Blake Edwards, veteran comedy director behind films such as Breakfast At Tiffany’s and The Pink Panther series, has died due to complications from pneumonia. He was 88.
Edwards got his start working in radio, even collaborating with Orson Welles on his famed War Of The Worlds broadcast. On television, he made his name with private eye stories like Richard Diamond, Private Detective and later Peter Gunn—a genre that Edwards would later turn on its ear with his most famous work, The Pink Panther, starring Peter Sellers as the accident-prone, effective-in-spite-of-himself Inspector Clouseau. The Pink Panther series spawned 11 films in all (if you include 1968’s Alan Arkin-starring Inspector Clouseau and the recent Steve Martin remakes, which you sort of have to), eight of which Edwards directed himself. In all, he devoted 30 years of his career to them.
Of course, we would be remiss not to mention his other noteworthy collaboration with Sellers, The Party, a mostly improvised comic setpiece that allowed Sellers to run wild playing a hapless Indian actor. It was reportedly Elvis Presley’s favorite movie, after all.
But Edwards was more than just a purveyor of slapstick: Before Panther he directed Audrey Hepburn in an adaptation of Truman Capote’s Breakfast At Tiffany’s—a film that puts a sparkling polish on the novella’s seedier elements and adds a more conventional Hollywood ending, yet still manages to retain the sense of melancholy yearning lurking beneath Hepburn’s flighty, flirty Holly Golightly. (And this despite the frequent interruption of Mickey Rooney’s still-embarrassing Japanese caricature.)
And when Edwards really wanted to be serious, he was downright haunting: Days Of Wine And Roses, an unflinching portrait of a couple torn apart by their slow descent into alcoholism, could have been a shallow morality play, but Edwards handled it honestly and poignantly, and garnered genuinely heartbreaking performances from Jack Lemmon and Lee Remick. It remains among the most acclaimed works for all involved, and rightfully so.
There were other anomalies in his otherwise comedy-dominated career, like the 1962 thriller Experiment In Terror, the private-eye films Gunn (adapted from Edwards’ TV series) and The Carey Treatment, and the Ryan O’Neal/William Holden Western Wild Rovers. In 1969, Edwards also branched out into musicals with Sound Of Music star Julie Andrews on Darling Lili; the two were soon married and, in the course of their lifelong partnership, had five children, while their on-screen relationship spawned classics like Victor/Victoria, 10, and finally S.O.B., a scathing, semiautobiographical Hollywood satire in which Andrews played a caricature of herself, a former goody-goody movie star coaxed into performing topless by her suicidal director husband in order to revive his flagging career.
Not that Edwards' career was anywhere close to flagging: In fact, both 10 and S.O.B. marked the beginning of an ’80s renaissance for Edwards, and he soon became the exemplar of that era’s sexually charged comedies with films like Micki + Maude, The Man Who Loved Women, A Fine Mess, and Skin Deep. Perhaps the best of these was 1987’s Blind Date with Kim Basinger and Bruce Willis, still one of the funniest “into the night” films ever made.
Edwards more or less retired from directing after 1991’s harsh gender-politic comedy Switch and an ill-advised attempt to relaunch The Pink Panther with Roberto Benigni, although he went behind the camera one last time to direct his wife in 1995’s TV movie version of Victor/Victoria, based on the Broadway musical adaptation of his film (for which Edwards had written the book). In the 2000 documentary I Remember Me, Edwards spoke candidly about his 15-year battle with chronic fatigue syndrome, which seemed to have contributed greatly to his career’s slowing down—although by then, he’d certainly done enough to last a lifetime. In 2004, Edwards received an honorary Oscar for his many, many contributions to film and pop culture at large.