A Tribute to Peter Sellers

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A Tribute to Peter Sellers

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The career path which led Peter Sellers to become one of the great comic actors of our era was similar to that of many talented performers: He didn’t start out to become an actor.

Born on September 8, 1925, to parents who were travelling performers, he first became a drummer. This occupation was interrupted by World War II, which saw him spend much of the war entertaining the troops (due to poor eyesight which prevented him from becoming a pilot). After the war, he returned to playing drums, and supplemented his income with stand-up comedy routines at strip clubs. He had always had a talent for mimicry, and even got a BBC audition by calling them and impersonating a celebrity.

It was when he joined up with Spike Milligan, Harry Secombe and Michael Bentine and formed the Goons that his career finally took off. The Goons were a radio comedy team which had an enormous impact on British comedy (Monty Python owes a great deal to the Goons), performing on BBC radio from 1951 until 1960. Unfortunately, very few performances were recorded on film.

His movie career began in 1951, but it was his performance in Ladykillers (1955) with Alec Guinness that brought him to the attention of the moviegoing public. I’m All Right Jack (1959) brought him a BAFTA award as Best Actor, and The Mouse That Roared (1959) further solidified his reputation.

The 1960s were Sellers’ decade, with a dual role in Lolita (1962); the first Clouseau film, The Pink Panther (1963), in which he stole the stage from David Niven and created his most famous character; Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964), in which Sellers played three roles and had been scheduled to play a fourth (until he reportedly faked an injury to get out of it);A Shot in the Dark (1964), the more critically acclaimed followup to The Pink Panther; Woody Allen’s What’s New, Pussycat (1965), an occasionally very funny film that did well at the box office but didn’t win over all the major newspaper critics; and the hysterical farce The Wrong Box (1966), with a fine, scenery-chewing cast, including John Mills, Michael Caine, Peter Cook, Dudley Moore, and Ralph Richardson. But Sellers enjoyed working (and was accumulating ex-wives who needed to be paid), and so occasionally appeared in films during the next few decades that were not worthy of his talents. He also began experiencing health problems that would eventually lead to his untimely death.

Following a series of box office flops and unreleased films (After The Fox, The Party, The Magic Christian, Hoffman, The Blockhouse, A Day At The Beach, Ghost In The Noonday Sun and Where Does It Hurt?), he made The Return Of The Pink Panther (1974) and two more sequels, in addition to Murder by Death, which revived his career. After the best-forgotten Prisoner of Zenda, he was finally able to achieve a long-cherised goal and make a film version of Jerzy Kosinski’s Being There (1979), a wonderful movie which resulted in a second Oscar nomination, but proved to be his swan song. Sellers died of a heart attack in 1980.

Even in his more ill-conceived projects, Sellers was a joy to watch, an actor who lost himself in his often ridiculous characters. If he had only made his three Oscar and BAFTA-nominated films, plus the Pink Panther movies, his reputation would have been secure. In fact, his film career tends to overshadow the success of the Goon Show, without which British (and American) comedy wouldn’t have been nearly as funny. Join us in remembering Peter Sellers on what would have been his 80th birthday.

Peter Sellers Tributes/Pages

 

Selected Reviews of Peter Sellers’ Best Films

  • Lolita (1962) – Review by Frank Veenstra
  • The Party (1968) – Review by Tasha Robinson

Where to Find or See Peter Sellers’ Films

LovingTheClassics.com

Books by or about Peter Sellers

 

 

 

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