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Walston Replaces Sellers on “Kiss Me, Stupid”

Apr. 24, 1964 - One of the most hectic episodes in Hollywood this year is the aftermath of Peter Sellers’ heart attack, which brought in Ray Walston (left with Kim Novak) as the substitute for the British comedian in the latest Billy Wilder movie, “Kiss Me, Stupid.”

The details of these frenzied few days — the pressure is far from ended — were revealed today by Walston on the set of the movie being reshot at the Samuel Goldwyn Studio.

“To step in fast on a movie after 4½ weeks have been shot,” he said, “and have to follow someone like Sellers is a rough assignment.”

The day after the heart attack, Walston, like a number of other actors with a reputation for comedy, was reading about Sellers’ misfortune with mixed feelings. Sympathy was combined with a longing to take advantage of the opportunity.

“I saw a note in a gossip column saying that Tony Randall might be among those considered for the part,” Walston said. “That settled it. I had no intention of letting Tony Randall take a part away from me, least of all a part in a Billy Wilder movie.”

Walston spent a restless night. Very early the next morning, he nagged his agent into action. That afternoon, he was chatting with Wilder. He reminded the writer-director of his performance in “The Apartment,” the Oscar-winning movie by Wilder and his collaborator, I.A.L. Diamond.

Wilder made no commitment but handed a copy of the script to Walston and told him to read it and phone the next morning. The next morning, when Walston told Wilder that he liked the script, he thought the latter sounded neutral — “almost dubious.”

However, late that afternoon, just after Walston finished shooting the season’s last segment of his television series, “My Favorite Martian,” he was told the part was his.

“The next day, Friday, was one of the most frenzied days in my life,” Walston said. “That goes for Broadway, movies, and television. I had to have costume fittings, make-up tests, take a medical exam for the insurance company. For me, the weekend was murder. I spent it studying the script. On Monday, I went to work. I did not see any of the film that Sellers had made. Nobody asked me, and I didn’t’ want to. I wanted my own interpretation, as directed by Wilder. I couldn’t let Sellers’ reputation bug me.”

The role is of particular importance to Walston because he sees it as a chance “to blast the possibility of spending the rest of my life being cast as a Martian and wandering about in front of a camera with antennae on my head.”

Walston stopped talking. It was time for him to do a scene with Dean Martin in which he carries the latter’s luggage and golf bag. From across the set came Wilder’s voice: “Okay. Load up that Martian, and let’s get going.”

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