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Celebrating Herbert Lom (1917-2012)

Herbert Lom, a Czech actor who narrowly escaped the Nazi occupation in 1939, died today at age 95.

Though best known for his role in the Pink Panther series, as the beleaguered boss who had to deal with Inspector Clouseau’s constant mishaps, Lom had an extremely long and varied career on stage and on screen that included TV series’, comedies, musicals, and many roles in horror films.

Renowned for his elegant bearing and imperious speaking voice, Lom acted in both low-budget genre fare like the notorious Mark of the Devil (1970) and Asylum (1972), and iconic films like Jess Franco’s Dracula (also 1970), which starred Christopher Lee (Lom played Van Helsing).  Lom starred opposite Lee again in 1974, in the haunted-house flick Dark Places.  In 1980 he starred with Walter Matthau in the spy parody Hopscotch (perhaps building on his experience from “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.”), and in 1983 he played the doctor in David Cronenberg’s The Dead Zone, ministering to an up-and-coming Christopher Walken.

Lom also appeared in such landmarks as The Ladykillers (1955), his first time playing opposite Peter Sellers, as well as Fire Down Below (1957), Spartacus (1960), and El Cid (1961).  He performed onstage in London as the king in “The King And I” for nearly a thousand shows, and features on the original cast recording.  He wrote two novels, one of which was optioned for screenplay rights but hasn’t yet materialized into a film.  He played Napoleon twice (The Young Mr. Pitt [1942], War and Peace [1956]), twin trapeze artists in Dual Alibi (1946), and even appeared in an episode of “Hawaii Five-O” in 1971.

Having been forced to abandon his homeland in the war (his girlfriend at the time, who was Jewish, was eventually killed in a concentration camp), Lom achieved remarkable success as an actor.  That he managed to have such a long and multifarious career despite the paranoia of the war and its aftermath—he was denied a visa to the United States for “political reasons”—is pretty amazing.  That he put the same amount of effort into his role in Hammer’s slightly silly Phantom and its ilk as he did his more “important” roles is something that will endear him to horror fans forever.

By Lita Robinson

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About Lita Robinson

Lita Robinson holds a B.A. in Film Studies from Smith College, and an M.A. in Cinema Studies at the Tisch School of the Arts at NYU. She currently works in sales and distribution, and consults as a story editor on the side.

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