DIRECTOR BLAKE EDWARDS DIES
This is incredibly sad news. We have lost one of the greats.
BLAKE EDWARDS was a comedic genius (and I never use that term lightly). THE GREAT RACE, BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S, THE PINK PANTHER and VICTOR/VICTORIA are four of my all time favourite movies. This illustrious artistic quartet has influenced my perception of cinematic bliss irrevocably. To this day, these motion pictures continue to inspire and delight me.
BLAKE EDWARDS will be missed. But he leaves a bountiful legacy. At the end of this post, I have the concluding scenes of VICTOR/VICTORIA, which feature the masterful ROBERT PRESTON’S hilarious rendition of THE SHADY DAME FROM SEVILLE. Unfortunately, there is some dialogue from the other characters that has been dubbed into a foreign language.
But Mr. Preston’s showstopping number is entirely in English. And that’s how a monumental comedic sequence (shaped by a filmmaker with spectacular talent) gets done…
BLAKE EDWARDS, hailed as a Hollywood master of screwball farces such as VICTOR/VICTORIA and the PINK PANTHER movies, died Wednesday night in Santa Monica.
He was 88.
His publicist GENE SCHWAM said the cause was complications of pneumonia. Mr. Edwards’ wife JULIE ANDREWS and other family members were at his side at St. John’s Health Center, Mr. Schwam said.
In a tumultuous career that spanned writing, directing and producing nearly 50 films, BLAKE EDWARDS cultivated more than his share of indelible characters: PETER SELLERS’ bumbling INSPECTOR CLOUSEAU from the PINK PANTHER movies, DUDLEY MOORE’S equally clueless GEORGE WEBBER from 10, AUDREY HEPBURN’S high fashion wild child HOLLY GOLIGHTLY in BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S.
VICTOR/VICTORIA (1982) was Mr. Edwards’ last major success, a hysterical laugh riot about a starving singer (Ms. Andrews) who pretends to be a homosexual Polish count who performs as a female impersonator.
Although many of his films were enormously successful (if not iconic), BLAKE EDWARDS was nominated for an ACADEMY AWARD only once – in 1982 for writing the adapted screenplay of VICTOR/VICTORIA. JACK LEMMON and LEE REMICKreceived OSCAR nods in 1962 for DAYS OF WINE & ROSES. AUDREY HEPBURN was also nominated for BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S in 1961.
But he was given an honorary accolade by THE ACADEMY OF MOTION PICTURE ARTS & SCIENCES in 2004 for his “extraordinary body of work.”
Mr. Edwards had written several zany comic soufflés in the 50s, when he began directing his personal style of light and buoyant comedies. He later darkened his comedy in films in which middle aged male protagonists — unlucky womanizers, artists at the end of their creative tethers — are just one banana peel away from disaster.
After a series of critical and commercial disappointments in the late 60s and early 70s, Mr. Edwards spent several years in self imposed exile in London and Switzerland. He returned to write and direct three more PINK PANTHER movies between 1975 and 1978, followed by the unexpected hit 10 (1979). One of his most personal films, 10 starred DUDLEY MOORE as a composer whose 42nd birthday causes a whopping midlife crisis and an obsession with a beautiful young woman, played by BO DEREK.
A lifelong depressive, Mr. Edwards told THE NEW YORK TIMES in 2001 that at one point his emotional state was so dire that he became “seriously suicidal.”
After deciding that shooting himself would be too messy and drowning too uncertain, he decided to slit his wrists on the beach at Malibu while looking at the ocean. But while he was holding a two sided razor, his Great Dane started licking his ear and his retriever, eager for a game of fetch, dropped a ball in his lap. Trying to get the dog to go away, Mr. Edwards threw the ball, dropped the razor and dislocated his shoulder.
“So I think to myself,” he said, “this just isn’t a day to commit suicide.”
Trying to retrieve the razor, he stepped on it and ended up in the emergency room. If that was a shaggy dog story, it was also the kind of black farce that filled Mr. Edwards’ later films.
BLAKE EDWARDS was born WILLIAM BLAKE CRUMP on JULY 26, 1922 in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He became BLAKE McEDWARDS when he was 4, after his mother LILLIAN married JACK McEDWARDS, an assistant director and movie production manager. Having joined the Coast Guard after high school, Mr. Edwards was seriously injured when, after a night of alcohol fuelled partying, he drunkenly dived into a shallow swimming pool. He spent five months in traction at the Long Beach Naval Hospital.
“That particular mix of pain and pratfall is the trademark of all the great Blake Edwards comedies,” VANITY FAIR wrote of his accident and of the comic consequence that Eleanor Roosevelt, who was visiting the hospital, solicitously asked how he had been wounded.
Briefly under contract to 20TH CENTURY FOX as an actor, Mr. Edwards played bit parts in more than two dozen movies between 1942 and 1948, usually without screen credit. He portrayed a soldier in THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES. In the late 1940s, having switched to writing, he created the RICHARD DIAMOND radio series, which starred Dick Powell as a lighthearted detective. Mr. Edwards shifted from radio to writing and eventually directing for Mr. Powell’s television anthology series FOUR STAR PLAYHOUSE.
Mr. Edwards created PETER GUNN in 1958. A jazz soaked detective series, it was his first collaboration with the composer HENRY MANCINI, who would score almost all of Mr. Edwards’ films for the next 30 years.
All four of Mr. Mancini’s OSCARS were for music written for BLAKE EDWARDS movies: the score and the original song MOON RIVER (lyrics by JOHNNY MERCER) from BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S, the title song from DAYS OF WINE & ROSES (1962), again with lyrics by JOHNNY MERCER and the score of VICTOR/VICTORIA written with LESLIE BRICUSSE.
Although Mr. Edwards was known for his comedies, DAYS OF WINE & ROSES, a harrowing drama about two married alcoholics, was one of his biggest hits.
Based on a PLAYHOUSE 90 television play by J. P. Miller, it starred LEE REMICK and JACK LEMMON, whom Mr. Edwards often said was his favourite actor. And Mr. Lemmon felt that Mr. Edwards was the right director for the film. As Mr. Edwards recalled in a commentary on a DVD release, Mr. Lemmon had felt that the material was so bleak, it would never have worked without a director who could inject some humour.
Both men were drinking hard in 1962, Mr. Edwards told THE TIMES in 2001. Although he had stopped drinking by the time shooting began, “the film had as much to do with it as anything did.”
Mr. Edwards’ string of hit films ended in the late 1960s. (His attempt at a big budget slapstick spectacle in 1965, THE GREAT RACE had been only a modest box office success.) So, too, did his first marriage, to the actor PATRICIA WALKER. After their divorce, he married Ms. Andrews, the ACADEMY AWARD winning musical comedy star in 1969.
Towards the conclusion of his working days, he had one last glittering triumph. He wrote and directed a stage version of VICTOR/VICTORIA, which opened on Broadway in 1995, with Ms. Andrews reprising her film role. It ran for nearly two years. More recently he had been working on two musicals he hoped to bring to Broadway. One was based on the PINK PANTHER movies. The other, BIG ROSEMARY, was to be an original comedy set during Prohibition.
“It was my greatest fortune, my life changing fortune, that he believed in me,” BO DEREK commented.
“He selected me for the role which shaped everything that ever happened to me. He was a loyal friend and I will miss him and that mischievous expression that would come over his face when he was about to come up with something hilarious.”
STEVE MARTIN, who played INSPECTOR CLOUSEAU in the 2006 and 2009 PINK PANTHER productions, said that BLAKE EDWARDS “was one of the people who made me love comedy.”
“He was the most unique man I have ever known – and he was my mate,” JULIE ANDREWS said in a statement Thursday.
“He will be missed beyond words and will forever be in my heart.”
He is survived by a daughter JENNIFER and a son GEOFFREY from his first marriage, two daughters with Ms. Andrews, AMY and JOANNA, a stepdaughter EMMA — Ms. Andrews’ daughter from her marriage to the Broadway designer TONY WALTON — as well as seven grandchildren and two great grandchildren.
If there were a few projects that didn’t live up to expectations in a long career that by any measure was a smashing success, Mr. Edwards took them in stride.
Besides, he once remarked, “In what business in the world can you have more fun, be creative while you’re having fun, be funny and work at being funny, work really nice hours and get paid a lot of money for doing it?”
But he claimed that having a sharp wit inevitably had a larger purpose.
“My entire life has been a search for a funny side to that very tough life out there,” he told one interviewer.
“I developed a kind of eye for scenes that made me laugh to take the pain away.”