Archive for February 25, 2023


Posted in FILM, MUSIC, Radio with tags , , , , , , , , on February 25, 2023 by dcairns

Not that Columbo. RUSS Columbo.

I picked up Clive Hirschhorn’s The Hollywood Musical in a charity shop — a handsome volume, but higher-priced than my automatic purchase setting — and opened it, deciding to buy the thing if it seemed likely I’d learn anything interesting from it. The first paragraph I perused, I learned something interesting.

In the section on thirties musicals, Hirschhorn takes time to dismiss WAKE UP AND DREAM as not being worth waking up for, but includes the death of star Ross Columbo as a sidenote. It’s one of the more bizarre Hollywood expirations, the kind of thing we wouldn’t believe in a movie. You could say that, if he’d heard of it, Damien Chazelle was wise to exclude it from BABYLON. The suggestion of Chazelle being wise is so unlikely that we have to assume he never heard of it.

Columbo was a crooner: lugubrious and syrupy of voice, handsome in the Latin lover way. He died when a friend struck a match on a paperweight. The paperweight was a flintlock pistol, assumed by all to be unloaded. But it went off, the shot ricocheted off the desktop, and the baritone went down with a lead ball in his brain. He lived for six hours while surgeons tried to get the thing out.

This story would be extremely suspect save for the ricochet aspect — if the shooter, friend and photographer Lansing Brown, had planned a homicide, he could have hardly have scored a headshot on the rebound. He’d have to be REALLY good. But I bet you could make an episode of that other Columbo by prepping the desk to look like it had deflected a projectile, then coldly shooting RC above the eyebrow. In those days, I doubt ballistics would spot it. CSI Classic Hollywood, anyone?

So long as we’re making up murder stories about long-forgotten celebrities, actress Virginia Brissac was working as Columbo’s secretary at the time and was called to give evidence at the inquest.

My friend Mr. Randall Cook then informed me, conversationally, that the other RC was the love of Carole Lombard’s life. He was due to dine with her on the evening he was shot.

Wikipedia now steps in to the breach. Columbo’s mother was hospitalized with a heart condition at the time of his death. Her other adult children feared the news would kill her, so they kept it from her — for the remaining ten years of her life. “They used all manner of subterfuge to give the impression that Columbo was still alive, including faked letters from him and records used to simulate his radio program.”

Did people just have naturally more implausible lives in 1933? I guess they’d find us equally madcap if they could see ninety years ahead.