Nice days for ‘Panther’ crew

GOOD MORNING from Monte Carlo, where the season is now in full swing and I arrive in time for preparations in next-door Nice (doubling for Paris) for a new national holiday–to honor Jacques Clouseau. It is, of course, part of the filming here–and at other global points–of “Son of the Pink Panther,” Blake Edwards’ latest outing with his wacky characters, and with the addition of Clouseau’s illegitimate son as played by Italian star Robert Benigni. For the “holiday” celebration, over 1,000 Clouseau look-alikes will fill the streets of Nice. Even babies will be made to look like the character made famous by the late Peter Sellers. They’ll all wear trenchcoats, mustaches and the hat that was Clouseau’s trademark. In addition, thousands of Clouseau-looking balloons will fill the air. Streamers, statues, kiosks will all bear Clouseau’s likeness. To encourage the French to make every effort to carbon Clouseau, the MGM movie company’s giving away a Fiat–a Pink Panda–to the best Clouseau lookalike. Producer Tony Adams, celebrating his 20th year with Edwards, has never been more enthusiastic about a “Panther” stunt. … The cities here are bubbling with excitement thanks to the arrival of the movie company, the opening tonight of the Monte Carlo Sporting Club season with Diana Ross, and upcoming events including the annual celeb tennis matches and the U.S. Olympic basketball team arrival at Loew’s Monte Carlo. Loew’s is already packing them in for its Cabaret Folie Russe, a seven-act show in its main showroom. We caught up with the Hollywood movie company on the J.F. Kennedy quai in the Monaco harbor. The company is perched high atop a rampart, shooting across to a 170-foot-long yacht, rented at $20,000 a day for the sequences being filmed. On the other side of the rampart, topless bathers are sunning on enormous concrete blocks while unperturbed fisherman stand a few feet away casting their lines–and glances.

JULIE ANDREWS JOINED Blake and the movie company on the location. She looked spectacular in a wide-brimmed white straw hat, white blouse and blue slacks. The locals couldn’t believe their eyes when she strolled by. Andrews gave them all her inimitable smile and hellos. She had been in Senegal recently for MIFEM and she will head out again, she told me, to Zimbabwe and then to Southeast Asia to help the organization, dedicated to the assistance of women. She said she will not take a job this summer but instead will remain at Blake’s side on the location here, followed by (Pinewood) London and then Jordan. Edwards will undergo knee surgery as soon as the film winds. His ailment isn’t slowing him–physically or emotionally. In no uncertain terms, he told me his anger of the treatment he claims Julie received during the making of their ill-fated six-segged ABC series this summer. No more TV for either. It’s not like the “good old days” when he was making “Peter Gunn” or “Mr. Lucky.” After winding “Panther,” he concentrates on the B’way-bound “Victor/Victoria” musical with Julie starring, music by Henry Mancini, lyrics by Leslie Bricusse. Mancini is, of course, musicking “Panther,” as he does all Edwards’ films and TV. He’s already written the theme, and Bobby McFerrin has recorded all the orchestra — vocally. Edwards and Tony Adams say it’s one of the most creative things Mancini’s ever done–and that’s saying a lot … The latest “Panther” is budgeted at $ 25 million. Adams and Edwards told me Jordan’s Queen Noor is a “Panther” fan and she and the King have cooperated to the fullest, giving the company troops and equipment for giant sequences and also helping to build enormous sets … Debrah Farentino, who co-stars, plays a desert princess who is kidnapped in the story–with Clouseau to the rescue around the world. For her role, Farentino (Mrs. Tony Adams) has spent a month learning karate. We watched a scene in which she “fought” with her trainer, Bill Ryusaki, sending him tumbling 30 feet off the top of the yacht into the drink. Edwards’ trusty stunt coordinator, Joe Dunne, is again creating the wild scenes for this “Panther.” Another regular from the past pix is Dr. Herb Tanney, who doubles as the company doctor and actor.

ROBERT BENIGNI, who plays the title role in “Son of the Pink Panther,” arrived on the location at the harbor even though he did not have a call to work yesterday. Before his arrival, everyone on the set told me flattering tales about the Italian star, whose current movie, “Johnny Stecchino,” has broken all records in Italy and has been reissued a second time this year! He wrote, directed and starred in “Johnny.” His arrival confirmed reports about him. He went about the set greeting each member of the crew personally, joking and always smiling. A slight, balding 39-year-old, Roberto reminds of Woody Allen. He said he’s flattered to be thought of in the same sentence. He thinks of himself more of a combination of Laurel and Hardy. He does not imitate Peter Sellers–but does foul up words a la Sellers’ Clouseau–with his Italian accent added. It’s recalled Gerard Depardieu was first thought of for the role–but couldn’t work out his sked. However, after one brief meeting (described hilariously by Roberto) between himself, Edwards and Adams at the Bel-Air Hotel, Benigni was the man for Clouseau. Roberto thought the meeting was a disaster–didn’t think he’d gotten the role … This is Edwards’ 50th movie, and a celebration is planned for that next year.

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