Purrfectly pink: Clouseau, karate and cartoons ~ 50 things you always wanted to know about The Pink Panther
Cat in the hat: DePatie-Freleng’s Pink Panther under the hat of Peter Sellers’ Inspector Clouseau
And so it came to pass that in the final few weeks of 1963 a phenomenon – or, if you will, a pink-nomenon – was born. Not that anyone knew it at the time, of course. No, because Hollywood’s latest glamorous comedy crime caper was just that – but, oh, what The Pink Panther would go on to spawn: an utterly hilarious, unarguably iconic cinematic hero; one of the most enduring animated characters of all-time; an instantly recognisable Henry Mancini tune that conjures up lazy, jazzy cool from its very first few bars and, of course, the international film career of the one, the only Peter Sellers.
Yes, in the final few weeks of 1963, the Pink Panther phenomenon was verily born and, in marking its 50th anniversary, as this blog is at present, its latest post takes the cool cat by his whiskers and presents you with, yes, the 50 facts that (once read) you won’t believe you didn’t previously know about Sellers and co’s classic creation – because have you ever seen a panther that’s pink? Think! (Or, better, just read on…)
1. There were nine original Pink Panther films overseen by director, producer and writer Blake Edwards – The Pink Panther (1963), A Shot In The Dark (1964), The Return Of The Pink Panther (1975), The Pink Panther Strikes Again (1976), Revenge Of The Pink Panther (1978), Trail Of The Pink Panther (1982), Curse Of The Pink Panther (1983) and Son Of The Pink Panther (1993).
2. The series was revived – or rather rebooted – in the ’00s with another The Pink Panther (2006), which was followed by a sequel The Pink Panther 2 (2009).
3. British comedy genius Peter Sellers, of course, graced most of Edwards’ Pink Panther flicks as the irrepressibly clumsy and hilariously ridiculous Inspector Jacques Clouseau of the French Sûreté.
4. However, following Sellers’ death in 1980, his contributions to both Trail and Curse were made up of unused material shot for Strikes Again and Revenge.
5. Curse featured American comic actor Ted Wass as a Clouseau-like character and Oscar-winning-to-be Italian thesp Roberto Benigni essayed his son in, yes, Son. Steve Martin portrayed the iconic character in the ’00s efforts.
6. The original late-’63-released Pink Panther film set up the series’ trademark, nay somewhat Bond-esque, facets of beautiful female co-stars; luxurious, exotic locations; lustrous, laid back jazzy music from the legendary Henry Mancini and brilliant animated opening titles – in addition, of course, to the long sequences comprising Clouseau-driven slapstick humour.
7. However, the movie was actually intended to be a vehicle for smooth, urbane British Hollywood heavyweight David Niven.
8. Niven played the aristocratic playboy Sir Charles Lytton aka jewel thief extraordinaire The Phantom, whom steals the eponymous ‘Pink Panther’, a Darya-ye Noor-inspired giant pink diamond (whose discoloration resembles a panther) owned by Princess Dala (Claudia Cardinale) ruler of the fictitious Arabian kingdom of Lugash.
9. As you’d expect then, Niven was top of The Pink Panther‘s star wishlist, while Russian-cum-Brit Peter Ustinov was sought for Clouseau and Ava Gardner for his unfaithful, crime conspiring wife Simone. However, when Gardner backed out, Ustinov too dropped out, ensuring second choice Sellers was cast as Clouseau. Psycho (1960) star Janet Leigh also turned down the female lead, leading to Capucine winning the role.
10. Both the personality and appearance of Clouseau was suggested by the figure on a matchbox Sellers spied on his flight to Rome to begin filming The Pink Panther; he felt the oversized moustache and the unfaltering self-importance and dignity (possibly at all costs) of the figure was perfect for Clouseau.
11. Unquestionably, Clouseau proved to be the role that made Sellers a genuine Hollywood star. Several improvised moments saw his scenes in the film enlarged, overshadowing Niven’s role.
12. This was true to such an extent that when Niven appeared (as was usual for him) at the Oscars the following year, he requested Mancini’s iconic-for-all-time Pink Panther Theme not to be his ‘walk-on music’ – despite the film grossing almost $11m in the US alone, ensuring it was the States’ 13th biggest hit of ’64 – as he apparently stated it ‘wasn’t really his film’, implying it was Sellers’ instead.
13. Rushed into production immediately following The Pink Panther‘s release, A Shot In The Dark was a deliberate vehicle for Sellers’ Clouseau, whom was undoubtedly the sequel’s protagonist and Sellers its lead player – his first Hollywood starring role. It was released less than seven months after the original film.
14. Edwards had, in fact, been working on Shot‘s script while filming the previous movie. Although rightly classed in the Pink Panther series, it noticeably doesn’t feature either the Pink Panther diamond or The Phantom antagonist, being a cinematic adaptation of Harry Kurnitz’s stage farce (which itself was an English-language adaptation of Marcel Archard’s play L’Idiote).
15. The protagonist of the stage play, a bumbling lawyer, was replaced in the film by the character of Clouseau, its plot seeing the latter investigate several murders in the manor house of a French aristocrat while falling in love with the house maid (Elke Sommer), the chief suspect.
16. Producer-director Edwards wrote Shot‘s screenplay with William Peter Blatty, whom would later achieve fame as author of horror novel The Exorcist (1971) and for winning an Oscar for adapting his book into 1973’s huge hit movie of the same name.
17. Although the series’ second flick, Shot introduced further crucial Pink Panther elements; first, Clouseau’s superior officer Chief Inspector Dreyfus (Herbert Lom) and his hatred of the former and, owing to this, his descent into murderous insanity and, second, Clouseau’s Chinese manservant Cato (Burt Kwouk) and the pair’s destructive karate training undertaken at every given opportunity.
18. Grossing $12.4 million in the US alone, A Shot In The Dark not only made more money than its predecessor, but also became the eighth biggest hit ‘domestically’ of 1964; a year which saw stiff competition from the likes of My Fair Lady, Mary Poppins, Goldfinger, A Hard Day’s Night, A Fistful Of Dollars and Dr Strangelove Or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb, for which – rounding out an amazing year – Sellers was Oscar-nominated for his triple-lead role.
19. Following the release of The Pink Panther and A Shot In The Dark, the cartoon company that produced both films’ animated opening title sequences, DePatie-Freleng Enterprises, capitalised on their huge success by featuring the cartoon ‘Pink Panther’ character (whom appeared in the first movie’s titles, but not the second’s) in a series of shorts, a smart, often laid-back, other times mischievous, almost feline version of Warner Bros’ icon Bugs Bunny.
20. The first of these shorts, the brilliant The Pink Phink (in which The Pink Panther competes with his nemesis-to-be ‘The Little Man’ over painting a house), won the ’64 Academy Award for Best Animated Short.
Laughing all the way to the bank; music man to thank: Edwards and Sellers joke around on The Return Of The Pink Panther set (l); Mancini poses with the cartoon cat on an album cover (r)
21. Originally, the first 92 Pink Panther animated shorts were all released theatrically (in cinemas), stretching across 13 years from 1964 to ’77.
22. Other memorable shorts include 1966’s Pink, Plunk, Plink (in which Henry Mancini made a cameo; his Pink Panther Theme becoming as synonymous with the cartoons as the films) and 1969’s Pink-A-Rella (in which the female Pink Panther first appears and a girl attempts to win a date with rock musician ‘Pelvis Parsley’).
23. From September 1969 onwards, the Pink Panther shorts also featured on TV thanks to two of them at a time book-ending a short built around ‘The Inspector’ character (Clouseau) in The Pink Panther Show, broadcast on Saturday mornings on the NBC network.
24. ‘The Inspector’ shorts were actually all produced between ’65 and ’69 and theatrically released before they appeared on TV in The Pink Panther Show.
25. All of ‘The Inspector’s shorts included Mancini’s unforgettable theme that originally featured in A Shot In The Dark‘s title sequence, which itself technically marked the first time ‘The Inspector’ character appeared on-screen.
26. The Pink Panther Show actually went through several name changes in its run: 1970-71’s The Pink Panther Meets the Ant And The Aardvark (referencing ‘The Ant and The Aardvark’ characters whom from then on also featured in their own shorts in the show); The New Pink Panther Show (1971–74); The Pink Panther And Friends (1974–76); The Pink Panther Laugh And A Half Hour And A Half Show (1976–77) and Think Pink Panther (1977–78).
27. It was 1968 when a live-action Clouseau next returned to the screen, but this time played by American actor Alan Arkin. The movie Inspector Clouseau was intended to involve both Sellers and Edwards, but after falling out on the set of Shot (which would happen constantly throughout their further collaborations), neither had much interest in this flick.
28. Ironically, the director and star ended up filming comedy classic The Party (1968) together at the same time as Inspector Clouseau (an inevitable flop) went before cameras.
29. Just years later, though, in the early ’70s, Edwards came up with a 15-20-page outline for a new Pink Panther film.
30. Walter Mirisch (head of The Mirisch Corporation) who’d been an important backer of the original two films as well as The Party, was keen on the project, but the first two movies’ major financier, the United Artists studio, was not – for neither Edwards nor Sellers had enjoyed a hit in years.
31. Edwards therefore approached giant British film producer Lew Grade (whom had backed, among other projects, TV’s The Muppet Show). Grade took on the gamble, as did Sellers (whom, his star now seemingly in decline since his mid-’60s heyday, reneged on his claim back then he’d never return to Clouseau); The Return Of The Pink Panther, a pretty much UK-financed film then, was released in May 1975.
32. Return echoed the plot of The Pink Panther by seeing Clouseau investigating the theft from Lugash of the Pink Panther diamond once more. He immediately suspects The Phantom (this time played by the young, energetic Christopher Plummer), but he’s adamant in the face of his wife Lady Claudine Lytton (Catherine Schell) that he’s not the thief, thus himself searches for the real culprit in order to prevent himself being banged up competent law enforcers – or even Clouseau.
33. Of all the Pink Panther films, Return is perhaps most fondly recalled for the ‘corpsing’ (breaking into laughter and forcing a take to be re-shot) by Catherine Schell. Two such occasions were kept in the finished movie; when Clouseau gains entry into the Lytton household under the guise of a supposed telephone repairman and, most obviously and delightfully, when he makes contact with Lady Lytton as the ridiculous womaniser ‘Guy Gadbois’ and pronounces in Sellers’ demented French accent ‘Here’s looking at you, kid’ – a reference to Humphrey Bogart’s Rick Blaine in Casablanca (1942), of course.
34. Indeed, it was in Return that Clouseau’s ridiculous French accent began to be exploited to its maximum effect, with other characters – many of them French – being unable to understand his pronunciation of the words ‘room’ (‘rheum’), ‘law’ (‘lew’), ‘lord’ (‘leurd’) and, of course, ‘monkey’ (‘minkey’).
35. Return also saw the Richard Williams Studio create its animated opening title sequence (as did the series’ next two entries), owing to DePatie-Freleng being too busy on its own projects, including The Pink Panther Show. Nonetheless, Richard Williams and his cohorts surely produced the best of the series’ opening titles for Return, featuring, as it did, Pink Panther-featuring pastiches of figures of Hollywood legend, namely Charlie Chaplin, Groucho Marx, John Wayne, George Raft, Carmen Miranda, Frankenstein and Mickey Mouse (see video clip above).
36. Arguably Return‘s most glamorous location is the Italian Alpine resort Cortina d’Ampezzo (which also, admittedly, featured in The Pink Panther), trumping its appearance in the James Bond film series by six years – it would go on to feature in 1981’s For Your Eyes Only.
37. Owing to Return‘s enormous box-office success ($42 million in the US alone; making it the sixth biggest hit of ’75 domestically), the next film in the series was rushed before cameras – The Pink Panther Strikes Again was shot between December ’75 and September ’76.
38. In fact, Strikes Again‘s plot is the only one of the series to follow directly on from its predecessor; this is because both Return and Strikes Again‘s scripts were based on treatments (from that early ’70s outline) that Edwards had been working up not just for possible Pink Panther movies, but as an alternative a Pink Panther TV series.
39. Strikes Again‘s story takes the series into the realms of Bond-esque super fantasy. It begins with (now) Chief Inspector Clouseau visiting a asylum from which he is to pick up the apparently cured Dreyfus (who’s been there since the conclusion of Return). It quickly becomes obvious Dreyfus is just as nuts and intent on bumping off Clouseau as ever, though, and when he escapes the asylum himself, kidnaps the inventor of a weapon that could destroy the world and blackmails the world’s leaders to assassinate Clouseau or he’ll, yes, destroy the world; the ace assassins sent after Clouseau include the Soviet Olga Barisova (Lesley-Anne Down) and an unnamed Egyptian assailant (an uncredited Omar Sharif in a cameo).
40. This fifth entry in the series is probably most memorable for its slapstick scene in an English manor house’s gym, in which Clouseau unsuccessfully demonstrates his mastering of ‘zee parallel bars’ to the butler, played by Michael Robbins of On The Buses (1969-72) fame.
Car-toon characters: The Pink Panther and ‘The Inspector’ with the iconic Panthermobile
41. Robbins’ butler character actually appears as a female impersonator in a bar scene, whom Clouseau mistakes for a real woman. His singing voice was that of Edwards’ wife Julie Andrews no less, whom would later appear as a woman pretending to be a man who’s a female impersonator in her husband’s comedy Victor Victoria (1982).
42. Despite falling out truly spectacularly on the set of Strikes Again and the star now being in unquestionable bad health, Sellers and Edwards came together once more for a sixth and final collaboration in the shape of Revenge Of The Pink Panther (1978), which sees Clouseau, Cato and mobster moll Simone LeGree (Dyan Cannon) tangle with both the American mafia and the ‘French Connection’ criminal underground. Despite its daftness and nowadays very dated embrace of ]disco music, it actually out-grossed Strikes Again at the US box-office (Revenge making $49.6 million; Strikes Again $33.8 million).
43. In 1978, the animated Pink Panther show took on another new name, The All New Pink Panther Show, which it was known as for its final two seasons of original broadcast and for which it switched to the US ABC network. It’s fondly recalled for the much-loved ‘Panthermobile‘-featuring, live-action/ animated opening and closing title sequences (see video clip below).
44. Following Revenge, Sellers attempted to get another Pink Panther movie off the ground – but without Edwards’ involvement at all. Romance Of The Pink Panther would have seen Clouseau pursuing female cat burglar ‘The Frog’ (Pamela Stephenson) and the return of Dreyfus and Cato. However, film studio United Artists was neither happy with the first draft of Sellers’ script (co-written with Jim Moloney), nor the with idea of Sellers directing the movie as well; it attached first Sidney Poitier and then Clive Donner as helmers to the project. Eventually, the film fell through when Sellers passed away in July 1980.
45. Surprisingly, the Pink Panther film series didn’t die with Sellers. Building around previously unused footage shot for both Strikes Again and Revenge, Edwards crafted two further flicks – Trail Of The Pink Panther (1982) and Curse Of The Pink Panther (1983). New footage for them both was filmed at the same time.
46. The plot of Trail sees investigative reporter Marie Jouvet (Joanna Lumley) attempting to track down the now missing Clouseau and, in doing so, coming across Dreyfus, Cato and, reprising their roles from The Pink Panther, David Niven and Capucine (the latter now by now become Lady Lytton; maybe/ maybe not the same character as Catherine Schell’s in Return). Curse sees a Clouseau-like inept American police detective attempting to track down the again Pink Panther diamond, Dreyfus, Cato and Niven’s Charles Lytton are back again too (although owing to poor health, Niven was dubbed by voice artist Rich Little in both these two movies), while Joanna Lumley plays a supporting role again, but bizarrely a different one to her Trail character.
47. Both Trail and Curse were critically panned and box-office flops (making only $13 million in the US between them), but at least the finale of the latter rewards viewers with the sight of one Roger Moore – in a break in filming the Bond film Octopussy (1983) – appear as, thanks to plastic surgery, a facially altered Clouseau. Sir Rog appeared in the credits under the moniker ‘Turk Thrust II’; his friend Bryan Forbes, the recently deceased Brit director, had appeared in a cameo in Shot under the name ‘Turk Thrust’.
48. Inexplicably, Edwards gave the Pink Panther dice one more roll, when 10 years later he filmed Son Of The Pink Panther. Casting then unknown Italian comic actor Roberto Benigni (whom would become an international star after winning a Best Actor Oscar for his self-helmed Life Is Beautiful in ’98) as Clouseau’s illegitimate and equally bumbling son, it was universally reviled – both by critics and audiences; it made less than $3 million at the box-office. It did, though, feature yet again Lom as Dreyfus, Kwouk as Cato and, confusingly, Claudia Cardinelle not as Princess Dala as in the very first film, but as Maria Gambrelli, Elke Sommer’s amorous maid character in Shot.
49. Son proved to be both Edwards’ and composer Mancini’s final film; the former reputedly considered Kevin Kline, Rowan Atkinson, Gérard Depardieu and Tim Curry for the lead role ahead of Benigni. The movie is the only Pink Panther effort (including the woeful Steve Martin ‘updates’ of the ’00s) to hold the dubious distinction of being released straight to video/ DVD in the UK.
50. In their time (and for some years afterwards), the Edwards/ Sellers Pink Panther movies, despite the mis-steps of their later instalments, were unquestionably the most successful comedy series filmed – pulling in a total box-office haul of around $165 million in the US alone (inflation unadjusted). That’s a fact, if ever there was one, that’d surely have Cato karate chopping, Dreyfus wink-wink-winking and Clouseau himself buffooning about in a nudist camp.