Peter Falk's real wife appeared on Columbo more than any other actress
The real Mrs. Columbo was hiding in plain sight.
We're used to watching Columbo searching for clues, but on the set of Mikey & Nicky, the actor found himself suddenly looking for love. He was struck by a woman who caught his eye on the sidelines while he was filming. So struck, in fact, that he had to stop everything and meet her. In an interview with the Los Angeles Times in 1991, the actress who Peter Falk eventually married, Shera Danese, described their meet-cute moment: "He saw me walking down the street and that was it."
By the time Mikey & Nicky was in theaters at the end of 1976, the pair was not only already inseparable, but Danese had already made her first appearance on Falk's series Columbo. The episode was "Fade In to Murder," and in it, the actress who'd previously only been seen in bit parts suddenly found herself wedged between two of the most towering TV actors of all time: Peter Falk and William Shatner. Although her performance suited the story, Danese downplayed her role at this humbling time, saying in the interview, "As soon as I came out here in the mid-'70s I did a Columbo. I was dumb then. I was just checking my lip gloss."
It would not take long for Danese to appear on another episode of Columbo, and it will come as no surprise to fans of Peter Falk who know how much he adored Danese, by then they were also already married. Danese said at the time she was a mess during filming. The pressure was on. She described her biggest issue working with her husband for the first time: "I didn't know how to act as a person. I didn't want to act like his wife."
As their bond grew, so did her parts on Columbo, featuring more prominently in episodes where she often played the love interest of the criminal Columbo was investigating. Such was the case in "Murder Under Glass," "Murder, a Self Portrait," "Columbo and the Murder of a Rock Star" and "A Trace of Murder." In the same interview with L.A. Times, Danese revealed she actually wanted a different part in "Columbo and the Murder of a Rock Star." She wanted to play the victim! Apparently, Falk said no because of a certain scene, but she did halfway get her way. Danese said, "I wanted to play the rock star ... but he wouldn't let me because she is in bed with some young guy. But I am singing her songs. How is that for a twist? She is doing the scenes and I am doing the singing."
Perhaps the most delightful performance to watch between the husband and wife onscreen, however, came in the 1994 episode "Undercover." In it, Columbo goes undercover and tries to fool Danese's character, a proprietess of an art gallery who isn't fooled by Columbo's disguise one bit. Here, we get to see the couple exhibit their clear chemistry, and there's even some champagne involved (even though Columbo abstains to keep a clear head, of course).
In the end, Shera Danese featured in more episodes of Columbo than any other actress. And while the series never had the heart to make the real Mrs. Columbo a murderer, at least they made up for it by giving her a ton of killer jewelry. Meanwhile in the lovebirds' actual life, Danese and Falk were one of those Hollywood couples who were truly in love. They were married for 33 years, and although plenty of people considered Columbo kooky on the show, in the real world, the actor admitted that was at least partly true when he gushed at an awards ceremony: "I'm crazy about my wife."