Would the Real Mrs. Columbo Please Stand Up?

In 1979, Kate Mulgrew (Captain Janeway for you Voyager fans) created the role of Mrs. Columbo on a show of the same name. The show lasted for two seasons.

Now, I admired Kate Mulgrew, and I think she makes a fine Captain Janeway, but as Mrs. Columbo . . . she just wasn't right.

Granted, Mrs. Columbo is something of a enigma. Columbo constantly makes references to his wife, but it is hard to know how many of his references are based on actual fact and how many are simply used to put his suspects at ease. Nevertheless, there are a few "real" encounters that give us an idea of Mrs. Columbo.

First, whenever Columbo calls, she is never home. Usually another member of the family answers the phone. Where is Mrs. Columbo? Out looking for flea market bargains or at a movie with one of her numerous family members. All this gives the impression that Mrs. Columbo is a bit of a go-getter, an energetic ball of fire.

This impression is furthured when Mrs. Columbo and Columbo go on a cruise. She's always off to see a show or to see sites on the mainland. The cruise episode also gives us some insight into the marriage. When Columbo gets lost on the ship (lending support to the idea that Columbo is sometimes as scattered as he appears), he calls the room. "I don't know where the hell I am," he says bemusedly. His tone is neither that of the hen-pecked husband nor the blustering husband. It is the tone of one companion to another--hey, you know what my weird life is like, help me out.

This easy-going tone gives credence to Columbo's claim that he discusses his cases with his wife, and she gives him good guidance So Mrs. Columbo is not only a go-getter but a pretty sharp cookie.

Kate Mulgrew's Mrs. Columbo is a go-getter, but she's a Captain Janeway type of go-getter: very WASPy and goal-oriented. Columbo, on the other hand, creates a picture of his wife as less goal-oriented and more a thousand-irons-in-the-fire kind of a chick. Less corporate, more bohemian. Less concentrated ambition, more holy-rolling "are we having fun yet" extrovert. She cooks, and she shops, and she makes pottery, and she likes movie stars and traveling and . . .

I personally picture her as a small (shorter than Columbo) Italian woman--kind of like Rhea Perlman.

I think Mrs. Columbo (1979) was a worthwhile concept, but it needed, well, Rhea Perlman to really pay off. If it were to be done now, I would tweak the concept a bit. Kate Mulgrew had Mrs. Columbo be a part-time working mother: a reporter with one daughter (I think the existence of other children is implied). Frankly, there have been enough shows about reporter-detectives and forensic-detectives and just plain old detectives. It's time for the revival of Miss Marple--Italian mama style!

I would portray Mrs. Columbo as a tightly wound, very funny, little Italian woman who doesn't work (which doesn't mean she's home any more than if she did). She's always hauling her kids off places or running out to shop with her numerous siblings and every time she does, she encounters a crime! Mrs. King, only less spies and more murder.

It's time for the return of the domestic female detective!

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