Comedic genius Peter Sellers died July 24, 1980. Even all these years later, Sellers is still beloved for a wide range of movies – Dr. Strangelove, Murder By Death, Being There. But without a doubt, his most lasting legacy is his bumbling but vain detective Inspector Clouseau from the Pink Panther series.
At the helm of those classic comedies was Blake Edwards, Sellers' frequent director, who would have celebrated his 90th birthday July 26, 2012 (with wife Julie Andrews, no doubt), had he not died Dec. 15, 2010.
Today we're celebrating the work of these two greats by watching a few of our favorite Pink Panther scenes.
It all started in 1963 with The Pink Panther. But the collaboration between Sellers and Edwards almost didn't happen – Peter Ustinov originally was cast in the role of Inspector Clouseau, but Sellers jumped in as a last-minute replacement.
The movie was intended to showcase David Niven, who played a lord who lives a secret life as an international jewel thief known as "the Phantom." Inspector Clouseau was merely a supporting character, but Sellers' rendition of the clueless detective – who thought he was perhaps the greatest detective in the world – stole the show. As Edwards later recalled, he was very unhappy when Ustinov backed out, "but as fate would have it, I got Mr. Sellers instead of Mr. Ustinov—thank God!"
That great performance brought Sellers top billing in Pink Panther sequels – like the next in the series, A Shot in the Dark. The movie was adapted from a play that didn't include the Clouseau character… but as Edwards wrote the adaptation, along with co-screenwriter William Peter Blatty, he saw a place for Sellers in the script, and they wrote in the bumbling detective.
Sellers was notoriously difficult to work with, and the filming of A Shot in the Dark deeply strained his relationship with Edwards. There were times when they refused to speak to each other, communicating via notes, and by the end of the production, they had vowed never to work together again. But four years later, they were back in action – creating the non-Pink Panther movie The Party. And eventually, they joined forces again for more Pink Panther, with The Return of the Pink Panther in 1975, and The Pink Panther Strikes Back the following year.
In 1978 Sellers and Edwards collaborated on their final film, Revenge of the Pink Panther. After Sellers died in 1980, Edwards would release one final film with Sellers in the lead role, Trail of the Pink Panther, but all of Clouseau's scenes were cobbled together using deleted scenes from previous movies.
The relationship between the actor and his most frequent director wasn't an easy one, but it brought us some of the greatest comedy of the 20th century. Edwards, for his part, agreed that the result was worth the trouble:
"We clicked on comedy, and we were lucky we found each other, because we both had so much respect for it. We also had an ability to come up with funny things and great situations that had to be explored. But in that exploration there would oftentimes be disagreement. But I couldn't resist those moments when we jelled. And if you ask me who contributed most to those things, it couldn't have happened unless both of us were involved, even though it wasn't always happy."
Written by Linnea Crowther. Find her on Google+.