'Columbo': Who Did Peter Falk's Wife Play in the Iconic TV Series?

Few TV show characters have the shelf-life that Peter Falk’s Detective Columbo had from 1968 into the onset of the 21st-century.

The fictional detective, who debuted in the early 1960s, was a television staple for the better part of thirty years. Doing away with the whodunnit of the genre, Columbo is more concerned on the journey to catching a criminal that we already know is there.

What is ‘Columbo’?

Columbo was a different type of detective than the audience of the early 1970s was used to. The character appeared sporadically in other television shows and attempted to get a film or series off the ground. The 1971 premiere with Peter Falk remains the defining moment for the series.

According to IMDb, Falk got steady work as the character, who set the template for the tough-as-nails detective that still permeates today’s additions to the still-popular detective genre for the next 32 years. 

Columbo didn’t care what anyone thought of him. He often showed up to work looking like he just slept on the street. However, when it came time to solve a crime, few had a better track record than the titular character. He was mean, gritty, and oddly charming. It helped turn Falk into a household name that still rings a bell to a modern audience. 

Behind every man 

While the character of Columbo had a loving wife who never appeared on screen, Falk got his real-life wife involved with the series, which watched less like a serial and more like a movie of the week. Wanting to be a part of the act, Sera Danese, who met Falk in 1976 and married him the following year, was looking to get into the industry herself. 

At the time, Danese was a struggling actress and singer who was searching for her next big break. She spoke about her early attempts to show biz with her singing voice instead of her looks and acting. 

When I came out here, I started acting. Singing seemed to be a harder business to get into,” Danese told the Los Angeles Times in 1991. When she tried to get a role in the play Evita, producers told her that she was at just 5’7″ tall, too big for the role. She kept on striking out, getting little more than bit parts and walk-ons. 

When she married a man who was perhaps the biggest television star globally, everything changed. 

Art imitates life

During the show’s main run in the 1970s, Danese had several walk-on parts, usually as an extra with no more than a line or two. However, with Falk filming what amounted to a movie nearly every week, it was a way to remain involved and get herself some exposure. In the late 1980s, however, ABC looked to revive the Columbo character in their series of television films. 

According to Mental Floss, when Columbo and the Murder of a Rock Star was announced, Danese wanted in on the action in a more substantial way. After Falk shot down the possibility of playing the titular rockstar due to her love scene with a younger man, she instead got to play an attorney on the case. However, despite not appearing as the rock star on the screen, Danese did showcase her voice on the singles that the character sang. 

Danese and Falk remained together until Falk died in 2011. Danese has mostly been out of the limelight since her husband’s death. According to the Catherine Falk Organization website, Danese’s actions in his later days caused several states to enact laws regarding visitation and a dying person’s family members’ rights. Off-camera drama aside, however, Danese’s marriage to Falk got her the fame she wanted. While she may not be a primary cast member of the show, her fingerprints were on it several times. The entire story serves as a reminder of the transactional way that Hollywood relationships can benefit every party involved. 

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