation in his office.  Columbo, much to the Colonel's surprise, immediately recognizes the scene not just as from Gettysburg, but as the Battle of Cemetery Ridge.

"What do you know about Cemetery Ridge?!" asks the Colonel, clearly impressed.  Columbo goes on to explain that his "nephew" is a Civil War re-enactor. Pagett quickly loosens up and expounds upon his own theory of Gettysburg, about how Longstreet's delay was the "fatal flaw".

"Uh well," says Columbo, "the fatal flaw, Sir...I  always thought it was SHOES."

"Excuse me?" says Pagett.

To Pagett's astonishment, Columbo goes on to explain that "There was a shoe factory in Gettysburg....If General Lee hadn't needed shoes for his men, there may never have been a Battle of Gettysburg."

Pagett is then completely won-over by Columbo's knowledge of shoe-history. "Well, I'll be damned," he says, rolling his wheelchair over to greet Columbo warmly. "You're a good man, Lieutenant!  You KNOW things!"   And so Columbo cements his relationship with the key witness.

Columbo's shoe-theory about Gettysburg is not entirely fanciful.  There is a substantial body of discussion about this among historians and Civil War buffs, and although conclusions differ about the shoes' ultimate significance, this is another instance where Columbo's knowledge of shoe-history helps him to solve a murder.

Shoe and Heel Marks

Then there is a sub-category of "shoe clues", where Columbo finds marks at the murder scene, made by shoes or heels.  

In "Exercise In Fatality", one of the first clues is the brown heel-marks on the gym floor, indicating a struggle.  

In "Mind Over Mayhem", Columbo spots shoe-polish on the wall (confirmed by his "sniff test"), raising the suggestion that the victim was carried into the room.

And in "A Bird In The Hand", Harold McCain leaves tell-tale scrapes in the asphalt while crawling under Big Fred‘s car to plant the bomb. Columbo discovers the significance of the scrapes while attempting to re-create the bomb-planting maneuver in a fancy car showroom, leaving his own heel-marks all over the floor. Columbo then confronts Harold, whose boots have sharp silver heel-guards, perfect for scraping asphalt.  

Bonus "shoe clue" in this episode: after Harold is killed by Delores, Columbo digs deep into Harold‘s boot to discover wet socks, soaked in sweat - a clue to the time and circumstances of death.

"Whew!" says Columbo, sniffing a wet sock. "Ripe!"

It's not always easy, being the world's greatest shoe detective.

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