Barbara Colby was a television and stage actress that seemed as if she was poised for great things before tragedy. Barbara caught the public’s attention thanks to a handful of appearances on The Mary Tyler Moore Show. With these appearances proving so successful that the actress was subsequently offered a role as a main cast member. On the 1975 spin-off Phyllis. Sadly, Barbara would only be able to film three episodes of the spin-off series before her life was taken from her. Join Facts Verse as we explore the unsolved case of Barbara Colby, Mary Tyler Moore actress gone too soon.
Barbara Colby was born in the Big Apple, New York City, on the 2nd of July, 1939. However, while the future actress was still young, her parents moved her out to New Orleans. It was here that Barbara would come of age. And it was also here that she would first develop her love for acting. Barbara first delved into acting during her senior year of high school. Quickly falling in love with the stage. And joining a local community theater troupe by the name of Le Petit Theatre du Vieux Carre. Which was located in New Orleans’ French Quarter.
While working with Le Petit Theatre du Vieux, Barbara was utilized mostly for her sewing skills. But also got several opportunities to stretch her muscles out on the stage. She performed in two minor roles during her time with the theater troupe. Eventually deciding that acting was something that she wanted to pursue professionally. The aspiring actress officially graduated from high school in 1957, and she did so with flying colors! Barbara’s high school success allowed her to attend a fairly prestigious school back in New York called Bard College. Barbara was glad for the opportunity to return to her home state. Considering that she had her sights set on Broadway. After attending Bard College, Barbara travelled abroad and attended a semester at Paris Sorbonne University, which is located in France.
Barbara’s Broadway Career
After her semester abroad, Barbara Colby returned to New York City and continued pursuing a role on Broadway. As she sought fame and glory in New York City. She managed to avoid the traps of drugs and alcohol that many other aspiring stars have fallen. Barbara developed a strong spirituality early on in her adulthood, leading her to never touch drugs or alcohol. This was perhaps why Barbara was able to find such quick success in the entertainment industry. However, Barbara’s healthy lifestyle wouldn’t be enough to save her from the later tragedy that would consume her at an all-too-young age.
After a few years of paying her dues in the industry. In 1965, Barbara Colby got the chance to appear on Broadway.. Her debut came in the play The Devils. And multiple other roles in Broadway productions came in the wake of this successful performance. While Barbara knew that stage acting was what she really wanted to do. Her successful Broadway performances also opened up the opportunity for the actress to start appearing on television. Knowing that it could be beneficial for her overall career. Barbara started taking these television roles, and they proved just as successful as her stage roles.
Barbara Colby’s Television Debut
The actress made her television debut in an early episode of the series Columbo. Following this appearance, Barbara would go on to travel back and forth between California and New York routinely. So that she could maintain her burgeoning careers on both the stage and the television screen. Besides Columbo, some of the many television shows that the actress could be seen in around the time included Gunsmoke, Kung Fu, Medical Center, McMillan & Wife, and The Odd Couple.
During the years that Barbara was travelling between California and New York City. She married her first and only husband, Robert Levitt Jr, the son of Golden Age actress Ethel Merman. They ended up divorcing, after which Barbara decided that she wanted to remain permanently in California.
Barbara in The Mary Tyler Moore Show
When she got the offer to be the main cast member on the series of Phyllis, It became one of the biggest reasons she wanted California to be her permanent home. Which was a spin-off of The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Barbara had previously performed on The Mary Tyler Moore Show multiple times. Cloris Leachman personally chooses Barbara as her co-star. Sadly, tragedy would strike before Barbara was able to make a name for herself on the series. If you’re enjoying this video so far, be sure to hit the like button to show your support! Also, subscribe to the channel if you’d like to be among the first to know when more Facts Verse videos are on their way!
After deciding to call California her permanent home, Barbara Colby began working as an acting teacher in tandem with performing her various television roles. While teaching, she fell in love with one of her students, named James, and the two ended up moving in together at a house in Topanga Canyon. On one night in July of 1975, Barbara and James were walking out of their acting school when something happened that would abruptly end their lives.
Barbara Colby’s Death
After school, Barbara and James socialized with some of Barbara’s other students in the parking lot before eventually making their way to their car just before midnight. As they were getting into their vehicle, a van drove up behind them. There were two men in the van, and those men proceeded to open fire on Barbara and her boyfriend. After the shots were fired, the van drove off. The men never left the van, and didn’t take anything from either Barbara or James. Barbara was shot only once, but the shot proved fatal.
The bullet had gone through her arm and penetrated her chest, with her lung being severely punctured. She died on the scene. Meanwhile, James was fatally wounded. But managed to survive long enough to be taken to the hospital and questioned by police. According to James, he had no idea who the two men in the van were or why they did it.
If it hadn’t been for a third party that overheard the gunshots and called the police. The authorities likely wouldn’t have been notified of Barbara and James’ murder until someone had stumbled upon their corpses the next morning. As the night went on, several other crimes were reported involving two men in a van. Leading the police to believe that the crime that had ended the lives of Barbara and James was part of a spree. However, all of the other victims of the two suspected men had been robbed. While nothing was taken from Barbara or James. Multiple men were brought in for questioning in relation to the crime. But the authorities never managed to pin the spree of crimes on any two culprits.
The Unsolved Case of Barbara Colby’s Death
To this day, the authorities are still baffled by the spree of crimes that left actress Barbara Colby and her boyfriend dead for seemingly no reason. After exhausting all of their suspects, they eventually gave up and decided to move on to more solvable crimes. At the time of her death, Barbara Colby had recently turned 36. And it seemed as if the burgeoning star had the whole world ahead of her! Not only was Barbara an incredibly healthy person with a positive outlook on life. But she was also quickly finding more success in her professional career than ever before. If the actress had been able to fulfill her duties as a main cast member on the show Phyllis, perhaps she would’ve grown to be as big of a star as Mary Tyler Moore or Cloris Leachman. Sadly, we’ll never know what she was really capable of.
Out of all the many people who would like to know the reason that Barbara Colby’s life was forced to come to an end so abruptly, perhaps the person who wants to know the most is the late star’s younger sister, whose name is Renee. Renee has continually pleaded with the public for anyone with information about the death of her sister to come forward, but it seems that the younger sister’s pleas have continued to fall on deaf ears. Despite not having any luck finding her sister’s killers, Renee manages to find peace in her belief that the two men in that van have likely found their comeuppance in some karmic way that she will never know.
Barbara’s Notable Career
Although Barbara Colby’s career was abruptly put to an end far too early, the actress still managed to perform in a few notable roles before her time came. The two episodes of The Mary Tyler Moore Show that Barbara appeared in remain fan favorites, thanks in no small part to Barbara’s deadpan comedic performances as prostitute Sherry Ferris. Barbara’s first appearance came in the episode “Will Mary Richard Go to Jail?”, in which the character of Mary does, in fact, go to jail. Whilst there, she begins socializing with cellmate Sherry. Barbara’s performance was so successful that she was brought back onto the show another time to reprise the role.
When Barbara Colby was invited to become a main cast member on Phyllis, she was given a new role to play. Barbara played the character of Julie Erskine for three episodes of the spin-off series before her life was tragically cut short. Phyllis ended up lasting from 1975 to 1977, though we’ll never known if it would’ve proved a more successful series if Barbara Colby hadn’t been taken from us.
Although actress Barbara Colby was sadly murdered before truly getting the opportunity to shine in the entertainment industry, she is still remembered thanks to her handful of memorable television appearances. Now it’s time to hear from you: did you know that the late actress Barbara Colby was married to Ethel Merman’s son, and that her murder at an all-too-young age remains unsolved to this day? As always, like this video to show your support, and subscribe and hit the notification bell if you’d like to be among the first to know when more Facts Verse videos are on their way!