* Peter Ustinov should have been Inspecteur Jacques Clouseau, prat-falling, accent-strangling terror of the Sureté. He quit. Peter Sellers moved in. And a superstar was born!
[Illustration by Graham Marsh, 1976]
“Where is my Surété-Scotland-Yard-type mackintosh?”
THE PINK PANTHER
Or how a Hollywood wife's decision to stay home created amost fortuitous casting change...
When Blake Edwards visited Janet Leigh shooting Bye Bye Birdie, 1963,hewas captivated by her in a black wig - and immediatelyoffered her the role of MadameClouseau. Janet politely declined.Euro-filmingfor several monthswould, she felt, not help her new (third) marriage to Bob Brandt.
And so Edwards told Peter Ustinov that his screen wifewould be Ava Gardner. "Infact,she turned out tobe Capucine,against whom I have absolutely nothing; she's a charming person. But I didn'tthink they'd been quite honest with me.They never discussed it.Just gave me a starting date and I said: I'd rather not do it."
“The excuse Ustinov offered made little sense,”
said Edwards, “which I’ve since learnt is simply
par for the course with a lot of actors”
He didn't have the contractual right to walk out. We were already in Rome and we had to either replace him or cancel the movie and start legal proceedings. Well, Sellers, wasavailable because he'd just walked out of Topkapi.I don't know this for a fact but it makes one suspect thatmaybe Ustinov quit ThePinkPanther to doTopkapi." (It won him a second Oscar).
Either way, Blake had first signed Robert Wagner and David Niven and the film was to be Niven's until Sellers walked in and activated Edwards with what Wagner called"the circus going on in his head."
Brigitte Bardot said she refused to be Madame Clouseau. Sellers and BB - mind-boggling!
Result: Sellers’ highest pay-cheque
and his biggest global triumph!
Ustinov was, naturally, delighted that Sellers swopped roles and became Clouseau. "I wouldn't have cared to do that sort of thing, wouldn't have done it in the same way, anyway - and it obviously did him a lot of good."
The other main switch was not such a casting landmark. UK character actress Brenda De Banzi took over the role of Angela Dunning from the far mightier Kay Thompson. Well, in Funny Face, Kay had told everyone to "think pink"...! By now, Kay was the best-selling creator of the Plaza-dwelling Eloise. She only ever made three films, including The Kid From Brooklyn, 1946, with Danny Kaye (the gay comic who loved dresssing up as her) and Tell Me That You Love Me, Junie Moon, 1970, with god-daughter Liza Minnell.
The film created five sequels and caused Sellers’ rapid antipathy towards Edwards. Peter was co-writing a sixth sequel when he died in 1980 - a loss paid homage to in grave-robbing fashion by Edwards, by adding Joanna Lumley to a bunch of previous Sellers out-takes in the deplorable, indeed revengeful Trail of the Pink Panther, 1982.
Peter had trouble in completing a scene of Clouseau mucking up street lingo during The Revenge Of The Pink Panther. He called Edwards before the next day’s take. “Don’t worry... I know how to do it.... I’ve talked to God and he told me how to do it.’
And it was still... awful.
And Blake Edwards said: “Do me a favour, Peter. In future, tell God to stay out of showbusiness.”