1990: Columbo vs. Hugh Hefner (sort of)

Sean Brantley (Ian Buchanan) conducts a con game with Lt. Columbo (Peter Falk).

Over the years, there have been many takeoffs based on Hugh Hefner and Playboy magazine.

Hefner’s death this week reminded the blog of one of the most amusing versions from 1990 when Lt. Columbo (Peter Falk) dealt with a Hefner-like character.

Columbo Cries Wolf did more than that. Writer William Read Woodfield (1928-2001) very much played with the normal Columbo formula. Years earlier, Woodfield, with his then-partner Allan Balter (1925-1984), had written key episodes of Mission: Impossible

Sean Brantley (Ian Buchanan) is the founder of a Playboy-like magazine, Bachelor’s World. Instead of Playmates, there are “Nymphs.” Instead of the Playboy Mansion, there is the “Chateau.”

However, in this story, the Hefner figure has a business partner (Deidre Hall) who owns 51 percent of the enterprise. She appears to want to sell out to a Rupert Murdoch-like media baron. But the partner goes missing and Lt. Columbo is assigned the case as a possible homicide.

Woodfield even works in a reference to a British police detective played by Bernard Fox in a 1972 Columbo story, Dagger of the Mind.

The first three-quarters of Columbo Cries Wolf unfolds as a typical Columbo outing. But Brantley pulls a switch, basically begging for publicity as Columbo’s investigation proceeds.

Los Angeles officials (including a nervous mayor played by David Huddleston) aren’t sure. The Police Chief (Columbo veteran bit part player John Finnegan) assures the mayor that the department’s “best man” (Columbo, finally getting some recognition for a spectacular record) is on the case.

Woodfield pulls a big switch when it’s revealed that no murder actually occurred, with Brantley and his partner pulling a con game on Columbo.

Despite that, Brantley’s business partner still wants to sell to the media baron (albeit at a higher price). So Brantley kills her for real this time.

Columbo, with egg on his face from the first fiasco, takes another turn at bringing Brantley to justice. The climax depends on early 1990s tech (which new viewers wouldn’t recognize.

Still, it’s one of the best episodes of the Columbo revival on ABC that ran from 1989 to 2003. (The original Columbo series ran from 1971 to 1977 on NBC.)

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Bernard Fox, busy character actor, dies at 89

Bernard Fox in The Thor Affair, one of the better episodes in the third season of The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

Bernard Fox in The Thor Affair, one of the better episodes in the third season of The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

Bernard Fox, a busy character actor whose career extended into the 21st century, has died at 89, according to an obituary in The Hollywood Reporter.

Fox, born in Wales, had roles beginning in the mid-1950s to 2001, according to his entry in IMDB.com.

The actor made guest appearances in a number of 1960s spy shows.

Among them: Three episodes of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (a two-parter in the second season as well as the title character in The Thor Affair in the third), one episode of The Girl From U.N.C.LE. (The Mother Muffin Affair, where he played a bumbling lieutenant of Boris Karloff’s Mother Muffin), The Wild Wild West and It Takes a Thief.

Fox could do both drama and comedy, but was often cast in comedic roles. The Hollywood Reporter obit led with his role as Dr. Bombay in Bewitched. He also played RAF Colonel Crittendon in Hogan’s Heroes.

In the latter role, Fox’s character didn’t know about Colonel Robert Hogan’s espionage operation in Stalag 13. But Crittendon, because he had more seniority, outranked Hogan (Bob Crane) and became the ranking Allied officer in the German prison camp every time he was stationed there.

This, of course, complicated whatever operation Hogan had underway at the time.