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By the time he starred in the delightfully caustic farce, Your Past IsShowing (1958), Peter Sellers was already a very popular performer in England.His work on the groundbreaking radio program, The Goon Show, helpedestablish a bizarre strain of British humor that would eventually lead toeverything from The Beatles' pop surrealism to Monty Python's loose-screwdismantling of upper-class mores. No one could deny Sellers' brilliantlytwisted creations. However, in the world of cinema, he remained just anotheramusing character actor, albeit one with a major cult following.
Sellers sensed - and prayed - that his role in Your Past IsShowing (titled The Naked Truth in England) would finallyestablish him on the big screen. "I want to be a star like mad," he said."This is my first starring role in a film. I hope it clicks, because then Ican get my teeth into other interesting roles. That's what being a starmeans to me- being able to pick and choose."
And so he became a star. It was obvious that his acerbic performance as TV personality Sonny MacGregor was the work of a supremely giftedactor. Your Past Is Showing's minimal plot revolves around a"scandal sheet editor" (Dennis Price) who tells an assortment of famouspeople that he'll suppress damaging stories about them if they pay him a fewthousand pounds. Sellers' Sonny is a vicious, two-faced swine, but that'spar for the course in this picture. These people actually deserve tobe blackmailed.
When Your Past Is Showing scored big with audiences and criticsalike, the challenging parts that Sellers had long dreamed of poured in.Unfortunately, he could often be a cruel man, and had trouble handlingsuccess. His old friend, Kenneth Griffith, once said of him, "He was mostof the time melancholy and troubled by his own fate...I don't think he evertackled a job, so far as I know, without this compulsion that he couldn't doit, and must get out of it."
According to co-star Terry Thomas (in Mr. Strangelove: A Biography of Peter Sellers by Ed Sikov), Sellers 'made one of his "protests" during shooting. He turned to [director] Mario Zampi and shouted, "The way you are making this film is ridiculous. You can't direct! I know much more about the camera than you do. I'll give you one more take and then I'm off!" Mario didn't reply. He stood there, shocked.'
In the wake of his first big-screen triumph, Sellers landed a plum stagerole in the political satire, Brouhaha. His off-stage behavior onthat production was just the beginning of what would become a lifelongproclivity toward abusing his star power.
National Theater director Sir Peter Hall later recounted Sellers' conduct:"He proved a very confident performer- at first. He was quick to takedirection, good at imposing himself on the material, very eager tocontribute some inspired touches." But there was a disturbing about-face bythe time the show opened. "He didn't show up at the run-through," Hallsaid. "He missed the dress rehearsal. He confessed he'd got cold feet."When Brouhaha also became a hit, Sellers would casually alter theplay at will. These unannounced departures from the planned dialogue andstaging hardly endeared him to his cast mates, not that that bothered him inthe least.
That's how it went with Sellers. By the time he died of a heart attack in1980, this troubled, utterly dazzling comic performer had been married fourtimes and had made enemies on just about every set he ever worked. Hissemi-controllable devilishness is probably why Sonny MacGregor is such amemorable creation. Sellers was acting, all right, but not as much hewanted everyone to think he was.
Director/Producer: Mario Zampi
Screenplay: Michael Pertwee
Cinematography: Stanley Pavey
Editing: Bill Lewthwaite
Art Direction: Ivan King
Principal Cast: Terry-Thomas (Lord Henry Mayley), Peter Sellers (SonnyMacGregor), Peggy Mount (Flora Ransom), Shirley Eaton (Melissa Right),Dennis Price (Nigel Dennis), Georgina Cookson (Lady Lucy Mayley), Joan Sims(Ethel Ransom), Miles Malleson (Rev. Cedric Bastable).
by Paul Tatara