Patrick McGoohan and Peter Falk had a long association and friendship. In Patrick's first "Columbo" appearance, he was honored with an EMMY Award. Two years after this "Columbo", Peter asked Patrick to direct and star in "Murder With Too Many Notes" (2000). Patrick agreed to direct, declining to act in the project because he had just been in this (previous) project. True, this "Columbo" was his last acting job, the 2000 Peter Falk project was his last directing assignment.
Peter Falk and Patrick McGoohan collaborated on six "Columbo" movie of the week projects from 1974's "By Dawn's Early Light" (as an actor-Col. C. Rumord); 1975, "Identity Crisis" (as an actor-Nelson Breener, and as the Director); 1976, "Last Salute To The Commodore" (as the Director); 1990, "Agenda For Murder" (as an actor-Oscar Finch, and as the Director); 1998, "Ashes to Ashes" (as an actor-Eric Prince, as the Director, writer of the tele-play, Co-Executive Producer); 2000, "Murder With Too Many Notes" (Director, Writer, Co-Executive Producer). Patrick McGoohan previously was awarded an EMMY for his "Columbo" performance. Peter asked Patrick to return for this 1998 "Columbo - Ashes to Ashes" as the featured star role; rewriting the script (tele-play) and to direct the film. Their previous professional working association had been very creative and productive in their projects development. Falk was comfortable with this alliance because he relied upon McGoohan's creative and inventive scene motivation and performance development vastly improving production values. Incidentally, the 2000 "Murder With Too Many Notes" brought the pair together again, which Falk had wanted McGoohan to star in as the featured role, as well Direct. Patrick felt the Network would not approve of his (McGoohan) repeating as the featured actor, which Peter Falk reluctantly agreed with Patrick. In preliminary production, Patrick had revised and had completely rewritten the entire "Ashes to Ashes" tele-play's script. The script featured a mortuary setting, including the director's counseling office, casket display selection room, chapel, embalming laboratory, and crematorium.
The mortuary exterior setting was filmed at the Laury's Restaurant Garden Center and Retail Shop located in Glendale. The facility had been closed by the Laury's management, remaining vacant for a year, when the "Columbo" production team surveyed the sight for the film's mortuary exterior location. The Spanish themed facility had a huge parking area adjacent to the building's main entrance providing an area for a helicopter to land, and to lift off. The parking area was clear of overhead telephone and electric wires, no palm trees, nor planting that would obstruct a pilot maneuvering a helicopter into the landing sight. The buildings' interiors were impractical for filming. The art department added mortuary signs; plugged the central entrance arcade with a double door entrance which was matched on the Universal Studio stage mortuary interior foyer set; restoring landscaping to the sight's grounds with shrubs, palms, and flowering plants. Filming scenes involving the helicopter were done at the sight; one scene which required the helicopter to hover above the ground camera crew's angle shot of Sally Kellerman opening a cremation urn to scatter ashes in the wind. Not anticipating the back draft wind, when Sally opened the prop to dump sand, the dust and sand whipped back up into the helicopter and all over Sally! Another aerial helicopter sequence was filmed over the actual "Hollywood" sign with Sally Kellerman dumping the sand out of the prop urn. Creative license allowed the illegal dump! Only on a "Columbo"!!!