march 2011


When Columbo Met The Chairman of the Board

A memorable encounter between the unassuming detective and Frank Sinatra

At the Dean Martin Celebrity Roast of Frank Sinatra in 1977, Columbo makes a surprise and uncredited appearance. Among the many other guests: Jonathan Winters, Ronald Reagan, Flip Wilson, Rich Little, George Burns, Orson Welles, Don Rickles, Jimmy Stewart, Redd Foxx, Dom DeLuise, Ernest Borgnine and Gene Kelly.

Dean Martin explains that Sinatra had recently borrowed Columbo's raincoat to sling over his shoulder on the Pal Joey album cover, so Sinatra invited Columbo to attend the roast.

Seated in the back of the room, Peter Falk, in character as Columbo, offers a bashful wave when introduced, then shuffles to the podium where he has “one quick question” for Dino, concerning the host’s shoes: "They're not rented, are they?" Turning to Sinatra, Columbo presents the Chairman of the Board with a pan of Mrs. Columbo's homemade lasagna, and warns him not to clean the Teflon pan with steel wool. “Rinse it out with water when you’re done. And there’s an address in there, you just drop it in any mailbox.”

Columbo visits Frank Sinatra on The Dean Martin Celebrity Roast (1977)

Trying to ingratiate himself with the Chairman, Columbo says his wife's family knows all about show business, citing the experience of her cousin Dominic from Hoboken. "He knows show business, he knows Broadway...well, he sold barber supplies in the Times Square area for 17 years. This is his comb right here; you can’t lose this, it glows in the dark." He adds later, when talking about how his family--not him--suspected “a few years ago when you retired because your voice got a little tired, they claim now that when you make a record that Jerry Vale does the singin’ for you.”

As usual when meeting a celebrity, Columbo asks for an autograph. After pestering Sinatra with different instructions on how to address the autograph to his wife and himself (“you don’t have to write out lieutenant--just put Lt.” “Could you put the Mrs. first?”), Columbo finally tells him "even better, just put, ‘To Rose. Frank Sinatra.”

Sinatra waves to Mrs. Columbo, who is watching on television ("Hi, Rosie!") and Columbo closes by persuading Sinatra to join him in singing a few bars of "Bye-Bye Blackbird.”

This is one Peter Falk's few appearances as Columbo outside the context of the TV series. It may also be the only time his wife’s name was ever mentioned on screen.

Jonathan Winters, portraying Elwood, Sinatra’s bus driver, remembers the early years on the road with Ol’ Blue Eyes

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