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Barbara Colby
Born July 2, 1940(1940-07-02)
New York City, New York, United States
Died July 24, 1975 (aged 35)
Venice, California, United States

Barbara Colby (July 2, 1940 – July 24, 1975) was an American actress.


Early career

Born Barbara Colby in New York City on July 2, 1940, 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 and Dear Liar, and garnered fine reviews for her Portia in Julius Caesar in 1966.


Colby's first important television role was in an episode of the television series Columbo, 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 and 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 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, she appeared in two films, California Split and Memory of Us. Early in 1975, she co-starred in Rafferty and the Gold Dust Twins.

It was in a MTM Productions role as a worldly prostitute opposite Mary Tyler Moore in an episode of the The Mary Tyler Moore Show that led to an appearance in a subsequent episode.

In 1975, MTM cast her as the new regular player on the Mary Tyler Moore Show spin-off, Phyllis, starring actress Cloris Leachman. Colby, who appeared earlier 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.


On July 24, 1975, just three episodes into the TV series, Colby and an acting colleague, James Kiernan, 35, were walking to their car following an acting class in Venice, California, when they were deliberately shot inside a parking area. Barbara Colby was killed instantly. However, Kiernan was able to describe the shooting to police before he also succumbed to 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. The killers were never identified. [1]

The role of Julie Erskine on Phyllis was taken up by actress Liz Torres. Colby's final appearance was in the TV movie The Ashes of Mrs. Reasoner, which aired in 1976.

At the time of her death, Colby was separated from her husband, Bob Levitt, son of Ethel Merman.


Year Title Role Other notes
1968 Petulia Patient Uncredited
1969 N.Y.P.D. Lila TV, 1 episode
1971 Columbo: Murder by the Book Lilly La Sanka Television movie
The Odd Couple Monique TV, 1 episode
1972 Look Homeward, Angel Miss Brown Television movie
1973 The F.B.I. Marti TV, 1 episode
McMillan and Wife Linda Comsack TV, 1 episode
ABC Afterschool Special TV, 1 episode
1974 Judgement: 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 TV, 2 episodes
1975 Rafferty and the Gold Dust Twins Alternative title: Rafferty and the Highway Hustlers
Phyllis Julie Erskine #1 TV,3 episodes
1976 The Ashes of Mrs. Reasoner Television movie


  1. ^ "Liz Torres joined cast of 'Mary Tyler Moore' spin-off Phyllis after tragedy," Winston-Salem Journal (NC), March 13, 2004, TV Journal page 8.

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