Barbara Colby

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Barbara Colby
Barbara Colby.gif
Born(1939-07-02)July 2, 1939
DiedJuly 24, 1975(1975-07-24) (aged 36)
Cause of deathGunshot wounds
Years active1964−75

Barbara Colby (July 2, 1939 – July 24, 1975) was an American actress.

Early career[edit]

Born in New York City on July 2, 1939, she started her acting career in the theater. Following a solid performance in Six Characters in Search of an Author in 1964, she moved to Broadway with a debut in The Devils the following year. Throughout the rest of the decade, she appeared in such plays as Under Milk Wood, Murder in the Cathedral, Dear Liar, and A Doll's House, and garnered fine reviews for her Portia in Julius Caesar in 1966.


Colby's first important television role was in the first season of Columbo in an episode titled "Murder by the Book" in 1971. Colby began a bi-coastal career and played a host of support/guest roles on such established shows as The Odd Couple, McMillan & Wife, The F.B.I., Medical Center, Kung Fu and Gunsmoke.

Colby appeared in 1970s plays such as Aubrey Beardsley the Neophyte, House of Blue Leaves, Afternoon Tea and The Hot l Baltimore. She returned to the classics with an off-Broadway role as Elizabeth in Richard III, and was back on Broadway with the plays Murderous Angels in 1971 and a revival of A Doll's House in the early part of 1975.

In 1974, Colby appeared in two films, California Split and Memory of Us. Early in 1975, she co-starred in Rafferty and the Gold Dust Twins.

A role as a streetwise prostitute opposite Mary Tyler Moore in an episode of MTM Productions' The Mary Tyler Moore Show led to an appearance in a subsequent episode. In 1975, MTM cast Colby as the new regular player on the Mary Tyler Moore Show spin-off Phyllis, starring actress Cloris Leachman. Colby, who had appeared with Leachman in the TV movie A Brand New Life in 1973, was cast as Leachman's boss, Julie Erskine, the owner of a commercial photography studio.

Personal life[edit]

Though she was born in New York City, she was predominantly raised in New Orleans, where she had interest in acting while attending high school. After graduating, she received a scholarship to Bard College on the Hudson back in New York. This was followed by a single semester at the Paris-Sorbonne University in France.


On July 24, 1975, Colby and acting colleague James Kiernan were walking to their car following an acting class in Venice, Los Angeles, California, when they were shot inside a parking area.[1][2] The murders occurred after three episodes of the TV series Phyllis had been filmed.[3] Colby was killed instantly, but Kiernan was able to describe the shooting to police before he died of his wounds. Kiernan said that he did not recognize the two men who shot them, and that the shooting had occurred without warning, reason or provocation. Police noted that there was no attempt to rob the pair and concluded that it was a random drive-by shooting or a targeted killing. The killers were never identified and the case remains an open cold case.[4]

At the time of her death, Colby was separated from her husband, Bob Levitt, son of Ethel Merman. Colby's final acting appearance was in the TV movie The Ashes of Mrs. Reasoner, which aired in 1976.

Colby was cremated. Her ashes were taken to sea by family and friends and dispersed in a ceremony off Paradise Cove on the Pacific Coast.


Year Title Role Notes
1968 Petulia Patient Uncredited
1969 N.Y.P.D. Lila TV, 1 episode
1971 Columbo Lilly La Sanka TV, 1 episode
The Odd Couple Monique TV, 1 episode
1972 Look Homeward, Angel Miss Brown Television movie
1973 A Brand New Life Jessica Hiller Television movie
The F.B.I. Marti TV, 1 episode
McMillan & Wife Linda Comsack TV, 1 episode
ABC Afterschool Special TV, 1 episode
1974 Judgment: The Trial of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg Television movie
Medical Center Mrs. Polumbo TV, 1 episode
Kung Fu Josie TV, 1 episode
Memory of Us Iris
California Split Receptionist
Gunsmoke Kathy Carter TV, 1 episode
1974–1975 The Mary Tyler Moore Show Sherry Ferris TV, 2 episodes
1975 Rafferty and the Gold Dust Twins Young Woman Alternative title: Rafferty and the Highway Hustlers
Phyllis Julie Erskine #1 TV, 3 episodes
1976 The Ashes of Mrs. Reasoner Muriel Fenton Television movie

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Barbara Colby". IMDb. Retrieved March 7, 2020.
  2. ^ "Six Youths Seized in Three Slayings And Thefts on Coast". The New York Times. United Press International. July 26, 1975. Retrieved February 21, 2021. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  3. ^ "The Unsolved Murder of Barbara Colby". The Life & Times of Hollywood. March 20, 2017. Retrieved March 7, 2020.
  4. ^ "Liz Torres joined cast of 'Mary Tyler Moore' spin-off Phyllis after the tragedy". TV Journal. Winston-Salem Journal. March 13, 2004. p. 8.

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