Many actors are superstitious. Some like Peter Bull kept a collection of Teddy bears to bring him good luck; others like Jack Lemmon said the words, “It’s magic time,” before filming each scene. But few have ever been quite as obsessed with superstitions and the occult as comedy genius, Peter Sellers.
Sellers’ introduction to the Occult came via fellow Goon, Michael Bentine, the “Watford-born Peruvian,” who had grown-up in a household where seances and table-turning were regularly practiced. Not long after they first met, Bentine told Sellers of his psychic abilities - how during the Second World War, when Bentine served in the Royal Air Force, he had been able to tell which of his comrades would die before a bombing mission. Bentine claimed if he saw a skull instead of his colleague’s features, then he knew this person would be killed. How often Bentine was correct in these predictions is not known. No matter, Sellers was greatly impressed by the shock-haired comic and was soon obsessed with all things paranormal.
From then on, Sellers collected superstitions, as easily as others collect stamps. He refused to wear green or act with anyone dressed in the color. If anyone gave him something sharp, he gave them a penny. He read his horoscopes every day so he would always know what he should do.
Sellers often said he had no idea who he was: “If you ask me to play myself, I will not know what to do. I do not know who or what I am.” This was his way of renouncing any responsibility for his actions. He claimed he found comfort and stability in consulting clairvoyants and fortune tellers, which again only underlines the fact he did know who he was - a control freak, who wanted power over his future. It was inevitable, therefore, that once under the spell of sooth-sayers and psychics, Sellers was open to fraudsters, tricksters and con-men.
The clairvoyant who had most influence over his life was Maurice Woodruff, the famed TV and newspaper astrologer, whose syndicated column reached over fifty million people at the height of his career. Woodruff received over 5,000 letters a week, asking for advice and had a Who’s Who of of celebrity clients, including composer Lionel Bart and actor Diana Dors. Woodruff had famously predicted the death of President John F. Kennedy and the end of the Vietnam War. Sellers was devoted to Woodruff, consulting him before he accepted any film roles, and regularly had tarot readings performed over the telephone. But Woodruff was heavily in debt and open to the persuasion of earning a little cash when film studios asked him to suggest film scripts to Sellers.
One famous tale, recounts how Woodruff was asked to suggest the initials of director Blake Edwards as being very important to Sellers. Unfortunately, Sellers failed to connect ‘B.E.’ with the famous Hollywood director. On return to the Dorchetser Hotel, his usual residence when in London, Sellers was smitten by the sight of a beautiful, young blonde-haired woman at reception. When he enquired who was this vision of loveliness, he was told Britt Ekland. Sellers recalled Woodruff’s prediction and married Ekland within weeks.
More on the paranormal Peter Sellers plus bonus clip after the jump…