"Circles that I mix in seem to be well inhabited by nuts," declares Peter Sellers, creator of the mixed-up supersleuth Inspector Jacques Clouseau. He is recalling certain Eaton Square suppers, the London equivalent of Cleveland Park dinner parties.
"They close in on you. The worst part is that after dinner the ladies retire and the host begins to forge ahead..."
He starts creeping forward part is that after dinner the ladire and the host begins to forge ahead..."
He start creping forward from his chair like a feeble, fading nobleman. "'Have you got a good story?"' he asks very slowly, mocking the style of his host. "And you tell something dreadful and they're all tapping the sides of the table, mumbling 'quite good, quite good." It's enough to make you a real manci-depressive."
He's just beginning to break into vintage Sellers, after a half-hour of chit-chat now hitting the kind of zany humor that's delighted fans of more than 40 movies, including the Pink Panther films, "Dr. Strangelove," "What's New Pussycat?"' Now -- GONG! -- he's interrupted by novelist Jerzy Kosinski.
"Of course, in England," says Kosinski, "I've said the most amazing things at parties and people will say, 'Yes, you're absolutely right.'"
"Yes, you're absolutely right," deadpans Sellers.
This is an unholy marriage, although it has lasted eight years, ever since Sellers read Kosinski's "Being There" and decided it would make a wounderful movie. And so they met in London eight years ago, to talk things over in an Italian restauratn.
"I have a photograph of us," says Kosinski, who is rarely without a camera around his neck, ever ready to document the tenuous reality that surrounds him.
"Ah yes," says Sellers, "Myron Lorenzo's on Beauchamp Place."
"A friend of yours," asks Kosinski in moch surprise. "He was responsible for the worst diarrhea of my life!"
Sellers laughs and stares through his smoked lenses, out the hotel window. He crosses his legs and his black trouser cuff rides up to reveal a white sock under his black loafer. He's very low key. Sends his wife off to the room to get his "pink morning pill." She exits, trailed by her Lhasa apso.
Kosinski and Sellers have a sort of mutual admiration society that has come to fruition in the filming of Kosinski's "Being There," with Sellers in the lead role of Chauncey Gardiner, a meek fellow addicted to television and gardening who just happens to become the president's most important adviser. The film is being shot partly in Washington, and Kosinski has flown in for the event, having just finished his seventh novel two days ago.
"I do not know who will publish it," he announces in a heavy Polish accent that 21 years in this country hasn't homogenized. "I have no editor, no contract, no agent. I invite publishers to come to my apartment and read to come to my apartment and read the manuscript and if they like it they can buy it. If not, at least they get a free drink."
"When I read 'Being There,'" says Sellers, "I could tell that it would adapt perfectly to movies."
"Yes, it is completely visual," Kosinski concurs.
"We started chasing Jerzy," Kosinski concurs.
"We started chasing Jerzy," says Sellers. He's a terribly difficult person to pin down."
"I am always in the movies," says Kosinski. "I learned English from going to the movies. I saw "The World of Henry Orient, two times and once on television. When my English publisher told me Peter had called, I was wild. It was a chunk of Anglo-Saxon culture I was going to meet."
"So that's what you thought of me,' says Sellers.
"A character actor," says Kosinski, waxing philosophical. "A character actor teaches a foreigner that you can become someone else, which in what being a writer is all about." And then he shifts gears.
"Ah, the seduction of Kosinski by Peter Sellers was very clever. We're in Beverly Hills, mind you, and Sellers has ordered champagne and the waiter comes to serve it and Sellers is staring at a television screen that isn't turned on. And he says to the walking around half the room so he won't block Sellers' view of the screen."
Sellers and Kosinski laugh in unison.
Sellers begins to talk about his creation of the Pink Panther's Inspector Clouseau roles, and Kosinski hurries into his own bedroom. Even as Sellers is in mid-sentence, Kosinski is pulling out newspaper articles pasted on index cards, emphasized with yellow highlighter. When Sellers stops to breathe, Kosinski yanks the conversation in his own direction.
"Do you know how many people voted for Congressman McCloskey because they knew his views?" asks Kosinski. "This is from a survey his own campaign took. Five percent said they knew his views. Eighty-four percent said they voted for him because he appeared serious on television. And do you know who introduced the president at the Bicentennial celebration in Philadelphia? 'A man you know, love and believe in,' the announcer said. It was Charlton Heston. Not an astronaut, not a businessman.
"I have more facts," Kosinski says. "They cost one dollar. Insights we charge five dollars for.
"Life," he adds -- as Sellers gazes off into space -- is very tyrannical."
"Quite good," says Sellers, and he begins himself to discourse on similar matters.
"I once had a real nut case say to me, 'dddddddddddo... dddddddddo... dddddddo... you have a real job as well as this acting you do?'" And he starts mimicking a British horseman who's dressed to the nines, all ready for the big hunt, when Peter Ustinov happens by in the course of shooting a movie. And for course the huntsman offers the services of the entire hunt:
"We're with you all to a man," Sellers intones, in perfectly clipped Queen's English.
But just as the familiar Sellers' style is about to get rolling again, Kosinski interrupts again.
"Relations are difficult," Kosinski says. "I love renting things. It's a free relationship. When you send it back, no one gets hurt...."