Herbert Lom best as the ever-excitable, chronically frustrated Inspector Dreyfus opposite Peter Sellers' indefatigably klutzy Inspector Clouseau in Blake Edwards' Pink Panther movies. But I must confess that my most vivid impression of Lom as a screen actor was formed many decades ago, when, as a wide-eyed kid growing up in New Orleans, I saw the Czech-born, Brit-trained actor in the title role of Hammer Studios' 1962 remake of The Phantom of the Opera.
Lom's sympathetic portrayal of the acid-scarred outcast struck me as so affecting, so sympathetic, that I actually mailed a Christmas card to the guy in care of Universal (the film's U.S. distributor). Can you imagine my surprise and delight when, a few weeks later, I actually received a note signed by Lom himself, thanking me for the card? I was 11 or 12 at the time. It was like getting a personalized acknowledgment from God
Several years later, I was at a Hollywood event of some sort -- frankly, I don't recall precisely what it was -- when I had a fleeting close encounter with one of the guests: Herbert Lom. By that point, I was well into my 30s. But I turned into a kid all over again when I shook Lom's hand -- and gushed a thank-you for his long-ago thank-you card. To his credit, Lom didn't immediately call for aid from security personnel. Instead, he smiled -- indeed, he heartily laughed -- and spent a few minutes conversing with me about Phantom, the Pink Panther movies, and a few other notable films (including The Ladykillers, also with Sellers, and the original Gambit) he had done.
It's to my eternal regret that I never actually got to meet Lom's Phanton co-star, the late, great Michael Gough, another icon from my youth. But on this day when I celebrate the life of a splendid character who showed me such kindness, I marvel once again at the blessings I have received during my long career of getting paid to go to the movies.