Obituary: Herbert Lom / Frustrated boss of Pink Panther's Inspector Clouseau

Died Sept. 27, 2012

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Herbert Lom, the versatile Czech-born actor who could play Napoleon Bonaparte or a witch hunter with equal aplomb but who was perhaps best known as Peter Sellers' frustrated boss in the "Pink Panther" franchise, died Thursday at his home in London. He was 95.

His son Alec confirmed his death, The Associated Press reported.

Mr. Lom gained more attention as a reliable character actor than as a suave leading man, although he was both. His deep-set, mesmerizing eyes made him the perfect villain in minor films in the early 1940s, and he went on to excel after World War II and in the 1950s and '60s in small roles in a variety of genres. In a career of more than five decades he appeared in more than 100 movies and television shows.

He was born Herbert Charles Angelo Kuchacevich ze Schluderpacheru in 1917 to upper-class parents in Prague. (Various sources give his date of birth as Jan. 9 and Sept. 11.) 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 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. 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.

Mr. 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.

He flourished in comedy -- notably alongside Sellers and Alec Guiness in "The Ladykillers" (1955) and later as the long-suffering Chief Inspector Dreyfus, who is eventually driven insane by Sellers' bumbling Inspector Clouseau. Mr. Lom played Dreyfus in seven "Pink Panther" movies, from "A Shot in the Dark" (1964) to "Son of the Pink Panther" (1993), which was made 13 years after Sellers' death and starred Roberto Benigni as Clouseau's son.

Mr. Lom 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" (1959). He played Napoleon Bonaparte twice, in "The Young Mr. Pitt" (1942) and in King Vidor's ambitious "War and Peace" (1956). He played a pirate who leads the slaves out of Italy in "Spartacus" (1960), and was the Muslim leader Ben Yussuf in "El Cid" (1961).

Mr. Lom 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 vampire; and he played a bloodthirsty witch hunter in 18th-century Austria in the ultra-gory German-made "Mark of the Devil" (1970), which developed a cult following for its explicit torture scenes.

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."

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