10 Things You Might Not Know About Peter Sellers

Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

We all know and love Peter Sellers for his iconic role as the bumbling Inspector Clouseau. On what would have been Sellers' 93rd birthday, here are 10 surprising facts about the actor.

1. HIS FIRST CAREER IN SHOW BUSINESS WAS AS A DRUMMER.

At age 16, Sellers toured the U.K. with several jazz combos. Later, when gigs were harder to find, he branched out, printing up business cards that hinted at his future as a man of a thousand voices. They said: Peter Sellers, Drums and Impressions.

2. HE MADE TWO COMEDY ALBUMS BEFORE HIS FILM BREAKTHROUGH.

Before he made it in the movies, Peter Sellers recorded two solo comedy albums for EMI Parlophone that were produced by George Martin, who would go on to work with The Beatles.

3. HE AND SOPHIA LOREN TEAMED UP FOR AN ALBUM.

In 1960, Sellers recorded an album with Italian actress/sex goddess Sophia Loren, entitled Peter & Sophia. It yielded a novelty hit, “Goodness Gracious Me,” that went to number four on the U.K. pop charts.

4. SELLERS DUBBED BOGIE'S VOICE IN BEAT THE DEVIL.

During the filming of John Huston’s Beat The Devil (1953), lead actor Humphrey Bogart was in a serious car accident and had several teeth knocked out. When he was unable to provide some of his dialogue, Sellers was hired to dub his voice. It remains undetected in the movie to this day.

5. THERE WERE A LOT OF CONNECTIONS TO THE FAB FOUR IN SELLERS' LIFE.

In addition to being good friends with both George Harrison and Ringo Starr, in 1965 Sellers made the pop charts again with a comic version of “A Hard Day’s Night,” recited as if he were Shakespeare’s Richard III. Further, during the making of The Beatles’ White Album, Ringo gave Peter a tape of rough mixes. Auctioned off after Sellers’ death, it became the source of one of the most sought-after Beatles bootlegs ever—usually called “The Peter Sellers Sessions.”

6. SELLERS TALKED TO GOD. AND GOD GAVE HIM SOME BAD ADVICE.

After a long day of grappling with a troublesome scene in one of the Pink Panther movies, Sellers phoned director Blake Edwards in the middle of the night. “I just talked to God!” the actor exclaimed. “And he told me how to do the scene.” The next day, on set, Edwards let Sellers demonstrate the divine intervention, and it was a disaster. Edwards said, “The next time you talk to God, tell him to stay out of show business!”

7. SELLERS HELPED THE PRODUCERS FIND DISTRIBUTION.

When Mel Brooks had difficulty finding a distributor for his first film, Sellers stepped in. He urged top producers to watch the movie, and took out full page ads in Variety and The Hollywood Reporter, saying, “This is one of the greatest comedies that’s been made recently.” His championing of The Producers gave it the industry buzz that turned it into a hit. Ironically, the year before, Brooks had pitched Sellers on playing a lead role, but Sellers was supposedly too busy at the time shopping at Bloomingdale’s to really listen.

8. SELLERS WAS SUPERSTITIOUS ABOUT A LOT OF THINGS, ESPECIALLY COLORS.

Green gave Sellers “strange vibrations” and disturbed him. He never wore it, and refused to act with anyone wearing green. Purple was even worse. During the making of After The Fox, director Vittorio De Sica flew into a rage one day when a script girl showed up in a purple outfit. “It’s the color of death!” De Sica told Sellers, and Sellers was haunted by this for the rest of his life.

In later years, Sellers' aversion to purple produced such volcanic tantrums that publicists would scour his proposed hotel rooms in search of the color, and if they found it, change the room.

9. HE BASED CHANCE THE GARDENER ON STAN LAUREL.

For his Oscar-nominated role as Chance The Gardener in Being There, Sellers based the tone and cadence of the character’s speaking voice on one of his comic idols: Stan Laurel.

10. HE HAD 15 HEART ATTACKS.

In 1980, Peter Sellers died from a massive heart attack. But it wasn’t his first—it was his fifteenth. He’d had one in 1977. And in 1964, during the filming of Billy Wilder’s Kiss Me, Stupid, Sellers suffered a series of 13 heart attacks over a period of a few days. At one point he was pronounced dead for a minute and a half.

This article originally appeared in 2011.

When Mississippi Once Banned Sesame Street

Children's Television Workshop/Courtesy of Getty Images
Children's Television Workshop/Courtesy of Getty Images

Since it began airing in the fall of 1969, Sesame Street has become an indelible part of millions of children's formative years. Using a cast of colorful characters like Big Bird, Bert, Ernie, and Oscar the Grouch, along with a curriculum vetted by Sesame Workshop's child psychologists and other experts, the series is able to impart life lessons and illustrate educational tools that a viewer can use throughout their adolescence. You would be hard-pressed to find anyone—even Oscar—who would take issue with the show’s approach or its mission statement.

Yet that’s exactly what happened in early 1970, when a board of educational consultants in Mississippi gathered, polled one another, and decided that Sesame Street was too controversial for television.

The series had only been on the air for a few months when the newly formed Mississippi Authority for Educational Television (also known as the State Commission for Educational Television) held a regularly scheduled meeting in January 1970. The board had been created by the state legislature with appointees named by Governor John Bell Williams to evaluate shows that were set to air on the state’s Educational Television, or ETV, station. The five-member panel consisted of educators and private citizens, including a teacher and a principal, and was headed up by James McKay, a banker in Jackson, Mississippi.

McKay’s presence was notable for the fact that his father-in-law, Allen Thompson, had just retired after spending 20 years as mayor of Jackson. Highly resistant to integration in the city during his tenure in office, Thompson was also the founder of Freedom of Choice in the United States, or FOCUS, an activist group that promoted what they dubbed “freedom of choice” in public schools—a thinly veiled reference to segregation. Mississippi, long the most incendiary state in the nation when it came to civil rights, was still struggling with the racial tension of the 1960s. Systemic racism was an issue.

Entering this climate was Sesame Street, the show pioneered by Joan Ganz Cooney, a former journalist and television producer who became the executive director of the Children’s Television Workshop. On the series, the human cast was integrated, with black performers Matt Robinson and Loretta Long as Gordon and Susan, respectively, appearing alongside white actors Jada Rowland and Bob McGrath. The children of Sesame Street were also ethnically diverse.

Zoe (L) and Cookie Monster (R) are pictured in New York City in November 2009
Astrid Stawiarz, Getty Images

This appeared to be too much for the Authority, which discussed how lawmakers with control over ETV’s budget—which had just been set at $5,367,441—might find the mixed-race assembly offensive. The panel's participants were all white.

The board pushed the discussion aside until April 17, 1970, when they took an informal poll and decided, by a margin of three votes against two, to prohibit ETV from airing Sesame Street—a show that came free of charge to all public television stations. (The decision affected mainly viewers in and around Jackson, as the station had not yet expanded across the state and was not expected to do so until the fall of 1970.)

The members who were outvoted were plainly unhappy with the outcome and leaked the decision to The New York Times, which published a notice of the prohibition days later along with a quote from one of the board members.

“Some of the members of the commission were very much opposed to showing the series because it uses a highly integrated cast of children,” the person, who did not wish to be named, said. “Mainly the commission members felt that Mississippi was not yet ready for it.”

The reaction to such a transparent concession to racism was swift and predictably negative, both in and out of Mississippi. Board members who spoke with press, usually anonymously, claimed the decision was a simple “postponing” of the show, not an outright ban. The fear, they said, was that legislators who viewed ETV as having progressive values might shut down the project before it had a chance to get off the ground. It was still possible for opponents to suffocate it before it became part of the fabric of the state’s television offerings.

The concern was not entirely without merit. State representative Tullius Brady of Brookhaven said that ETV exerted “a subtle influence” on the minds of children and that the Ford Foundation, which funded educational programming, could use its influence for “evil purposes.” Other lawmakers had previously argued against shows that promoted integration.

Grover is pictured at AOL Studios in New York City in May 2015
Slaven Vlasic, Getty Images

Regardless of how the decision was justified, many took issue with it. In an anonymous editorial for the Delta Democrat-Times, a critic wrote:

“But Mississippi’s ETV commission won’t be showing it for the time being because of one fatal defect, as measured by Mississippi’s political leadership. Sesame Street is integrated. Some of its leading cast members are black, including the man who does much of the overt ‘teaching.’ The neighborhood of the ‘street’ is a mixed one. And all that, of course, goes against the Mississippi grain.”

Joan Ganz Cooney called the decision a “tragedy” for young people.

Fortunately, it was a tragedy with a short shelf life. The following month, the board reconvened and reversed its own informal poll result, approving of Sesame Street and agreeing that ETV could air it as soon as they received tapes of the program. Thanks to feeds from Memphis, New Orleans, and Alabama, Sesame Street could already be seen in parts of Mississippi. And thanks to the deluge of negative responses, it seemed pointless to try to placate politicians who still favored segregation.

In the fall of 1970, the Sesame Street cast appeared in person in Jackson and was met by representatives from the board, which helped to sponsor the live performance, though it’s not clear any apology was forthcoming.

Sesame Street would go on to win numerous awards and accolades over the proceeding 50 years, though it would not be the only children’s show to experience censorship on public television. In May 2019, ETV networks in Alabama and Arkansas refused to air an episode of the PBS animated series Arthur in which a rat and aardvark are depicted as a same-sex couple getting married.

Attention Movie Geeks: Cinephile Is the Card Game You Need Right Now

Cinephile/Amazon
Cinephile/Amazon

If you’ve got decades worth of movie trivia up in your head but nowhere to show it off, Cinephile: A Card Game just may be your perfect outlet. Created by writer, art director, and movie expert Cory Everett, with illustrations by Steve Isaacs, this game aims to test the mettle of any film aficionado with five different play types that are designed for different skill and difficulty levels.

For players looking for a more casual experience, Cinephile offers a game variety called Filmography, where you simply have to name more movies that a given actor has appeared in than your opponent. For those who really want to test their knowledge of the silver screen, there’s the most challenging game type, Six Degrees, which plays like Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, with the player who finds the fewest number of degrees between two actors getting the win.

When you choose actors for Six Degrees, you’ll do so using the beautifully illustrated cards that come with the game, featuring Hollywood A-listers past and present in some of their most memorable roles. You’ve got no-brainers like Uma Thurman in Kill Bill (2003) and Arnold Schwarzenegger in Total Recall (1990) alongside cult favorites like Bill Murray from 2004's The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou and Jeff Goldblum in The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension (1984). Of course, being a game designed for the true film buff, you’ll also get some deeper cuts like Helen Mirren from 1990’s The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover and Sean Connery in 1974's Zardoz. There are 150 cards in all, with expansion packs on the way.

Cinephile is a labor of love for Everett and Isaacs, who originally got this project off the ground via Kickstarter, where they raised more than $20,000. Now it’s being published on a wider scale by Clarkson Potter, a Penguin Random House group. You can get your copy from Amazon now for $20.

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