Saturday, September 29, 2012

HERBERT LOM - The Man Who Once Was King

"There's a danger to be trusting one another.
One will seldom want to do what other wishes
But unless someday somebody trusts somebody
There'll be nothing left on Earth excepting fishes!"
Who sang that? Herbert Lom did. Kippers surviving man on Earth? Hmmm...

The day after Yom Kippur, the 95 year-old native of Czechoslovakia breathed his last.

Lom was the suave foreigner of 40's and 50's movies, looking like a cross between Charles Boyer and Peter Lorre. He ultimately gained some fame as the twitching, giddily-enraged foil to Peter Sellers in several Pink Panther films. My first memory of Mr. Lom, was seeing him in "Phantom of the Opera," an admittedly mediocre Hammer film. Still, he scared me from the very first scene, simply because he wore an awfully repulsive mask through most of the movie, with a reddish rim of baleful eye staring through. Terror was wondering what was underneath that could be worse! Horror was the mere shock of his un-masked acid-scarred visage. For a kid back in the 60's, this terror-horror combo was very traumatic!

But on this blog, we deal in musical salutes, and Herbert Lom has a forgotten credit: as the star of "The King and I." Yes, Yul Brynner was the Broadway and film icon, but the original London production shined the spotlight on Lom. Fortunately, the East End didn't have to use his real name, which would've covered the entire marquee: Herbert Karel Angelo Kuchačevič ze Schluderpacheru.

Lom's role in "The King and I" had come after over a decade of acting work in his adopted country. In 1939, with Hitler advancing into Czechosloviakia, Lom was able to make his escape to England. Around the same time in Hungary, Mr. Laszlo Lowenstein also migrated to the U.K., and became Peter Lorre. For Lom, England was a bittersweet refuge. His Jewish girlfriend was not able to meet the demands of the British officials at Dover, and they sent her back…where she was among the many rounded up and sent to a concentration camp death.

Lom co-starred in "The King and I" for nearly two years opposite Valerie Hobson. The show was heavy on songs for the leading lady, but the King did get to sing "A Predicament," with some interesting lines about diplomacy, war, and the question of trust. As well as fish surviving after men kill each other. The lyrics probably will not come true, because as most anyone in England will tell you, fishing is a dying industry. Farm-raised fish will probably become so inbred and toxic as to be inedible. So it's more likely that the only thing left on Earth after a nuclear holocaust or global warming, will be roaches, not fishes.

On the lighter side, in the 30 prime years left to him as an actor, following "King and I," Mr. Lom became Napoleon, Captain Nemo, the Phantom of the Opera, and yes, the comically enraged Chief Inspector Charles Dreyfus. A capable character actor who sometimes had a great leading role, it's ironic that his flashiest starring role…in a hit Drury Lane musical…is barely recalled by anyone anywhere, except on this blog. Your download…

A PREDICAMENT, A Lom-entation sung with grand authority by the late great HERBERT LOM

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