The thirtieth episode of Columbo was titled Forgotten Lady and was the first episode of the show’s fifth season. A one-time star of stage and screen kills her husband to fund a comeback. In this podcast Gerry and Iain look at the unusual circumstances that impede Columbo’s investigation and the unlikely resolution that follows.
Holywood icon Janet Leigh is mesmerising as Grace Wheeler, a faded star who dreams of a comeback – unaware of the brain tumour that will soon kill her. Perceiving her husband, Dr Henry Willis (Sam Jaffe), as an obstacle, she kills him and fakes his suicide before forgetting her role in his death completely on account of her illness. Without recourse to a killer’s incriminating behaviour there is a greater challenge facing Columbo than usual.
Leigh herself was a Holywood star in the 50s and 60s, starring in a number of productions including Walking My Baby Back Home, a fictionalised version of which appears in the episode. Her face became familiar to film fans around the world when it was used to promote the Alfred Hitchcock movie Psycho – in which Leigh starred and for which she won a Golden Globe and an Academy Award nomination – in 1960. From 1966 onwards the vast majority of her work came on television, including appearances in The Love Boat and The Twilight Zone.
John Payne played a key supporting role as Ned Diamond, Grace’s long-term dance partner and friend, while Maurice Evans and Linda Gaye Scott were charming as Raymond and Alma, the household’s housekeeping husband-and-wife team. Johnny Carson also made an appearance as the couple tuned in to his show at the end of a day’s work.
Harvey Hart‘s third of four directorial stints followed By Dawn’s Early Light and A Deadly State of Mind from Season Four, while William Driskill penned the second of his three 1975 episodes to follow Troubled Waters. Neither man had any further association with Columbo past the end of the fifth season.
We asked on the podcast if anyone knew whether Johnny Carson recorded the clips used specifically for Columbo. If you have thoughts on that or any other aspect of Forgotten Lady please share them below, or find us on Twitter at @columbopodcast.
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Forgotten Lady was released in 1975. It is 100 minutes long and originally aired on the NBC network. It can be viewed on Netflix in the United States and is available on DVD in other countries, including a comprehensive box set of all eleven seasons released by Universal.