From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Bert Freed (November 3, 1919 — August 2, 1994) was a prolific American character actor, voice over actor, and the first actor to portray Detective Columbo on television. Born and raised in The Bronx, New York, Freed began acting while attending Penn State University, and made his Broadway debut in 1942. Following World War II Army service in the European Theatre, he appeared in the Broadway musical The Day Before Spring in 1945 and dozens of television shows between 1947 and 1985. His film debut occurred, oddly enough, in a musical Carnegie Hall (1947). A prominent role was as the villainous Ryker in the television series Shane, in which Freed added a unique touch of realism by beginning the show clean-shaven and growing a beard from one week to the next, never shaving again through the season. Freed played Columbo in a live 1960 episode of the Chevy Mystery Theatre seven years before Peter Falk played the role. Thomas Mitchell also played the part on stage prior to Falks version, which is probably where many of the eccentric Columbo traits originated; only a few were visible in Freeds straightforward interpretation, although the character as played by Freed is recognizably Columbo. He appeared (sometimes more than once) in television shows such as The Rifleman, Bonanza, Gunsmoke, The Big Valley,The Virginian, Mannix, Barnaby Jones, Charlies Angels, Then Came Bronson, Run For Your Life, Get Smart, The Lucy Show, Hogans Heroes, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, Dr. Kildare, Ben Casey, Perry Mason, Combat!, Petticoat Junction, The Outer Limits, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Route 66, Ironside, The Green Hornet, The Munsters, and many, many more. He directed one episode of T.