I am not difficult at all,” Peter Sellers once said. “I just cannot take mediocrity on any level.” Many people who worked with the comic legend would disagree with that self-assessment, among them Peter Medak, a longtime friend who directed Peter’s problem-plagued 1973 pirate movie Ghost in the Noonday Sun.
“The trouble started immediately,” Medak tells Closer. “The minute Peter arrived on set, he tried to fire everyone around him to make sure the film wouldn’t happen.” The battle to finish the movie, which was never released theatrically, is the subject of an upcoming documentary, The Ghost of Peter Sellers.
In it, Medak attributes Peter’s foul mood to the recent breakup of his month-long relationship with Liza Minnelli. “He arrived in a catatonic state of manic depression,” Medak says. “He used to fall in and out of love very quickly.”
Peter also had a history of heart problems, and when he fell ill two weeks into the Ghost shoot in Cyprus, it was feared he’d had a heart attack. He was admitted to a hospital in London and the production shut down. Only days later, Medak was stunned to see a picture of Peter in the paper having dinner with Princess Margaret.
He returned to the set with a doctor’s note claiming he was unable to work, yet filming was ultimately completed. What accounted for Peter’s bizarre behavior? “God, if I knew, I would be Dr. Freud,” says Medak, adding only that Peter had an unhealthily close relationship with his mother, a stage performer.
“When I look at myself, I see a person who strangely lacks what I consider the ingredients of a personality,” Peter explained. “I feel ghostly unreal until I become somebody else again on the screen.” Despite the challenges Peter presented, Medak says he doesn’t regret the time they spent together.
“I’m grateful to have known him and his genius — he was on the level of Chaplin and W.C. Fields,” the director says. “He was my friend, and I loved him.”
Reporting by Amanda Champagne Meadows
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