The story of The Pink Panther
originated with screenwriter Maurice Richlin, who had won an Academy Award (with three other writers) for the Doris Day-Rock Hudson romantic comedy Pillow Talk
(1959). Richlin had been one of the writers on two previous movies involving Blake Edwards, Operation Petticoat
(1959), directed by Edwards, and Soldier in the Rain
(1963), which was co-written and produced by Edwards, with Ralph Nelson directing. Richlin approached Edwards with an idea for a story "about a detective who is trying to catch a jewel thief who is having an affair with his wife." The two knocked out a script that Edwards felt would be perfect for David Niven, modeled after his gentleman thief character in Raffles
Financing was secured from the independent Mirisch Company, which had seen great critical and commercial success with such productions as Some Like It Hot
(1959), The Apartment
(1960), and West Side Story
Blake Edwards initially cast Peter Ustinov as Inspector Clouseau. The recent Best Supporting Actor Oscar® winner for Spartacus
(1960) accepted but later withdrew from the production when he found out that the Mirisch Company would not meet the demands of Ava Gardner to play Simone, Clouseau's wife. Ustinov made his decision only days before principal photography was to begin, leaving Edwards, in his words, "ready to kill." The company brought a $175,000 breach-of-contract suit against Ustinov for the necessitating reorganization of the production schedule to accommodate recasting.
Peter Sellers was scheduled to being shooting Topkapi
(1964) in Turkey, Greece, and France when a friend warned him that co-star Maximilian Schell had a bad reputation for unprofessional working behavior. Sellers questioned director Jules Dassin about it and soon found himself out of a job. Edwards offered him £90,000 for five weeks work in Rome and Cortina, Italy. Sellers liked the idea that he would still be able to do an international ensemble production in appealing locations, as he would have with the Dassin movie, but he was even more excited about the chance to try his hand at performing physical slapstick comedy on screen.
The company was already in Rome at the Cinecittà studios when Sellers was hired on the recommendation of agent Freddie Fields. According to Edwards, "He got off the plane in Rome, we got in the car, drove back from the airport, and by the time we got to the hotel, Clouseau was born."
Several stories exist regarding Clouseau's genesis. Sellers claimed to have modeled Clouseau's look on a drawing of Captain Matthew Webb that appeared on boxes of matches by the Bryant and May company. (In 1875, Webb was the first person to swim the English channel without the use of artificial aids.) Sellers was supposedly inspired by Webb's mustache (although the actor had used mustaches in his characters for years) and exaggerated proud stance as it appeared in the image. "I thought Clouseau must have a thick moustache to prove to somebody or other that he's virile--and in command, you see," Sellers later explained. "And the hair fairly short, you know. And he'd use this French/English accent."
Although Sellers had frequently done exaggerated French accents, Edwards claimed the way Clouseau spoke was his
idea, inspired by a French concierge he had spoken to.
Actor Max Geldray, who had been a regular performer with Sellers on the BBC comedy program The Goon Show
, was always convinced Sellers based the character on one of Princess Margaret's hairdressers.
Sellers: "There are people like Clouseau all over the world. He's a man with great built-in dignity, you see. ... He's an idiot, and he knows that, but he won't let anyone else know that."
By Rob Nixon