The Many Faces of Peter Sellers part 3: Being There and the many wives of Peter Sellers

Peter Sellers Being There
Throughout his fairly long career, Peter Sellers made many questionable career decisions. Some for the money, some for the plaudits and some pet projects. They were almost all further nails in his career coffin. However, these mistakes were not exclusively made in career decisions. They were also repeated with his wives.

Sellers met his first wife, Anne Howe, when they were both on national service during the war. They married in 1951 and Howe stuck with Sellers through his early career and through thick and thin. They had two children, Micheal and Sarah, and began to live a semi happy life in luxury. However, Sellers was not happy with staying still, he was a rolling stone, never wanting to gather moss. This is apparant by the amount of cars he would get through. By all accounts his first wife had three children to look after and Sellers idea of being a parent left a lot to be desired.

The semi happy home life was to be ruined however, when Sellers began work on The Millionairess with Sophia Loren, with whom he fell head over heals in lust. The story goes he came home and told his wife he was in love with Loren. He then spoke with his children. When one of his children asked, “Don’t you love us any more Daddy?” he replied, “Yes, of course…just not as much as I love Sophia Loren“.


Sellers continued his fruitless pursuit of Sophia Loren and the marriage to Anne Howe ended in 1961. Sellers pursuits of all things spiritual led him to Maurice Woodruff, spiritulist and medium (some would also say fraud). Sellers would consult Woodruff on each and every project, and film industry insiders got wind of this and would often pay Woodruff to steer Sellers towards a project. Rumour has it that Blake Edwards (creator of the Pink Panther) did just that to get Sellers on board a project. Unfortunately, unknown to Edwards, Sellers had noticed that Swedish actress/model/whatever, Britt Eckland, was staying at the same hotel in London as he was and he was slowly becoming infatuated with her.

When Woodruff announced that the spirits had told him that Sellers should pay close attention to “B.E.” (meaning Blake Edwards) Sellers saw this as a sign and rushed back to the hotel and asked Britt Ekland to dinner. A whirlwind romance followed and they were soon married and they had a daughter, Victoria. It didnt take long however for Sellers to go off of the rails and he began to be become jealous and protective of his young wife. He began to work with her on a few films and discourage her from taking her own projects. The marriage wasnt going well and when Sellers’ mother died, it came to an end.

The only woman that Sellers consistently cared about and consistantly wanted around was his mother. After her death Sellers began to become odd, erratic and very eccentric. Whereas before he was just awkward, now he was awkward and odd. On the set of The Pink Panther Strikes Again, Blake Edwards and his crew were having trouble getting Sellers out of his dressing room. When they eventually did get in they found him preying at a shrine for his late mother. When he got on set he did a scene that they had previously blocked out, complely different. When Edwards asked why he had changed it, Sellers replied, “I spoke with God, and he told me to do it that way”. Edwards considered the reply and then fired back with, “Peter, when you next speak to God, tell him to stay out of showbusiness.”

Sellers then spent the rest of his life flitting from one romance to another, at one point a very high Liza Minelli and Sellers announced to televison cameras that they were very much in love and would be married. When they came down, they obviously changed their mind as the marriage did not transpire. His next two wives were almost impulse marriages and were certainly destined never to last. Along with his career path of the 1970s, things in his love life were chaotic and ramshackle. He had also suffered further heart attacks and his health was dwindling.

He eventually moved to Gstard, Switzerland and became more introspective. In the winter of his life Sellers began to look backwards, reminiscing about the Goons in almost every interview and making more effort with his children. Though funnily enough, he did one day destory most of his vast personal photograph and letter collecion.

The one project that dominated Sellers’ life during this period however, was Being There. He based the performance of the character Chance on his hero Stan Laurel. Always the impressionist, he seems to be channelling Laurel in every scene.

The film opened in 1979 and was a critical success, exactly the kind of sucess Sellers hoped it would be, and he was nominated for an Oscar. Unfortunately, Hal Ashby, the director, decided to include a blooper reel over the end credits, which was a very odd move. A serious and thoughtful film suddenly had a comedy gag reel as the finale. Sellers was very dissapointed by this and he would eventually blame this (and he probably has a point) for his losing out on the Oscar to Dustin Hoffman for Kramer Vs. Kramer.

One more film would follow, The Fiendish Plot of Dr. Fu Manchu, a bizzare comedy which Sellers had a hand in writing and directed (Piers Haggard is down as director, but Sellers had him fired and took over). It is unfunny, ragged, confused and a waste of everyone involved. Sellers did not live to see the reviews however.

In July 1980, Sellers flew to London for a heart operation and a reuinion with the Goons. At the time he was co-writing a further Pink Panther film and was looking forward to having a chuckle with his old colleagues, but he never made it.

On the 24th July 1980, at the Dorchester Hotel, London, Sellers suffered his last heart attack and died. He was 52 years old.

Although Sellers was reportedly in the process of excluding his third wife (Lynne Frederick) from his will a week before he died, she inherited almost his entire estate worth an estimated £4.5 million while his children received £800 each. When Frederick died in 1994 (aged 39, of alcoholism), her mother Iris inherited everything, including all of the income and royalties from Sellers’ work. When Iris dies the whole estate will go to Cassie, the daughter Frederick had with her third husband, Barry Unger.

Sellers’s only son, Michael, also died of a heart attack at 52 during surgery on 24 July 2006 (26 years to the day after his father’s death).

In his will, Sellers requested that the Glenn Miller song “In the Mood” be played at his funeral.The assembled mourners could not help themselves but laugh as his coffin passed behind the curtain. He was cremated at Golders Green crematorium.

He leaves behind a legacy of comedy, some great, some bad, and cannot  but be remembered as a true great, but also a true enigma.

Originally posted 2013-03-14 20:09:53. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

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