Monday, March 22, 2010

"There was a young lady from Exeter."

Playing The Fool #02 and P.S. 101

Early 1980. Negotiations have been on-going. Everything has been set between all parties involved. Agents, press agents, personal assistants and the major parties...the date has been set. I am to meet Peter Sellers and his wife Lynne Frederick in their Studio City home on April 1st, 1980. There is much activity in the air. Peter is nominated for Best Actor for "Being There" and he is winding up production on the Goon Show-like film, "The Fiendish Plot Of Dr. Fu Manchu." This has been a long time coming. But of course, not all is going to go to plan. Sellers will lose the Academy Award to Dustin Hoffman. And by April 1st, his marriage to Lynne Frederick is on the rocks. Sellers is in France and Lynne is in Hollywood.

10 years later to the day. April 1st, 1990. I am in the Westwood home of Lynne Frederick and her husband, heart specialist Dr. Barry Unger. Much has happened in that 10 year span. Sellers died in July of 1980. Lynne has since married and divorced David Frost. And now she is in a home with her third husband on the property that used to be the home of Gary Cooper.

I am here to meet with Peter Sellers' widow regarding the production of a documentary on his life that I have written called "Life Is A State Of Mind." After years of negotiations, we are ready to go. As an admirer of the work of Peter Sellers, this was the culmination of a total immersion into the work of this gifted comic artist. It was almost dream-like. I entered the gates of a home that included the archives of the man's total work and meeting the woman who was his last friend and companion.

Lynne and I became very good friends. She called me "Sir Guy Grand" after the Peter Sellers character in "The Magic Christian." I was thankful that she saw me as someone who completely understood what her husband had accomplished. She opened all of his possessions and memorabilia to my appreciative and historical eye. I was overwhelmed. I saw all the private home footage, personal photographs, private letters and creative writing, the ukulele that his father gave him supposedly from George Formby, and even (I shudder) his pacemaker, which had kept him alive. It seemed like being in "Citizen Kane."

Lynne and I were very close. She appreciated my script for "Life Is A State Of Mind." I was happy that she felt I was the only one who truly appreciated the ramifications of what Peter Sellers had done in his work. From the early days of The Goon Show on, she felt that I had an intuition and overview into what Peter was trying to do, which he felt most people did not understand--especially Americans. Peter didn't like Americans. He felt quite simply that they "didn't get it." He, however, was appreciative of my radio show and my playing his work on the air. I dedicated my Space Pirate Radio album to both Peter and Spike Milligan. I felt lucky to be on his wavelength. And this was the basis of our friendship.

So 10 years later in 1990, sad that Peter is no longer with us, it was my intention to keep the spirit of Peter's work alive in my overview "Life Is A State Of Mind: The Life And Work Of Peter Sellers." The project was intensive and exciting because I was in contact with everyone who had worked with Peter. With Lynne's blessings, I connected with everyone from all three remaining Beatles, Richard Lester, Yoko Ono, Alec Guinness and every actor, director or writer who had worked with Peter. It was always amazing to me how many people I could meet in the entertainment business who had some connection with Peter, even to the most obscure, and yet I would get an anecdote or two from that. Seriously, here is this idiot (me) talking to Shelley Winters, Bud Cort or Paul Mazursky about Peter Sellers. Obsessive or retarded (retardez-moi?)? Or both?

Lynne and I got along very well. She was nocturnal, like me, and would call after 12 midnight and be on the phone until 5:30am. I recorded all the calls with her permission, as she would recall all of her memories regarding Peter and her own film career. Lynne was a successful British actress in her own right, having appeared in "Voyage Of The Damned," Hammer's "Vampire Circus," "Nicholas And Alexandra" and "Phase IV," as well as many others. There were many, many showbiz stories and I was glad to hear them all.

Unfortunately, Lynne had sincere health issues and she was torn between a love/hate relationship with her mother. Iris Frederick was an English talent agent responsible for getting her daughter into show business. Initially, Iris was very friendly and supportive of my involvement with her daughter, but Iris certainly had mixed feelings regarding her ex-son-in-law, Peter Sellers. I had no problems with Lynne's husband, Dr. Barry Unger. I liked him and found him friendly and professional. As a man with my own heart problems, I appreciated his easy communication in the area of his expertise. I was unaware that perhaps mother was using daughter's friend as a wedge to separate husband.

Either way, after my years of friendship with Lynne, her health situation led her into being dependent upon her mother for all professional decisions. Iris gained Power of Attorney over the Sellers Estate and our planned tribute to Peter ceased. Iris, who never liked Peter's work, retained artistic control over the estate and deemed what should or should not be released in regards to his legacy.

Wow. Amazement never ceases.