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Mr. Strangelove: A Biography of Peter Sellers

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Peter Sellers's explosive talent made him a beloved figure in world cinema and continues to attract new audiences. With his darkly comic performances in Dr. Strangelove and Lolita and his outrageously funny appearances as Inspector Clouseau in the Pink Panther films, he became one of the most popular movie stars of his time. Sellers himself identified most personally with Peter Sellers's explosive talent made him a beloved figure in world cinema and continues to attract new audiences. With his darkly comic performances in Dr. Strangelove and Lolita and his outrageously funny appearances as Inspector Clouseau in the Pink Panther films, he became one of the most popular movie stars of his time. Sellers himself identified most personally with the character he played in Being There -- an utterly empty man on whom others projected what they wanted, or needed, to see. In this lively and exhaustively researched biography, Ed Sikov offers unique insight into Sellers's comedy style. Beginning with Sellers' lonely childhood with a mother who wouldn't let go of him, through his service in the Royal Air Force and his success on BBC Radio's The Goon Show, Sikov goes on to detail his relationships with co-stars such as Alec Guinness, Sophia Loren, and Shirley MacLaine; his work with such directors as Stanley Kubrick, Billy Wilder, and Blake Edwards; his four failed marriages; his ridiculously short engagement to Liza Minnelli; and all the other peculiarities of this eccentric man's unpredictable life. The most insightful biography ever written of this endlessly fascinating star, Mr. Strangelove is as comic and tragic as Peter Sellers was himself.


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Peter Sellers's explosive talent made him a beloved figure in world cinema and continues to attract new audiences. With his darkly comic performances in Dr. Strangelove and Lolita and his outrageously funny appearances as Inspector Clouseau in the Pink Panther films, he became one of the most popular movie stars of his time. Sellers himself identified most personally with Peter Sellers's explosive talent made him a beloved figure in world cinema and continues to attract new audiences. With his darkly comic performances in Dr. Strangelove and Lolita and his outrageously funny appearances as Inspector Clouseau in the Pink Panther films, he became one of the most popular movie stars of his time. Sellers himself identified most personally with the character he played in Being There -- an utterly empty man on whom others projected what they wanted, or needed, to see. In this lively and exhaustively researched biography, Ed Sikov offers unique insight into Sellers's comedy style. Beginning with Sellers' lonely childhood with a mother who wouldn't let go of him, through his service in the Royal Air Force and his success on BBC Radio's The Goon Show, Sikov goes on to detail his relationships with co-stars such as Alec Guinness, Sophia Loren, and Shirley MacLaine; his work with such directors as Stanley Kubrick, Billy Wilder, and Blake Edwards; his four failed marriages; his ridiculously short engagement to Liza Minnelli; and all the other peculiarities of this eccentric man's unpredictable life. The most insightful biography ever written of this endlessly fascinating star, Mr. Strangelove is as comic and tragic as Peter Sellers was himself.

30 review for Mr. Strangelove: A Biography of Peter Sellers

  1. 5 out of 5

    Joslyn

    terribly written, but full of facts, anecdotes, information. by 'terribly written,' i do not mean illiterate, but invasive. interjections, judgements, foreshadowing, the occasional attempt at humor - the author's voice was very much in the way of the story.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Ellen Snyder

    I have never been a big Sellers fan, thinking he was over the top most of the time, but he was good in some roles, and was gifted at impersonations and characterizations. As a member of the Goon radio show, he and his buddies were a great influence on British Humor, as evidenced by the Monty Python group, the Beatles, Richard Lester's movies, and perhaps on American humortoo such as the Laugh-In show. Peter Sellers as a person, though, seemed to be an unhappy, difficult person. He suffered from I have never been a big Sellers fan, thinking he was over the top most of the time, but he was good in some roles, and was gifted at impersonations and characterizations. As a member of the Goon radio show, he and his buddies were a great influence on British Humor, as evidenced by the Monty Python group, the Beatles, Richard Lester's movies, and perhaps on American humortoo such as the Laugh-In show. Peter Sellers as a person, though, seemed to be an unhappy, difficult person. He suffered from bipolar disorder, but worse, seemed to lack a sense of self. He was always buying things; cars, stereo equipment, cameras, to fill the void. Though he had a mother who doted on him, he was a terrible parent himself, even physically abusing his small children. He had four wives, none of which he treated well, and was always cheating on them. I really do not like this man though recognizing his achievements as a performer.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Natalie Caudill

    I've always appreciated his gifts but clearly he was a troubled man. While I am not a psychiatrist, it is obvious that he suffered from kind of personality disorder. The book goes into fantastic depth of detail and character but reading that Mr. Sellers abused his wives, children and even murdered pets will give even a hardcore fan pause. One wonders what intervention might have helped him but he is thoroughly a narcissist and probably the least likely person to have sought help. My heart goes o I've always appreciated his gifts but clearly he was a troubled man. While I am not a psychiatrist, it is obvious that he suffered from kind of personality disorder. The book goes into fantastic depth of detail and character but reading that Mr. Sellers abused his wives, children and even murdered pets will give even a hardcore fan pause. One wonders what intervention might have helped him but he is thoroughly a narcissist and probably the least likely person to have sought help. My heart goes out to his daughter, Victoria. I don't buy that genius always accompanies madness. His childhood isolation was unhealthy but was an opportunity for him to spend hours learning mimicry from the radio shows of that era. I confess I could not finish this book due to the discomfort of reading about his family.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Littlebrit

    Full disclosure: I've been a devoted fan of Peter Sellers ever since his early days on "The Goon Show" on the venerable BBC Radio. This is a fascinating look at the life of a brilliant comic and actor which holds nothing back. Sellers was not an easy man to get along with, personally and professionally and this detailed look at him certainly makes that very clear. The stories of his "run-ins" with other famous show business folks are riveting but also so are the sad details of his personal life, Full disclosure: I've been a devoted fan of Peter Sellers ever since his early days on "The Goon Show" on the venerable BBC Radio. This is a fascinating look at the life of a brilliant comic and actor which holds nothing back. Sellers was not an easy man to get along with, personally and professionally and this detailed look at him certainly makes that very clear. The stories of his "run-ins" with other famous show business folks are riveting but also so are the sad details of his personal life, those of his troubled childhood and his many difficult marriages and love affairs. This was a very complicated and troubled man, with an astounding comic talent. This book brings all this out with a sometimes frightening clarity. If you want to understand more about this astounding character and the sources of his unique talent, "Mr. Strangelove" will not disappoint you.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Thomas Amo

    If you love Peter Sellers, you won't by time you finish reading Mr. Strangelove. Which is no surprise, Peter Sellers on his best day was a force to be handled with kid gloves. A very insecure genius who's comedy still makes me laugh regardless of his personal life. He truly suffered the comedians curse which is long bouts of depression. When everyone wants you to be funny all the time. I got this book because I did want to know more about the man behind the laughter. I did find reading it though w If you love Peter Sellers, you won't by time you finish reading Mr. Strangelove. Which is no surprise, Peter Sellers on his best day was a force to be handled with kid gloves. A very insecure genius who's comedy still makes me laugh regardless of his personal life. He truly suffered the comedians curse which is long bouts of depression. When everyone wants you to be funny all the time. I got this book because I did want to know more about the man behind the laughter. I did find reading it though was a bit boring. So I did find myself skipping around looking for details on films like Casino Royale and What's New Pussycat. But would I read it again? No, I'd just watch "The Life & Death of Peter Sellers" starring Geoffrey Rush.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Allie

    A Peter Sellers biography written as a black comedy is a very good idea. This is one of the most stylistically fun biographies I can recall reading, though I'll admit I very rarely read biographies. Extra sad bonus: now whenever I watch some of my favorite films, I'll have to think about Sellers beating on his wives/children/everybody.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Chris Bartholomew

    What a disappointing book. I still think it would be interesting to read about Peter Sellers life, but this author sucked the life out of the story. I could have picked up a film atlas and found it equally as readable.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Eric Bauman

    A disturbing portrait of a disturbed genius.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Joseph

    The prose goes flat when the author deviates from a journalistic format. There's a lost opportunity, or failure to create a vivid impression of the 50s and 60s jet set. I was very disappointed to learn that Sellers left his three kids 2,000 dollars each, while absurdly leaving the city of Gstaad, Switzerland, one of the richest enclaves in the world, 50,000 Swiss francs. He left 10 million to his gold-digger 4th wife, that he didn't even love. I focus on that because, though there were other ins The prose goes flat when the author deviates from a journalistic format. There's a lost opportunity, or failure to create a vivid impression of the 50s and 60s jet set. I was very disappointed to learn that Sellers left his three kids 2,000 dollars each, while absurdly leaving the city of Gstaad, Switzerland, one of the richest enclaves in the world, 50,000 Swiss francs. He left 10 million to his gold-digger 4th wife, that he didn't even love. I focus on that because, though there were other instances of swinish behavior, that one leaves a lifelong message to his children, whom he was supposed to protect, telling them that he is purposefully going to make their lives difficult - really almost as low as you can go as a human being; and this dick spent his whole adult life trying to study Eastern religions. His performance as the crippled Nazi mad scientist Dr Strangelove, is one of the greatest comedic and cinematic achievements.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Monty Ashley

    Peter Sellers was an exceedingly odd person, and it is fascinating to read about him. I do feel that too much of this book consists of summaries of all of his movies, though.

  11. 5 out of 5

    jesse r lewis

    Jumped around a bit for no discernible reason...but very interesting look into Sellers' personality.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Craig Adamson

    A very detailed account of a talented but empty person's life. Only really knew him from the Pink Panther movies. Had quite a storied radio and movie career in England and later world-wide movie fame. I was not aware at all of his world-wide fame. Sellers had quite a penchant for buying houses and cars and "stuff". Makes me wonder how many millions of dollars he blew through in 30 years. He died at Age 55 and supposedly left behind $10 million estate. But seemingly every chapter details him buyin A very detailed account of a talented but empty person's life. Only really knew him from the Pink Panther movies. Had quite a storied radio and movie career in England and later world-wide movie fame. I was not aware at all of his world-wide fame. Sellers had quite a penchant for buying houses and cars and "stuff". Makes me wonder how many millions of dollars he blew through in 30 years. He died at Age 55 and supposedly left behind $10 million estate. But seemingly every chapter details him buying a house, renting a flat, buying a Rolls Royce, buying jewelry, flying to an exotic locales, and either dating or marrying someone new. Of course this also coincides with him making a movie or doing a radio or tv show seemingly every day of those years. Busy guy. Surprised he had time to date, stalk, marry, and cheat on all these women. Which doesn't take into account all his drug use. Talented guy, screwed up personal life filled with poor choices. One thing I didn't care for is in one of the later chapters like 20 or 21, the author takes a pot shot at Ronald Reagan. Unless I misread it, and the author was quoting Sellers or someone else, but if I remember it correctly the author made fun of Reagan being an actor and then President of the US. Not sure what the author's problem is, but the book editor did a piss poor job of editing that out. Reagan fan or not, it was unnecessary, out of place, and detracted from the remainder of the book which quickly trailed off into brief snippets of gossip. Almost if the author was tired or writing the book and needed to wrap up in under 400 pages. Won't read again. Might pick up one of the Sellers biographies he mentioned, but don't enjoy reading about people who are cruel and unusual. Ayn Rand, despite being a fine writer, had a cruel and unusual life that I couldn't wait to close the book on... much like Peter Sellers. Too bad for his ex-wives and his kids. They were really cheated by not having a present and loving father figure. Seems that all had personal problems resulting from his cruel form of emotional and verbal abuse (and physical abuse of beating his son).

  13. 5 out of 5

    Craig Adamson

    A very detailed account of a talented but empty person's life. Only really knew him from the Pink Panther movies. Had quite a storied radio and movie career in England and later world-wide movie fame. I was not aware at all of his world-wide fame. Sellers had quite a penchant for buying houses and cars and "stuff". Makes me wonder how many millions of dollars he blew through in 30 years. He died at Age 55 and supposedly left behind $10 million estate. But seemingly every chapter details him buyin A very detailed account of a talented but empty person's life. Only really knew him from the Pink Panther movies. Had quite a storied radio and movie career in England and later world-wide movie fame. I was not aware at all of his world-wide fame. Sellers had quite a penchant for buying houses and cars and "stuff". Makes me wonder how many millions of dollars he blew through in 30 years. He died at Age 55 and supposedly left behind $10 million estate. But seemingly every chapter details him buying a house, renting a flat, buying a Rolls Royce, buying jewelry, flying to an exotic locales, and either dating or marrying someone new. Of course this also coincides with him making a movie or doing a radio or tv show seemingly every day of those years. Busy guy. Surprised he had time to date, stalk, marry, and cheat on all these women. Which doesn't take into account all his drug use. Talented guy, screwed up personal life filled with poor choices. One thing I didn't care for is in one of the later chapters like 20 or 21, the author takes a pot shot at Ronald Reagan. Unless I misread it, and the author was quoting Sellers or someone else, but if I remember it correctly the author made fun of Reagan being an actor and then President of the US. Not sure what the author's problem is, but the book editor did a piss poor job of editing that out. Reagan fan or not, it was unnecessary, out of place, and detracted from the remainder of the book which quickly trailed off into brief snippets of gossip. Almost if the author was tired or writing the book and needed to wrap up in under 400 pages. Won't read again. Might pick up one of the Sellers biographies he mentioned, but don't enjoy reading about people who are cruel and unusual. Ayn Rand, despite being a fine writer, had a cruel and unusual life that I couldn't wait to close the book on... much like Peter Sellers. Too bad for his ex-wives and his kids. They were really cheated by not having a present and loving father figure. Seems that all had personal problems resulting from his cruel form of emotional and verbal abuse (and physical abuse of beating his son).

  14. 5 out of 5

    Tabatha

    "Mr. Strangelove: A Biography of Peter Sellers" gives a good overview of the benchmarks of Peter Sellers' life, however it seems to be a biography written by someone who doesn't care for the work of Peter Sellers. Beyond giving the facts of Peter's life, Ed Sikov also gives synopses and opinions on the various films Peter Sellers appeared in throughout his career. Although I will readily admit that quite a few of them weren't up to par, the author is unnecessarily harsh and critical of each one "Mr. Strangelove: A Biography of Peter Sellers" gives a good overview of the benchmarks of Peter Sellers' life, however it seems to be a biography written by someone who doesn't care for the work of Peter Sellers. Beyond giving the facts of Peter's life, Ed Sikov also gives synopses and opinions on the various films Peter Sellers appeared in throughout his career. Although I will readily admit that quite a few of them weren't up to par, the author is unnecessarily harsh and critical of each one he was in with only a few obvious exceptions, namely films like "Dr. Strangelove", "Being There", and "Lolita". Reading the author's opinions of his films would lead one to wonder why they should even bother watching films such as "Hoffman", "Only Two Can Play", and "The Dock Brief" for a few examples, which is a great disservice to not only Peter Sellers but also anyone who enjoys films. Furthermore, there are quite a few discrepancies and what appear to be inaccuracies. Many of this author's accounts do not match up with what has been reported by other reputable sources- friends, family, and so forth. I would therefore recommend anyone who reads this to do so with a healthy skepticism.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Irene B.

    I'm taking my time reading this bio as it is full of great tips about music and film I've never heard about before. Well, most of the clips and tunes are on Youtube. I've discovered The early Goon Show, Peter Sellers "records", and watched some scenes of movies I've never seen such as The Magic Christian and also The Party. Fabulous. I've ordered my own "used" copy of this book so I can take my time and make notes. What an outstanding performer he was!!! Nov 2012: Still reading the book and watc I'm taking my time reading this bio as it is full of great tips about music and film I've never heard about before. Well, most of the clips and tunes are on Youtube. I've discovered The early Goon Show, Peter Sellers "records", and watched some scenes of movies I've never seen such as The Magic Christian and also The Party. Fabulous. I've ordered my own "used" copy of this book so I can take my time and make notes. What an outstanding performer he was!!! Nov 2012: Still reading the book and watching his earlier movies or getting a hold of audio. There's a great boxed set of older movies where you can see the beginning of genius, as well as later films (but pre-Clouseau) in which he becomes the character he is playing (pre Being There). What an amazing actor. I also, with some searching of ebay, found a copy of a hysterical collection of audio comedy called "How to Win an Election", which, although about British Parliament, was extremely funny and appropriate in this 2012 US election year.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Patrick Moody

    There was never a dull moment reading this highly detailed account of the life of the legendary actor, who comes off as a chameleon and enigma. So detailed, in fact, that it begins with stories of his family several generations before he was born. Once it moves past that background information it starts to become very engaging, painting an often unflattering account of a selfish, temperamental mama's boy who stayed that way until his death in his 50s. It's no surprise his direct relatives did no There was never a dull moment reading this highly detailed account of the life of the legendary actor, who comes off as a chameleon and enigma. So detailed, in fact, that it begins with stories of his family several generations before he was born. Once it moves past that background information it starts to become very engaging, painting an often unflattering account of a selfish, temperamental mama's boy who stayed that way until his death in his 50s. It's no surprise his direct relatives did not assist in the creation of the book, but the author interviewed people close to Sellers and also drew from previously published interviews with some of the major players in Sellers' life. Oddly, the one aspect of his life that is far less detailed than you might expect is his work on the Pink Panther movie franchise. I expect that the author either wanted to stay away from the obvious, or perhaps discovered that the topic had already been well covered in print by other authors.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Alice

    This is a very well researched and easy ro read book. It took me awhile to read it because I was constantly going to google articles or watch interviews and even movies on YouTube which were mentioned. That being said, I came away feeling sad that I will probably no longer be able to look at a Peter Sellers movie again the same way. He was a disturbed individual who treated his wives and children brutally. His bizarre behavior towards friends and co-workers all seemed to be forgiven because he w This is a very well researched and easy ro read book. It took me awhile to read it because I was constantly going to google articles or watch interviews and even movies on YouTube which were mentioned. That being said, I came away feeling sad that I will probably no longer be able to look at a Peter Sellers movie again the same way. He was a disturbed individual who treated his wives and children brutally. His bizarre behavior towards friends and co-workers all seemed to be forgiven because he was 'so funny and excellent on camera'. Nothing new, I guess, in the celebrity culture.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Ryan McArthur

    Peter sellers sounds like a bit of an a-hole. He was a terrible dad, husband and friend. I had a student staying with me, and at one point she asked me what I was reading. I showed her this book and quoetd one of the Goodreads reviews which says "if you like peter sellers, you won't after reading this book" its totally true. He was the original "man who wasn't there" always playing a role, until he got bored, and then playing another one. However, I did really like "The Party" and, as someone el Peter sellers sounds like a bit of an a-hole. He was a terrible dad, husband and friend. I had a student staying with me, and at one point she asked me what I was reading. I showed her this book and quoetd one of the Goodreads reviews which says "if you like peter sellers, you won't after reading this book" its totally true. He was the original "man who wasn't there" always playing a role, until he got bored, and then playing another one. However, I did really like "The Party" and, as someone else around here said, I got some ideas for good movies to see.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Jim Berkin

    Sikov's very thorough bio of Peter Sellers didn't surprise me since I'd already read a lot about how Sellers was an oddball offscreen, but I had no idea how cruel he could be, especially to his wives and family. Granted, the man's work on screen is often hilarious (although he certainly made his share of real drek), but Sikov's grand tour through a lot of the dirty laundry was interesting even if somewhat depressing. Compared to other Hollywood bios in the same spirit, this one is very good.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Peter

    Interesting book. Peter Sellers had many quirks, but was also a genius at his craft. His children and wife's had a hard time dealing with the many faces of Peter. I thought the book was a bit slow at the beginning, but by the middle on was very entertaining. Amazing how many characters he could be in one movie and keep track of what he was doing. Interesting about how he did not like the color purple and thought it was bad luck.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Scoobs

    I can't wait to read this book about the legendary Mr. Sellers. Tosh will have to burn me a copy of his comedy stuff to keep me laughing until I get a chance to read the book on his wild and crazy life.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Paul Smith

    It's a bit clunky in places, but a solid read for all that and a more-than-decent account of one of the least pleasant men in showbiz.

  23. 5 out of 5

    R

    Fascinating man. Typical neurotic artist; truly there must be a biochemical basis for this common stereotype.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Corey

    Sellers was a fascinating, troubled and troubling man. His life is almost as interesting as his best work, in "Lolita," "Dr. Strangelove" and "Being There."

  25. 4 out of 5

    Brandon

    Top rate biography of the brilliant and damaged Peter Sellers. Found out everything I wanted to know about Sellers by reading this biography.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Melissa Brothers

    What a strange man.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Stephanie

    This book gave me a lengthy list of movies I should see.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Donna

    Creeped me out.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Laesar

    a good, insightful book but very very long

  30. 5 out of 5

    Leeanna Neumeyer

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