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Seller’s Widow Wins $1 Million Damages Over Panther Film

May 24, 1985

LONDON (AP) _ Actress Lynne Frederick, was awarded $1 million in damages today on her claim that the movie, ″Trail of the Pink Panther,″ insulted the memory of her late husband, actor Peter Sellers.

But the High Court refused to grant Miss Frederick’s request for an injunction against further showing of the film.

The film used discarded clips from the five previous Pink Panther films, in which Sellers starred as the bumbling, self-important Inspector Clouseau. It was released in October 1982, two years after Sellers died.

High Court Judge Sir John S. Hobhouse ruled that the filmmakers, for commercial gain, had ″interfered with Sellers’ contractual rights.″ The movie was made by United Artists, director Blake Edwards and Lakeline Productions, owned by Edwards’ wife, singer Julie Andrews.

The judge also ruled that the producers breached the Performers Protection Act, which safeguards the work of performing artists. He rejected defense arguments that Sellers’ estate could not claim rights to his ″name, voice and likeness″ on film once he was dead.

″I hope this will show that producers cannot just do what they like with artists’ material without first having their consent,″ said Elwood Rickless, a lawyer representing Sellers’ estate. Miss Frederick is Sellers’ main beneficiary.

United Artists, which has estimated its legal costs in the case at $250,000, said it would consider an appeal.

During a 19-day hearing in March, the London court was told that Sellers refused several times to allow a film to be made from earlier Pink Panther footage left on the cutting room floor. The question at the trial was whether his right to control use of his performance extended to his beneficiaries after his death.

Miss Frederick, now 29 and married to a Los Angeles surgeon, testified that three days after Sellers’ death, Edwards approached her about plans to make the film. But after seeing video extracts, she rejected the idea, only to find her opposition overruled.

The producers called the film a tribute to Sellers’ comic genius.

″It was an appalling film, very bad indeed, not a tribute to my husband but an insult to his memory,″ Miss Frederick told the court during the trial.

The actress was not in court for today’s judgment.

David Puttnam, producer of the Oscar-winning films ″Chariots of Fire″ and ″The Killing Fields,″ testified on her behalf, saying, ″It would be unconscionable of me to use a piece of film which would work to the detriment of any artist.″

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