In the early 1960s, director Blake Edwards came up with an idea for a heist movie in which a jewel thief is having an affair with the wife of the detective who’s pursuing him. Then he cast Peter Sellers as the detective, and everything changed. With Edwards’s comedic instincts and Sellers’s natural gift for transformation, the detective became the star, and Inspector Clouseau was born.
Though its sequels often left something to be desired, The Pink Panther is still almost universally hailed as a comedy classic more than 50 years after its release. So, to remember the beloved bumbling inspector, here are 12 facts about the film.
1. DAVID NIVEN’S CHARACTER WAS SUPPOSED TO BE THE LEAD.
When Blake Edwards and co-writer Maurice Richlin first conceived the idea for The Pink Panther, it was a story "about a detective who is trying to catch a jewel thief who is having an affair with his wife." To play the debonair jewel thief Sir Charles Lytton, Edwards chose David Niven. Then, Peter Sellers was cast as Inspector Jacques Clouseau, and he and Edwards began improvising various comedic bits, which greatly expanded Sellers’s screen time. By the end of filming, it was very much Clouseau’s movie, and Niven was so disappointed that he requested The Pink Panther theme not be played when he appeared at the Academy Awards in the following years.
2. PETER USTINOV AND AVA GARDNER WERE ORIGINALLY CAST.
Though it’s hard to imagine anyone but Sellers in the film now, he was not the original Jacques Clouseau. Edwards originally cast Peter Ustinov in the role, and cast Ava Gardner as Clouseau’s wife, Simone. When Gardner backed out of the film over disagreements with the producers, Ustinov followed. With only weeks to go until filming, Capucine replaced Gardner, and Sellers replaced Ustinov.
3. AUDREY HEPBURN WAS THE FIRST CHOICE FOR PRINCESS DALA.
To play the captivating Princess Dala, owner of the titular Pink Panther jewel, Edwards originally wanted Audrey Hepburn, whom he’d previously worked with on Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961). Edwards was “unsuccessful” in getting Hepburn to take the role, and Claudia Cardinale was cast instead.
4. PETER SELLERS WENT ON A DANGEROUS DIET FOR THE FILM.
Sellers, naturally a somewhat pudgy man, wanted to be in better shape for the film, in part because he wanted to rival the movie star looks of co-star Robert Wagner. So he took a large amount of diet pills to shed weight, which may have contributed to the series of major heart attacks he had between completing filming and The Pink Panther’s release.
5. CLOUSEAU’S PHYSICAL HUMOR CAME FROM EDWARDS.
Sellers, who got his start in radio, was more of a verbal comedian than a physical one, but hoped to add slapstick to his arsenal as Clouseau. Though he wasn’t a natural at it, he got the character’s physical comedy from Edwards himself, who was naturally clumsy.
“Being a genetic Clouseau myself, that’s what would probably happen to me. I, in my life, have broke just about every bone in my body, and usually if I relate those instances, I can get you laughing,” Edwards later said.
6. CLAUDIA CARDINALE’S VOICE WAS DUBBED.
Cardinale was a major Italian star at the time, but her English was not great. So her voice was replaced by that of Canadian actress Gale Garnett.
7. NIVEN SUFFERED FROSTBITE DURING PRODUCTION.
For the scene in which he skis alongside Princess Dala, Niven took a day to practice on the slopes, wearing the costume prepared for him. The problem was that the costume was far too thin for the frigid temperatures, and Niven suffered frostbite symptoms on what he termed his “pale blue acorn.” To prevent severe damage, he soaked the, um, appendage in whiskey until it warmed up.
8. THE BUBBLE BATH SCENE LEFT ROBERT WAGNER AND CAPUCINE WITH BURNS.
For the scene in which Simone Clouseau and George Lytton are in a bubble bath together, an industrial agent was used to make the tub extra foamy. The chemicals burned their skin, and temporarily blinded Wagner during the moment in which he’s underwater.
9. THE SEQUEL WASN’T ORIGINALLY A CLOUSEAU MOVIE.
The sequel to The Pink Panther, A Shot in the Dark, wasn’t supposed to be a Panther sequel at all, but an adaptation of a stage play of the same name. Sellers was contracted to make the film, but was unhappy with the way production was going. He asked Edwards for help: “He was desperate not to do it, and he came to me and said ‘I don’t like the whole set-up. Can’t you step in?’” Edwards recalled.
Edwards read the script and agreed to make the film if he could re-work it to include Clouseau. Sellers agreed and arranged for Edwards to be the new director, while Edwards and William Peter Blatty (The Exorcist) reworked the script to make it a Clouseau comedy.
10. SELLERS DIDN’T WANT TO MAKE A THIRD FILM.
According to executive producer Walter Mirisch, Sellers “actively” disliked A Shot in the Dark, but the film was a success, and the Mirisch Company wanted to continue the Clouseau franchise. Sellers declined to return, so the film Inspector Clouseau (1968) was produced with Alan Arkin in the title role and without the involvement of Edwards. The film was a disappointment, and in 1975 Sellers and Edwards both returned for The Return of the Pink Panther. Sellers wasn’t thrilled to be playing Clouseau again, and his relationship with Edwards was strained, but he needed the money. Two more films, The Pink Panther Strikes Again (1976) and Revenge of the Pink Panther (1978), followed before Sellers’ death in 1980.
11. FOUR DIFFERENT ACTORS HAVE PLAYED CLOUSEAU.
After Sellers’s death, Edwards produced Trail of the Pink Panther (1982), using unused footage of Sellers, but he wasn’t done with the series yet. In Curse of the Panther (1983), the character appears in a cameo only, and is played by Roger Moore (the explanation was that Clouseau had plastic surgery to change his appearance). The films didn’t perform well at the box office, so the franchise went on hiatus until Son of the Pink Panther in 1993 (Roberto Benigni starred as Clouseau’s illegitimate son). In 2006, Steven Martin played Clouseau in a remake of the original film, which spawned its own sequel in 2009.
12. THE PINK PANTHER CARTOON TOOK ON A LIFE OF HIS OWN.
The “Pink Panther” of the film’s title refers to the jewel at the center of the plot, but the cartoon panther that appears in the opening credits became more than a playful way to introduce the film. In addition to appearing in the credits for the rest of the series, he began appearing in animated shorts in 1964, had two different animated series, and even had his own comic book.
Additional Sources: The Pink Panther Story, 2003