Friday, July 28, 2017

Personality in flux

As far as I'm aware, I have no personality of my own whatsoever.
Peter Sellers

His personality, or lack of one, dominates Mr. Strangelove, Ed Sikov's lively 2002 biography of the great British actor who died too soon, then several years later died again. "Dying changed him," Sikov writes, referring to the first time Sellers's notoriously bad heart stopped beating in 1964. It didn't change him enough however to clarify his personality.

The first of his many wives said of him, "It's like being married to the United Nations."

Stanley Kubrick, who directed the masterful Dr. Strangelove, said of Sellers, "There is no such person."

The actor himself said, "I'm like a mike -- I have no set sound of my own. I pick it up from my surroundings."

And so on throughout the biography. Yet however often it may be said of some people that they lack a personality, everybody has one. In the case of Peter Sellers, his personality was fluid, constantly changing. This is what made him such a terrific actor, the embodiment of characters as diverse as Inspector Clouseau and Chance the gardener, as well as all those roles he played in Dr. Strangelove and other movies. In real life, his personality was equally diverse, able to go from lovable and carefree to a raging maniac at the flip of a switch somewhere in his brain. With Sellers, nobody knew who they were getting, or even who they were marrying.

Sellers features prominently as a character in Jerzy, Jerome Charyn's recent novel about author Jerzy Kosinski, and Kosinski appears in this biography as well, although they apparently got along with each other much better in real life than in fiction. For they were very similar men, both with chameleon personalities, able to adapt to any situation without finding their true selves in any of them.

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