Herbert Lom (11 September 1917 – 27 September 2012) was a Czech-born British film and television actor who moved to the United Kingdom in 1939. In a career lasting more than 60 years, he appeared in character roles, often portraying criminals or villains early in his career and professional men in later years.
Lom was noted for his precise, elegant enunciation of English. He is best known for his roles in The Ladykillers, The Pink Panther film series and the television series The Human Jungle.
Lom was born Herbert Charles Angelo Kuchačevič ze Schluderpacheru in Prague to Karl Kuchačevič ze Schluderpacheru, and his spouse, the former Olga Gottlieb, who was Jewish. Lom himself claimed that his family had been ennobled and the family title dated from 1601.
His film debut was in the Czech film Žena pod křížem ("A Woman Under Cross", 1937) followed by the Boží mlýny
("Mills of God", 1938). His early film appearances were mainly
supporting roles, with the occasional top billing. At this time he also
changed his impractically long surname – to Lom ("breakage" or "a quarry" in Czech), because it was the shortest he found in a local telephone directory.
Due to German hostilities and the possibility of an invasion of
Czechoslovakia, Lom moved to Britain in January 1939. He made numerous
appearances in British films throughout the 1940s, usually in villainous
roles, although he later appeared in comedies as well. He managed to
escape being typecast as a European heavy by securing a diverse range of
castings, including as Napoleon Bonaparte in The Young Mr Pitt (1942), and again in the King Vidor version of War and Peace (1956). He secured a seven-picture Hollywood contract after World War II but was unable to obtain an American visa for "political reasons". In a rare starring role, Lom played twin trapeze artists in Dual Alibi (1946).
Lom starred as the King of Siam in the original London production of Rodgers and Hammerstein's musical, The King and I. Opening at the Drury Lane Theatre on 8 October 1953, it ran for 926 performances. Lom can be heard on the cast recording.
A few years later he appeared opposite Alec Guinness and Peter Sellers in The Ladykillers (1955), and with Robert Mitchum, Jack Lemmon and Rita Hayworth in Fire Down Below (1957). He went on to more film success during the 1960s with a wide range of parts, starting with Spartacus (1960). Subsequent films in this period included El Cid (1961), Mysterious Island (also 1961), playing Captain Nemo, and Hammer Films' remake of The Phantom of the Opera
(1962). Again in the leading role, the phantom's mask in this version
was full-face, which made casting an actor with a reputation for his
vocal talents a sensible decision. "It was wonderful to play such a
part, but I was disappointed with the picture", Lom says. "This version
of the famous Gaston Leroux story dragged. The Phantom wasn't given enough to do, but at least I wasn't the villain, for a change. Michael Gough was the villain."
During this period Lom starred in his only regular TV series, the British drama The Human Jungle (1963–64) as a Harley Street psychiatrist, over two seasons. Another low-budget horror film starring Lom was the witchhunting film Mark of the Devil (Hexen bis aufs Blut gequält,
1970), which depicted unusually graphic torture scenes. Cinemas
reportedly handed out sick bags to patrons at screenings of the film. He appeared in other horror films made in both the US and UK, including Asylum, And Now the Screaming Starts!, Murders in the Rue Morgue, and The Dead Zone.
Lom was perhaps best known for his portrayal of Chief Inspector Charles Dreyfus, Inspector Clouseau's long-suffering superior in several of Blake Edwards' Pink Panther films, beginning with the second movie in the series, A Shot in the Dark (1964). He also appeared in two different screen versions of the Agatha Christie novel And Then There Were None. In the 1975 version he played Dr. Armstrong, and later appeared in the 1989 version as General Romensky.
Lom wrote two historical novels, one on the playwright Christopher Marlowe (Enter a Spy: The Double Life of Christopher Marlowe, 1978) and another on the French Revolution (Dr Guillotine: The Eccentric Exploits of an Early Scientist, 1992). The film rights to the latter have been purchased, but to date no film has been produced.
Lom died in his sleep on 27 September 2012 at the age of 95.[