The Full Story of the Pink Panther: From Film to Franchise

There are few media franchises in history that have quite the same status as The Pink Panther. Beginning back in 1963, the franchise has endured through the ages, for a total of 11 films, with the possibility of future installments still to come.

Peter Sellers / Claudia Cardinale, Peter Sellers / Elke Sommer, Peter Sellers / Beyoncé, Steve Martin.
Source: Getty Images

Not only that, but the imagery of The Pink Panther has also been adapted in various other forms of media, from books and comics to video games and even kids’ cartoons. This guide will look at the various films of the franchise, key members of the cast, and other interesting facts about The Pink Panther.

The First Film in the Series

The Pink Panther series began with the release of 1963’s The Pink Panther. Written by Maurice Richlin and Blake Edwards, with Edwards in the director’s chair, the film follows French inspector Jacques Clouseau on the hunt for a jewel thief called “The Phantom.”

Claudia Cardinale in The Pink Panther / Peter Sellers as Insp Jacques Clouseau.
Photo by Sunset Boulevard, Corbis, Getty Images / Art Zelin, Getty Images

The titular Pink Panther is the name of a priceless diamond that The Phantom has stolen, and the film was very well-received, with several impressive reviews and earning $10.9 million at the North American box office, with an estimated total of $6 million in rentals.

Peter Sellers Stole the Show

The original Pink Panther movie was supposed to be mostly about the thief rather than Inspector Clouseau. David Niven was cast in the part of the thief, and it was believed that the film would be a good vehicle for Niven.

A still of Peter Sellers as Insp Jacques Clouseau in a scene from the film.
Source: Copyright: Amjo Productions

However, as filming progressed, it became clear to all concerned that it was Peter Sellers, in the role of Inspector Clouseau, who was clearly the star of the show and was repeatedly stealing the spotlight. This is what led to Sellers becoming a much bigger player in the subsequent films.

David Niven as Sir Charles Lytton

Born in 1910, David Niven was a British actor and novelist who famously won the Best Actor Academy Award for his role as Major Pollock in Separate Tables. He also had notable roles in films like A Matter of Life and Death and Casino Royale.

A picture of Capucine and Niven on set.
Photo by Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone/Getty Images

The Pink Panther represented Niven’s return to comedy roles, which had made him famous in his early career. He went on to appear in other movies like Lady L and TV series like The Rogues, enjoying a successful later career in the 70s and making some cameo appearances in more Pink Panther films before passing away in 1983.

Peter Sellers as Inspector Clouseau

Born in 1925, Peter Sellers made his stage debut when he was just two weeks old. He first found fame on the BBC radio comedy series, The Goon Show, later moving into cinematic comedy with films like I’m All Right Jack and Dr. Strangelove.

A still of Peter Sellers as Inspector Clouseau hiding in a trash can.
Photo by United Artists/Getty Images

Inspector Clouseau became one of Sellers’ most iconic roles, and his performances helped to make the series so successful. In later life, he appeared in other comedy films, like Being There, but he struggled with health issues and personal problems late in his life and passed away at 54 after suffering a heart attack.

A Shot in the Dark

A Shot in the Dark was the second film in The Pink Panther franchise, and it was released less than a year after the first, with Blake Edwards returning as director and Peter Sellers reprising his role as Jacques Clouseau.

Elke Sommer and Peter Sellers pose in a promotional shot for the film.
Photo by FilmPublicityArchive/United Archives/Getty Images

It was in this film that audiences were first able to enjoy the over-the-top French accent of Clouseau’s character. A Shot in the Dark also saw the arrival of some characters who would become fan favorites in the franchise, like Commissioner Dreyfus (played by Herbert Lom) and Cato (played by Burt Kwouk).

The Original Script Underwent Big Changes

Originally, A Shot in the Dark was set to be the adaptation of a French stage play called L’Idiote (“The Idiot”). Inspector Clouseau was not included in the original script, but when Blake Edwards was asked to step into the director’s role, he demanded that Clouseau be included, and Sellers be made the star of the film.

Peter Sellers in a scene from A Shot in the Dark.
Photo by FilmPublicityArchive/United Archives/Getty Images

Edwards had clearly seen that Sellers’ incarnation of Clouseau was a huge part of The Pink Panther’s success, and he wanted to bring the character back for more. He also demanded that he and Sellers be allowed to create their own comic sequences on the fly, even if it meant going off-script, and the studio agreed.

Edwards and Sellers Fell Out While Making the Film

Even though Blake Edwards and Peter Sellers had enjoyed great success together with the first Pink Panther film and were excited to explore more of the Clouseau character, their relationship deteriorated massively while shooting A Shot in the Dark.

A dated portrait of Edwards during an interview.
Photo by Michael Daines/Daily Mirror/Mirrorpix/Getty Images

In fact, by the time filming wrapped, Edwards and Sellers vowed that they would never work with each other again. Fortunately for Pink Panther fans, the pair ended up reconciling a few years later, and they worked again on several other films.

Herbert Lom as Charles Dreyfus

Herbert Lom was born in 1917 in Prague. He had his first film roles in his Czech homeland, moving to the UK in 1939 and appearing in a diverse range of roles in films like The Young Mr. Pitt and War and Peace.

A still of Herbert Lom on the set of “The Pink Panther Strikes Again.”
Photo by United Artists/Getty Images

The role of Charles Dreyfus was arguably Lom’s most famous part. He also appeared in two screen versions of And Then There Were None and wrote historical novels in his spare time. He passed away at the age of 95 in 2012, having mostly stopped acting in the 1990s.

Burt Kwouk as Cato

Burt Kwouk was born in 1930 in England but was raised in Shanghai. He returned to the UK in the late 1940s and, in the 50s, a girlfriend at the time encouraged him to try a career in acting. He got his first film role in Windom’s Way (1957).

Burt Kwouk, Peter Sellers, and Dyan Cannon film a scene for the film.
Photo by David Farrell/Getty Images

More roles followed, but it was the part of Cato Fong in The Pink Panther movies that really made Kwouk a star. He appeared in various TV series, too, like The Saint and The Avengers. He died at the age of 85 of cancer.

André Maranne as Francois Chevalier

André Maranne was born in Toulouse in 1926. He made his acting debut in Wicked as They Come in 1956 and went on to appear in increasingly important roles in various films throughout the 50s, 60s, and into the 70s.

A still of André Maranne as Francois Chevalier.
Source: Copyright: United Artists

The role of Sergeant Francois Chevalier was Maranne’s most memorable role, and he appeared in six of The Pink Panther films. He also appeared in Thunderball and popular British TV shows like Fawlty Towers and Yes Minister. Maranne died in April 2012 at the age of 94.

Elke Sommer as Maria Gambrelli

A Shot in the Dark also introduced fans of the franchise to the character of Maria Gambrelli, played by a German actress, Elke Sommer. Maria is Clouseau’s love interest in the film, while also being the main murder suspect who is repeatedly arrested, despite protesting her innocence.

A portrait of Elke Sommer as Maria Gambrelli.
Photo by RDB/ullstein bild/Getty Images

Born in Berlin in 1940, Sommer became a popular pin-up girl in the 60s. She acted in the likes of The Prize, Zeppelin, and Carry On Behind. She has done less acting in recent years and currently lives in Los Angeles.

Inspector Clouseau

Inspector Clouseau was the third film in the series, and it marked a major departure from the previous two, as neither Peter Sellers nor Blake Edwards returned. Instead, Bud Yorkin took the director’s role, with Alan Arkin playing the part of Clouseau.

A still of Alan Arkin as Inspector Clouseau.
Source: YouTube

Sellers and Edwards were working on The Party at the time. They were approached to make the movie but declined, so the film studio, The Mirisch Company, decided to carry on without them. This turned out to be a poor decision, as Inspector Clouseau was very negatively received.

An Obscure Entry

These days, Inspector Clouseau is seen by Pink Panther fans as an obscure and rarely-talked-about entry in the franchise, as it lacked many of the key elements that people associate with The Pink Panther, such as Edwards’ direction, Sellers’ acting, and the iconic music by Henry Mancini.

A picture of Alan Arkin on the set of Inspector Clouseau.
Photo by FilmPublicityArchive/United Archives/Getty Images

Producer Walter Mirisch really wanted to make the film and didn’t want to wait around for Sellers and Edwards to agree. So, having seen Alan Arkin enjoy success in The Russians Are Coming, Mirisch decided to offer him the lead role.

Sellers Didn’t Want Anyone Else in the Role

Not long before shooting began on Inspector Clouseau, Peter Sellers changed his mind. He called Mirisch and said that he didn’t want anyone else playing the part of Clouseau and that he would accept to take part in the film if he was allowed to look at the script first and approve it personally.

A dated image of Peter Sellers.
Photo by George W. Hales/Fox Photos/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

However, Mirisch refused. At that point, the producer was happy with his choice of Alan Arkin and didn’t want to give in to Sellers’ demands. So, filming went ahead with Arkin, who was already one of the hottest names in Hollywood, having received an Oscar nomination for his very first film role.

Alan Arkin as Inspector Clouseau

Inspector Clouseau was one of Arkin’s first film roles, but The Russians Are Coming had already helped him find fame and get his first Oscar nomination. He followed up with roles in films like Catch-22, and The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, and enjoyed more success in the decades that followed.

Alan Arkin attends an event.
Photo by Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic/Getty Images

These days, Arkin is known as one of the world’s most beloved actors for films like Glengarry Glen Ross, Little Miss Sunshine, and Argo. He’s a successful writer and singer and has recently been seen on TV in The Kominsky Method as well as in movies like Dumbo and Spenser Confidential.

The Return of the Pink Panther

The Return of the Pink Panther was the fourth entry in The Pink Panther franchise, and it saw a return to form for the series, with many of the big names from the earlier films coming back for this one.

Peter Sellers is in a promotional poster for “The Return Of The Pink Panther.”
Photo by LMPC/Getty Images

This film was also the first since The Pink Panther to actually feature the famed Pink Panther diamond as a part of the plot. The character of The Phantom came back, too, but was played by Christopher Plummer, rather than David Niven, who was not available at the time.

Putting the Band Back Together

Fans were excited for this film, especially after the disappointing Inspector Clouseau, as it brought many of the original names from the early films back together, including Blake Edwards as director and Peter Sellers as Clouseau.

Peter Sellers poses for a picture in the character of Inspector Clouseau.
Photo by Stanley Bielecki Movie Collection/Getty Images

However, it was a big challenge for this film to get made. Blake Edwards had written an outline for a new Pink Panther film and approached producer Walter Mirisch, who liked the idea. However, the studio’s backer, United Artists, said no as they felt that the careers of Edwards and Sellers were on the decline.

Funds Had to Be Found

Since United Artists didn’t want to finance the film, the filmmakers had to look around and find someone else who would. Eventually, they arranged a deal with British film producer Lew Grade, who already had a deal in place with Blake Edwards at the time.

A still of Peter Sellers disguised as Henry de Toulouse-Lautrec.
Photo by David Farrell/Getty Images

Grade had agreed to finance two films for Blake Edwards. In exchange, he wanted Edwards’ wife, Julie Andrews, to appear in a TV special he was making. Edwards had already made one film for their deal, The Tamarind Seed, and it was decided that the second picture would be a new Pink Panther movie.

Sellers Had to Be Talked Into it

The Return of the Pink Panther came out in 1975, and at that time, Peter Sellers’ career was not at the same level it had once been. He also hadn’t got as much interest or passion for making movies and was struggling with mental health issues, with friends worried he was having a nervous breakdown.

A portrait of Peter Sellers during an interview.
Photo by Evening Standard/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

In fact, at the time, having just received some of the worst reviews of his career for The Great McGonagall, Sellers was starting to appear in TV commercials and struggling to get work. Therefore, he had to be convinced by Lew Grade to take part in the new Pink Panther movie.

A Turning Point

Even the people involved with The Return of the Pink Panther weren’t sure if it would be successful. United Artists, the franchise’s backers, thought it would be a flop, Sellers was nervous about it, and even fans of the franchise weren’t sure how it might turn out.

A scene from the film.
Source: Copyright: United Artists

Fortunately for all involved, The Return of the Pink Panther was a real return to success for the franchise. It marked a key turning point in Sellers’ career, and it brought life back to the series, allowing for more films to be made in the years that followed.

Christopher Plummer as The Phantom

Since David Niven was unavailable, Christopher Plummer was brought in to take over the role of The Phantom/Sir Charles Litton. Plummer was an established stage actor at the time who was also famous for his role as Captain Georg von Trapp in The Sound of Music.

Peter Sellers, Christopher Plummer, and Catherine Schell are in a scene from the film.
Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Over the course of his long and storied career, Plummer received an Oscar, Golden Globe, two Tony Awards, and other prizes. He appeared in such films as Malcolm X, A Beautiful Mind, and Inside Man, passing away in 2021 at the age of 91.

The Pink Panther Strikes Again

The fifth film in the franchise was The Pink Panther Strikes Again, released in 1976, just a year after the previous film, but set three years after its events. Again, we see Edwards directing, Sellers as Clouseau, and other key characters like Charles Dreyfus, Cato Fong, and Francois.

A promotional shot for the film.
Source: Copyright: United Artists

Interestingly, this film is the only one in the entire franchise which has a storyline that directly follows events from the previous film; the previous film ended with Dreyfus being sent to a psychiatric hospital and The Pink Panther Strikes Again begins with Dreyfus just about to be released from that same hospital.

The Rushed Production Took a Toll

Since The Return of the Pink Panther had been such a surprise success, the next film was quickly rushed into production in order to capitalize on that success. Fortunately, Blake Edwards had a script idea lying around that he and Frank Waldman had been working on as part of a planned Pink Panther TV series, so this was used as the basis for the film.

A still of Peter Sellers in a scene from the film.
Photo by FilmPublicityArchive/United Archives/Getty Images

However, because the whole process was quite rushed and rapid, tensions built up on set, and the relationship between Sellers and Edwards began to deteriorate once again. Sellers was struggling greatly, and Edwards later compared him to an “asylum inmate” called Sellers “certifiable.”

A Lot of Footage Got Cut

The original cut of the film ran for a total of 180 minutes, with Edwards originally planning for the film to be an epic farce with lots of chasing and wild, unexpected events. However, the studio, United Artists, wasn’t happy with such a long version.

Lesley-Anne Down is in the character of Olga in a still from the film.
Source: Copyright: United Artists

Cuts needed to be made, and close to 80 minutes of footage was removed from the film, giving it a final run time of 103 minutes, which was similar to the previous films in the franchise. Some of the cut footage was used in a later film, Trail of the Pink Panther.

Revenge of the Pink Panther

Revenge of the Pink Panther was the sixth film in the franchise, released in 1978. It represented the final performance of Peter Sellers in the role of Inspector Jacques Clouseau, and it was also the last film in the franchise to be distributed only by United Artists.

Peter Sellers is disguised as a gangster in “The Revenge of the Pink Panther.”
Photo by Graham Stark/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

The story of Revenge of the Pink Panther places Clouseau against the French Connection, a real-world network of heroin smugglers. The film was shot in various locations around the world, including France, Hong Kong, and the United Kingdom.

Contrasting Ideas and Opposing Strategies

The relationship between Blake Edwards and Peter Sellers was still struggling at this point, with Sellers demanding more control over the stories and ways in which the films in the franchise were made and Edwards growing increasingly frustrated. Both men had very different ideas about how this film should be made.

A portrait of Blake Edwards and Julie Andrews.
Photo by David Livingston/Getty Images

Edwards wanted to reuse some of the funny scenes that had been cut from the previous film, which had suffered almost 80 minutes’ worth of cuts. Sellers didn’t like that idea, demanding that the new film be its own entity, with entirely new footage throughout. Sellers’ contract stipulated that he had the final say over the film’s story, so he got his way.

Romance of the Pink Panther

Romance of the Pink Panther was supposed to be the next film in the franchise, and it had been written by Peter Sellers himself, with assistance from Jim Moloney. What’s more, because of the problems between Sellers and Blake Edwards, Edwards would not have been the director for the film.

A picture of Peter Sellers.
Photo by Gilbert TOURTE/Gamma-Rapho/Getty Images

The plot followed Clouseau becoming obsessed with a cat burglar called The Frog, played by Pamela Stephenson. Clive Donner and Sidney Poitier were attached to the project as possible directors, but because of Sellers’ death, the film was never made.

Trail of the Pink Panther

The seventh film in The Pink Panther franchise was Trail of the Pink Panther. It was the first film to be made after Peter Sellers’ death, but it still starred Sellers, with Blake Edwards and his fellow filmmakers making use of old footage of Sellers to create most of the scenes.

A still Peter Sellers and Julie Andrews in a scene from the film “Trail of the Pink Panther.”
Photo by Stanley Bielecki Movie Collection/Getty Images

The plot also introduces us to Marie Jouveat, played by Joanna Lumley, a journalist who is trying to track down Clouseau after he goes missing. Once again, the Pink Panther diamond appears, and we also see the return of David Niven as Sir Charles Litton, along with other familiar faces like Francois, Cato, and Chief Dreyfus.

A Troubled Production

Trail of the Pink Panther started production about 18 months after Sellers’ death, and instead of bringing in new characters to replace Clouseau, Blake Edwards wanted to honor Sellers by including him in the film as much as possible. However, this proved to be a controversial move, with Sellers’ widow expressing her dismay.

A portrait of Lynne Frederick.
Photo by Gilbert TOURTE/Gamma-Rapho/Getty Images

The widow, Lynne Frederick, actually filed a $3 million lawsuit against the producers and studio, saying that the movie damaged Sellers’ reputation. She received more than a million dollars in damages. She was within her rights to file the lawsuit, as Sellers had explicitly stated that he didn’t want to cut footage from previous movies being used in future films.

Curse of the Pink Panther

Curse of the Pink Panther was the next film in the franchise, released in 1983. A big departure from the previous film, Curse did not feature any footage of Peter Sellers, and the character of Marie Jouveat was also left behind, with a new lead character introduced: American detective Clifton Sleigh.

A promotional shot for the film.
Photo by United Artists/Getty Images

Ted Wass took on the role of Sleigh, who was tasked with tracking down Inspector Clouseau. Famed James Bond actor, Roger Moore, was seen in a cameo role as Clouseau near the end of the film, and it was the final appearance of David Niven, who died just before its release.

Big Plans for the Future

Blake Edwards hoped that this would be a big turning point for the franchise, and he actually signed Ted Wass for six more Panther films, in addition to this one. He hoped to retire the old characters, like Cato and Dreyfus, and bring in a new cast of characters for a fresh take on the series.

A still from the film.
Source: YouTube

There were even plans in place for how the films would proceed, which characters would be elevated to bigger roles, and who would direct the next installments, with Terry Marcel in charge of the next one and Edwards’ son, Geoffrey Edwards, in charge of writing. These plans were shelved after Curse of the Pink Panther proved to be a major flop.

Robert Wagner as George Litton

Robert Wagner was introduced in this film as George Litton, nephew of Charles Litton. He was a huge actor at the time, having enjoyed success on stage and on TV in the likes of It Takes a Thief and Hart to Hart.

A still of Robert Wagner in the film / Robert Wagner attends an event.
Photo by United Artists, Getty Images / Amy Sussman, Getty Images

In more recent times, Wagner has been seen in guest roles on shows like NCIS and Two and a Half Men. He’s also known for his roles in the Austin Powers movies and is still making the odd appearance on screen to this day, despite being in his 90s.

Son of the Pink Panther

Son of the Pink Panther was the next film in the series, arriving in 1993, 10 years after Curse. Again, it was directed by Blake Edwards and featured some series regulars, with the introduction of Roberto Benigni as Clouseau’s son. And it was, once again, a critical and commercial failure.

Roberto Benigni poses for the press.
Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./Ron Galella Collection/Getty Images

It was hoped that Son would be a successful relaunch of the series and a launchpad for Italian comedian Benigni, although Rowan Atkinson (Mr. Bean) was originally offered the role, as well as Gerard Depardieu. Unfortunately, the film struggled to appeal to audiences, and Edwards retired from directing a year later.

New Cast Members

Son of the Pink Panther introduced some new cast members, notably Dermot Crowley as Francois Duval and Claudia Cardinale as Maria Gambrelli. Crowley is an Irish actor on stage and screen who won an Olivier Award for The Weir and has recently been seen in The Death of Stalin.

Claudia Cardinale and Roberto Benigni pose for the press.
Photo by Rick Maiman/Sygma/Getty Images

Claudia Cardinale, meanwhile, is a Tunisian-born Italian actress who appeared in many famous European films throughout the 60s and 70s, mostly in French or Italian. She actually appeared in the very first Pink Panther film as Princess Dala, returning to the franchise much later in this new role. Recently, she has been seen in Rogue City.

The Reboot

In the 2000s, it was decided that The Pink Panther franchise could be rebooted and the character of Clouseau could make a return. Several actors were considered for the part, including Chris Tucker and Mike Myers, with Steve Martin eventually being given the role.

A still of Beyoncé in a scene from the film.
Source: Copyright: MGM

The film had to undergo serious editing to achieve a family-friendly feel and, despite negative reviews, it was a box office success and became the highest-grossing film in the franchise. It grossed over $164 million worldwide, in total, from an $80 million budget.

Steve Martin as Inspector Clouseau

Born in 1945 in Texas, Steve Martin is a highly successful comedian, actor, writer, and musician. He started off as a writer for The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour and a host on Saturday Night Live, going on to enjoy stand-up success and then getting into acting, with movies like Three Amigos and Planes, Trains and Automobiles.

Steve Martin is on the set of the film.
Source: Copyright: MGM

Martin is also well known for the Father of the Bride movies, as well as the Cheaper by the Dozen series. He has recently been seen in the Hulu comedy-murder-mystery show, Only Murders in the Building, which he also co-created with John Hoffman.

Kevin Kline as Dreyfus

Kevin Kline was brought in to play the part of Dreyfus for The Pink Panther reboot. He is one of the most successful actors of his generation, having appeared in the likes of Sophie’s Choice, A Fish Called Wanda, and the Big Chill.

A still of Kevin Kline as Dreyfus.
Source: Copyright: MGM

In more recent years, Kline has enjoyed success in voice acting, having lent his voice to the likes of Bob’s Burgers, for which he has been nominated for a Primetime Emmy. He also still regularly stars in movies and has recently filmed The Starling and The Good House.

The Pink Panther 2

A few years later, a sequel to the reboot came along, bringing back Martin, along with Jean Reno and Emily Mortimer in their roles as Clouseau’s partner, Ponton, and his girlfriend, Nicole, respectively. The cast also saw the addition of John Cleese as Dreyfus.

A promotional shot for the film. Copyright: MGM

Shot in various locations around the US and France, The Pink Panther 2 didn’t have as much commercial success as its predecessor, taking just $76 million at the box office against a budget of $70 million. The film also received even worse reviews than the first.

John Cleese as Dreyfus

In the sequel, Kevin Kline was replaced by John Cleese in the role of Charles Dreyfus. Cleese is best known as part of the hugely successful and influential comedy troupe Monty Python, as well as for his own work on Fawlty Towers and other shows and films, like A Fish Called Wanda.

A still of Steve Martin and John Cleese in a scene from the film.
Source: Copyright: MGM

One of the biggest comedians of the past, Cleese has done less comedy in recent years and focused more on writing, although he has had notable appearances in several big film series, including in James Bond as R and Q, as well as playing the part of Nearly Headless Nick in the Harry Potter movies.