Peter Sellers
(1925 - 1980)


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Richard Henry Sellers on September 8, 1925, he was nicknamed ‘Peter’ by his parents, Bill and Agnes Sellers, in memory of his brother, who was a stillbirth. Bill and Agnes made their living as performers on the British vaudeville circuit, and Sellers made his first appearance on stage only two days after his birth, when his father brought out his infant son during an encore. As a child, Sellers studied dance at the behest of his parents when not occupied with his studies at St. Aloysius' Boarding and Day School for Boys. Sellers also developed a knack for music, and in his teens began playing drums with local dance bands.


Shortly after his 18th birthday, Peter joined the Royal Air Force, and became part of a troupe of entertainers who performed at RAF camps both in England and abroad. During his time in the service, Sellers met fellow comedians Spike Milligan, Harry Secombe, and Michael Bentine; after the war, they found work as performers with the British Broadcasting Corporation, and Sellers hoped to follow suit. After several failed auditions, Sellers struck upon the idea of calling Roy Speer, a BBC producer, posing as one of the network's top actors. Sellers gave Sellers an enthusiastic recommendation, and Speer gave him a spot on the radio series ‘Show Time’.


After he signed on with the BBC, Sellers became reacquainted with Milligan, Secombe, and Bentine, and together they comprised the cast of ‘The Goon Show’, which upon its debut in 1949 became one of Great Britain's most popular radio shows; the absurd and often surreal humor of the Goons would prove to be the first glimmer of the British Comedy Movement of the '60s and '70s, paving the way for Beyond the Fringe and Monty Python's Flying Circus. The Goon Show provided Sellers with his entry into film acting, as he appeared in several short comedies alongside Milligan and Secombe, as well as the feature film Down Among the Z Men (aka The Goon Movie). Sellers also married for the first time during the height of Goon-mania, wedding Anne Howe in the fall of 1951.


Sellers won his first significant non-Goon screen role in 1955, with the classic Alec Guinness comedy ‘The Ladykillers’, but his first international hit would have to wait until 1958, when he appeared in George Pal's big-budget musical ‘Tom Thumb’. In 1959, Sellers appeared in the satiric comedy ‘I'm All Right, Jack’ which earned him Best Actor honors from the British Film Academy; the same year, Sellers enjoyed a major international success with ‘The Mouse That Roared’ (1959), in which he played three different roles (one of them a woman).

Whilst now firmly established as a comedy star, Sellers had a hard time finding roles that made the most of his talents, and it wasn't until after a handful of unremarkable features that he received a pair of roles that allowed him to truly shine. In 1961, Sellers starred as an Indian physician in ‘The Millionairess’ opposite Sophia Loren, based on a play by George Bernard Shaw (Sellers and Loren would also record a comic song together, ‘Goodness Gracious Me,’ which was a hit single in Britain, and a year later Stanley Kubrick cast him as Claire Quilty in his controversial adaptation of Vladimir Nabokov's novel ‘Lolita’ (1962) with James Mason playing Humbert.


1964 would prove to be a very big year for Peter Sellers; he would marry actress Britt Ekland in February (his marriage to Anne Howe ended in divorce in 1961), and he starred in some of his most memorable films. In ‘Dr. Strangelove, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb’ he was reunited with Stanley Kubrick; the film has many memorable scenes but one of my favourite,

President Merkin Muffley: ‘You mean people could actually stay down there for a hundred years? ‘

Dr. Strangelove: ‘It would not be difficult, Mein Fuhrer. Nuclear reactors could... I'm sorry, Mr. President... nuclear reactors could provide power almost indefinitely’


In the film he plays the well-meaning US President, unflappable RAF group-captain and the nightmarish Dr Strangelove himself (the government's adviser on nuclear warfare, who is unable to control his own body, the black gloved hand always trying to make a Nazi salute, expressing an ineradicable desire to dominate and destroy).













 

 

 

 

 

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