Czech-born film and television actor Herbert Lom who was perhaps best known as Peter Sellers’s frustrated boss in the “Pink Panther” franchise, died on Thursday. He was 95 and lived in London.
Lom appeared in more than 100 films during his 60-year acting career, including such classics as “The Ladykillers,” “Spartacus” and “El Cid.”
His family said he died peacefully in his sleep.
Mr. Lom gained more attention as a reliable character actor than as a suave leading man, although over his long career he was both.
His deep-set and mesmerizing eyes made him the perfect villain in a series of minor films in the early 1940s, and he went on to excel after World War II and in the 1950s and 1960s in small but reliable roles in a variety of genres. Over more than five decades he appeared in more than 100 movies and television shows.
Lom also portrayed Napoleon Bonaparte on two occasions. One of them came in the 1956 screen adaptation of Tolstoy’s War And Peace, also starring Audrey Hepburn and Henry Fonda.
He first appeared as police chief Dreyfus in 1964’s A Shot In The Dark, a character who became increasingly mentally unstable as a result of Clouseau’s incompetence as the films went on.
Born Herbert Charles Angelo Kuchacevich ze Schluderpacheru to upper-class parents in 1917 in Prague, where he grew up and attended the city’s university. He became a theater actor and made one movie in his native Czechoslovakia before emigrating to London in 1939, just before the Nazis invaded (and shedding more than 40 letters from his name along the way). His parents survived and later joined him in London, but his girlfriend died in a concentration camp.
He trained at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London and began his English-speaking acting career at the Old Vic and other stage companies before landing some impressive film roles, thanks to an appealingly exotic accent and a sultry gaze. From the outset he was able to avoid being typecast as the lecherous but irresistible villain, unlike many other European actors who went to Hollywood in the 1940s.
His English language acting debut came in 1940 film Mein Kampf – My Crimes.
He was offered a seven-year contract with Twentieth Century Fox and secured several lead roles in the 1940s, including Napoleon in The Young Mr Pitt.
Lom’s first major Hollywood successes were “The Seventh Veil” (1945), in which he played a psychiatrist treating the suicidal young cousin of a crippled musician played by James Mason, and Jules Dassin’s noir masterpiece “Night and the City” (1950), in which he played a chilling but remorseful gangster.
But he flourished in comedy as well — notably alongside Peter Sellers and Alec Guiness in“The Ladykillers” (1955) and, later, as the twitchy, long-suffering Chief Inspector Dreyfus, who is eventually driven insane by Sellers’s bumbling Inspector Clouseau. He played Dreyfus in seven “Pink Panther” movies, from “A Shot in the Dark” (1964) to “Son of the Pink Panther” (1993), made 13 years after Sellers’s death, which starred Roberto Benigni as Clouseau’s son.
He co-starred with Robert Mitchum and Rita Hayworth in “Fire Down Below” (1957) and played a hoodlum on the make in prewar London in “No Trees in the Street” (1958). He played Napoleon Bonaparte twice, in “The Young Mr. Pitt” (1942) and in King Vidor’s ambitious “War and Peace” (1956). He appeared in epics — as a pirate who leads the slaves out of Italy in “Spartacus” (1960), and as the Muslim leader Ben Yussuf in “El Cid” (1961) — and in horror movies.
He had the title role in a not very successful remake of “The Phantom of the Opera” (1962); he was Van Helsing in “Count Dracula” (1970), one of many movies starring Christopher Lee as the notorious vampire; and he played a bloodthirsty witch hunter in 18th-century Austria in the ultra-gory German-made “Mark of the Devil” (1972), which developed a cult following for its explicit torture scenes, for which audiences were handed “stomach distress bags” at cinemas around the world.
Those parts persuaded director Blake Edwards to give him his most famous role as Inspector Clouseau’s long-suffering boss in several of the Pink Panther movies.
“It was a godsend when I was offered the part,” he said of the role. “But it did become a double-edged sword as people started to associate me with Dreyfus.”
Onstage, Mr. Lom originated the role of the king in the original London cast of the musical “The King and I” in 1955. On television, he appeared in the British series “The Human Jungle” in 1963 and 1964 and on “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” in 1967.
His two most notable films in the 1980s were “Hopscotch” (1980), a spy spoof with Walter Matthau and Glenda Jackson, and David Cronenberg’s “Dead Zone” (1983), in which he played a neurologist to a telekinetic patient, played by Christopher Walken.
Among the low points of his career was his performance in the disastrous 1985 remake of “King Solomon’s Mines,” which earned him a nomination for a Razzie Award, given to the worst that Hollywood has to offer. He had few roles after the 1980s; his last on-screen appearance was a 2004 episode of the British TV series “Marple.”
Mr. Lom also wrote two historical novels, “Enter a Spy: The Double Life of Christopher Marlowe” and “Dr. Guillotine: The Eccentric Exploits of an Early Scientist,” set during the French Revolution, in 1993, which was optioned as a movie but never made.
Famously private and reclusive for most of his life, Mr. Lom was married and divorced three times. Besides his son Alec, survivors include a daughter, Josephine, and another son, Nick. “You know, I always do my best, no matter the quality of the film,” Mr. Lom once told an interviewer. “One thing I hate is when directors come to me before shooting a take and say, ‘Herbert, give me your best!’ And I think: ‘But it’s my job to give my best. I can’t give anything else.’”
His son Alec confirmed his death to The Associated Press.