Thursday, December 16, 2010

Deceased--Blake Edwards

Blake Edwards
July 26th, 1922 to December 15th, 2010

"Blake Edwards dies at 88; 'Pink Panther' director was master of slapstick comedy"

Writer-director Blake Edwards was also known for his legendary disputes with studio chiefs, inspiring his Hollywood satire 'S.O.B.' He collaborated in film with his wife, Julie Andrews, and his movie '10' was a cinematic sensation in the 1970s.


Dennis McLellan

December 16th, 2010

Los Angeles Times

Blake Edwards, a writer-director whose "Pink Panther" comedies with Peter Sellers earned him a reputation as a master of sophisticated slapstick comedy and whose legendary disputes with studio chiefs inspired his scathing Hollywood satire "S.O.B.," has died. He was 88.

Edwards, whose collaborations with his wife, Julie Andrews, included the 1982 comedy "Victor/Victoria," died of complications of pneumonia Wednesday evening at St. John's Health Center in Santa Monica, said Gene Schwam, Edwards' longtime publicist. Andrews and members of the immediate family were at his bedside.

A onetime minor movie actor who began writing for films and radio in the late 1940s and a decade later created the TV series "Peter Gunn" and "Mr. Lucky," Edwards launched his big-screen directing career in 1955.

He scored his first box-office hit with "Operation Petticoat," a 1959 comedy about a World War II submarine crew starring Cary Grant and Tony Curtis. But a turning point in Edwards' film career came in 1961 with "Breakfast at Tiffany's."

The light, sophisticated romantic comedy based on the Truman Capote novella earned Audrey Hepburn an Academy Award nomination for best actress. Composer Henry Mancini also won an Oscar for his score, and he and Johnny Mercer won Oscars for their memorable song "Moon River."

Displaying his versatility, Edwards followed up that success with the 1962 thriller "Experiment in Terror" and, that same year, "Days of Wine and Roses," a grim drama about a young couple ( Jack Lemmon and Lee Remick) battling alcoholism. Both Lemmon and Remick received Academy Award nominations, and Mancini and Mercer won Oscars for their title song.

But it's Edwards' comedies for which he is best known.

As co-writer and director of "The Pink Panther" and "A Shot in the Dark" (both released in 1964), starring Peter Sellers as the bumbling French police inspector, Clouseau, Edwards earned a reputation as a modern master of slapstick comedy and sight gags.

Other Edwards-directed comedies in the `60s included "The Great Race," "What Did You Do in the War, Daddy?" and "The Party."

"He's at the absolute top of comedy filmmaking," film historian Jeanine Basinger, head of the film studies program at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Conn., who has taught a class on Edwards' films, told The Times in 2003.

"His movie comedies wed the American traditions of physical slapstick and sophisticated, witty dialogue," said Basinger. "But he also knows how to be funny cinematically through cutting, camera movement and framing. So he's a consummate comedy film director."

Basinger, author of "A Woman's View: How Hollywood Spoke to Women," added that Edwards' comedies such as "10" have "given us icons in our culture."

" Bo Derek with her corn rows coming out of the water is one of the great iconographic images of that decade," Basinger said, adding that the 1979 film "put into the language the rating of a woman as a '10.' "

As a director, Edwards had a career marked by his share of box-office failures, including "Darling Lili," the notoriously over-budget 1970 World War I spy film with music that marked his first collaboration with Andrews, whom he had married in 1969.

Indeed, as much as he is known for the physical comedy in many of his movies and for exploring changing relationships between men and women throughout his career, Edwards is known for fighting major battles over studio interference on his films — with Paramount's Robert Evans over "Darling Lili" and with MGM's James Aubrey over "Wild Rovers" (1971) and "The Carey Treatment" (1972).

"He's always been admired and respected for the way in which he has fought for creative integrity and control for himself as a director," Peter Lehman, director of the Center for Film, Media and Popular Culture at Arizona State University and co-author of two books on Edwards' films, told The Times in 2003.

Lehman said Edwards also went to bat for Mancini — with whom he had worked for decades beginning with the TV detective-drama "Peter Gunn" in 1958 — so that Mancini could retain the rights to his music. This set a precedent for other composers as well, Lehman said.

Sam Wasson, author of the 2009 book "A Splurch in the Kisser: The Movies of Blake Edwards," said Edwards "has as many films that are respected as films that are reviled."

"He hasn't quite made it into the pantheon of great directors," said Wasson. "People don't really know where to place Blake Edwards because so much of his material is outwardly goofy, even though it's sophisticated."

And while Edwards had as many flops as hits, Wasson said, "I position him along the line of Hollywood's greatest directors of comedy, beginning with [ Charlie] Chaplin and continuing with [ Ernst] Lubitsch, [ Preston] Sturges and [ Billy] Wilder.

"He was certainly the last great writer-director of mainstream Hollywood comedy."

Jack Lemmon, who appeared in three films directed by Edwards, once called him a "gutsy SOB" and a consummate "picture-maker."

"Some people are wonderful directors," Lemmon told GQ magazine in 1989, "but they're not picture-makers. By that I mean they can direct an individual scene and it'll be a real pearl. But when they string the scenes together, the effect isn't worth much.

"With Blake, when he's on his stick, you get a strand of pearls that's just beautiful."

Edwards was born William Blake Crump in Tulsa, Okla., on July 26, 1922. His biological father, Donald Crump, left Edwards' mother before their son was born and she reportedly turned Blake over to an aunt and uncle to raise.

Around the time Edwards was 3, his mother remarried and he joined her in Hollywood, where her husband, Jack McEdward, the man Edwards always considered his father, was a studio production manager. McEdward was the son of film pioneer J. Gordon Edwards, who directed silent-screen star Theda Bara in the 1917 version of "Cleopatra."

As an only child of parents who "didn't know how" to love and who had trouble communicating not only with him but with each other, Edwards found escape at the movies.

"I naturally embraced the Laurel and Hardys, the Keatons and the great comics," he told The Times in 1991. "I laughed and made my hours there happy. I could take a certain residual of that home with me."

While growing up, Edwards also spent a lot of time on film sets and earned spending money working as an extra. After graduating from Beverly Hills High School, he landed a bit part in the 1942 film "Ten Gentlemen from West Point." A couple of dozen, mostly un-credited, minor film roles followed over the decade.

During World War II, Edwards served in the Coast Guard for 18 months. His last five months were spent at Long Beach Naval Hospital after he was seriously injured in a diving accident in a Beverly Hills swimming pool.

After the service, Edwards teamed with his friend John Champion to co-write and co-produce "Panhandle," a 1948 western that Champion financed with money from his trust fund. The low-budget film starred Rod Cameron, and Edwards played the small part of a gunslinger.

"I was an actor and perhaps I perceive myself as continuing to be one, but I know I wasn't that serious," Edwards said in a 1993 interview for the Directors Guild of America's publication DGA News. "I wasn't that dedicated and I certainly wasn't that successful. And success was important to me."

After teaming with Champion, with whom he also wrote and produced the 1949 western "Stampede," Edwards said that he "suddenly realized that there was another world out there where I could be successful, not only by reputation and money. Writing really is the thing that turned me on."

As a writer beginning in the late `40s, Edwards also wrote for the radio series "Richard Diamond, Private Detective," starring Dick Powell; he also wrote for "Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar" and "The Lineup."

At Columbia Pictures from the early `50s to the early `60s, Edwards frequently worked as a writer with writer-director Richard Quine, including the films "My Sister Eileen" (1955), "Operation Mad Ball" (1957) and "The Notorious Landlady" (1962). Edwards and Quine also worked together on "The Mickey Rooney Show: Hey, Mulligan," a 1954-`55 TV situation comedy.

The heavy work load of writing for films by day and for radio at night in the early `50s landed Edwards in therapy, but the self-analysis proved to be rewarding.

"For the first time, I began to see that I had more at stake in writing than just making money — that there was some sort of passion involved," Edwards told GQ in 1989. "Also, I think I saw that for someone who had a need for control of one's life, directing had great appeal."

When Quine was promoted from Columbia's B-film unit to larger-budget features, Edwards, who already had done some directing in television and radio, was given his first chance to direct a film: "Bring Your Smile Along," a 1955 light musical comedy starring Frankie Laine and co-written by Edwards and Quine.

Over the next four decades, Edwards directed several dozen other films, the majority of which he wrote or co-wrote and produced. Among them: "The Great Race," "What Did You Do in the War, Daddy?," "The Party," "Blind Date," "Sunset," "That's Life!" and "The Man Who Loved Women."

Depressed over his battles with Evans and Aubrey in the early 1970s — "I thought I was going to have a nervous breakdown," he later told Time magazine — Edwards retreated to Switzerland for five years. Bolstered by his three hit "Pink Panther" sequels with Sellers, however, he returned to Hollywood to make "10."

Edwards' only Academy Award nomination was for the screenplay adaptation of "Victor/Victoria," but in 2004 he received an honorary Oscar for "extraordinary distinction in lifetime achievement."

He collaborated with Andrews on seven movies, a short-lived TV series and a Broadway musical adaptation of "Victor/Victoria."

In recent decades, Edwards suffered from the disease known as chronic fatigue syndrome. He also has been described as a lifelong depressive who spent most of his adult life in therapy.

"My work has been one of the great therapies of my life," he told GQ in 1989. "Being able to express myself and have it validated by laughter is the best of all possible worlds."

"Blake Edwards, Prolific Comedy Director, Dies at 88"


Aljean harmetz

December 16th, 2010

The New York Times

Blake Edwards, a writer and director who became a Hollywood master of screwball farces and rude comedies like “Victor/Victoria” and the “Pink Panther” movies, died Wednesday night in Santa Monica, Calif. He was 88.

His publicist, Gene Schwam, said the cause was complications of pneumonia. Mr. Edwards’s wife, the actress Julie Andrews, and other family members were at his side at St. John’s Health Center, Mr. Schwam said.

What the critic Pauline Kael once described as Mr. Edwards’s “love of free-for-all lunacy” was flaunted in good movies and bad ones: in commercial successes like “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” (1961) and “The Pink Panther” (1963) — the first of a series of films starring Peter Sellers as a bumbling French policeman — and in box-office disasters like the musical spy extravaganza “Darling Lili” (1970), starring Ms. Andrews.

Mr. Edwards’s last major success, “Victor/Victoria” (1982), was a farce about a starving singer (Ms. Andrews) who pretends to be a homosexual Polish count who performs as a female impersonator. Mr. Edwards received an Academy Award nomination for his “Victor/Victoria” screenplay, which was adapted from a 1933 German film written and directed by Reinhold Schünzel. It was his only Oscar nomination. But he was given an honorary award by the Motion Picture Academy in 2004 for his “extraordinary body of work.” That work spanned more than four decades.

After writing several zany comic soufflés, including “Operation Mad Ball” (1957), for the director Richard Quine, Mr. Edwards began directing his own light and buoyant comedies, including “This Happy Feeling” (1958), “The Perfect Furlough” (1958) and “Operation Petticoat” (1959). He later turned his comedy to the dark side 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.

The critic Andrew Sarris wrote in 1968 that Mr. Edwards had gotten “some of his biggest laughs out of jokes that are too gruesome for most horror films.”

Those jokes include a long sequence in which Tony Curtis embarks on a slapstick three-continent car marathon in “The Great Race” (1965); a desperate Peter Sellers is unable to find a bathroom in “The Party” (1968); Burt Reynolds’s death while staring at the legs of a nurse in “The Man Who Loved Women” (1983); and nearly every incident in “S.O.B.” (1981), a movie in which Mr. Edwards takes an ax dipped in cyanide to the movie industry, which alternately embraced and spurned him.

After a series of critical and box-office failures in the late 1960s and early ’70s, Mr. Edwards spent several years in self-imposed exile in London and Switzerland. He returned to write and direct three “Pink Panther” movies between 1975 and 1978, followed by the unexpected critical and commercial success of “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, whom he considers a perfect 10.

A lifelong depressive, Mr. Edwards told The New York Times in 2001 that at one point his depression was so bad 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. Attempting 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’s later films. These movies were often on the far edge of comedy, where sexual pain and sexual pleasure are mixed with politically incorrect stereotypes and a bleak worldview to make audiences laugh and squirm at the same time. In “S.O.B.” a movie director cannot successfully commit suicide but is killed just when his failed movie has been turned into a box-office smash, and an elderly man who has a heart attack on the beach lies dead on the sand for two days, ignored by everyone except his faithful dog.

Blake Edwards was born William Blake Crump on July 26, 1922, in Tulsa, Okla. He became Blake McEdwards when he was 4, after his mother, Lilian, had 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-fueled 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 ironic 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 was a cadet in “Ten Gentlemen From West Point,” an airman in “Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo” and 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 segued from radio to writing and eventually directing for Mr. Powell’s television anthology series, “Four Star Playhouse.”

In 1958, Mr. Edwards created “Peter Gunn,” a jazz-soaked television detective series that was his first collaboration with the composer Henry Mancini, who would score almost all of Mr. Edwards’s 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 and Roses” (1962), again with lyrics by Mercer; and the score of “Victor/Victoria,” written with Leslie Bricusse.

Although Mr. Edwards is known for his comedies, one of his most successful films was “Days of Wine and Roses,” a harrowing drama about an alcoholic couple. According to Mr. Edwards’s commentary on the DVD of the movie — which was based on a “Playhouse 90” television play by J. P. Miller and starred Jack Lemmon and Lee Remick — Mr. Lemmon, whom Mr. Edwards often said was his favorite actor, felt that the material was so bleak, it needed a director who could inject some humor.

Both men were drinking hard in 1962. When he stopped drinking about a year later, “the film had as much to do with it as anything did,” he told The Times in 2001.

Mr. Edwards’s string of successful movies ended in the late 1960s, as did his first marriage, to the actress Patricia Walker. His marriage to Ms. Andrews, the Academy Award-winning musical comedy star, sprouted a year after his divorce. At the time, Ms. Andrews’s public image was of the endlessly cheerful governess she had played in “The Sound of Music.” According to a joint interview the couple gave Playboy in 1982, Mr. Edwards, who had never met Ms. Andrews, wowed a party crowd that was speculating on the reason for her phenomenal success. “I can tell you exactly what it is,” he said. “She has lilacs for pubic hair.” Ms. Andrews sent Mr. Edwards a lilac bush shortly after they started dating, and their marriage lasted 41 years.

The early 1970s were not kind to either of them. “Darling Lili” was a bloated box-office bomb. And what Mr. Edwards called his first “personal” film, the western “Wild Rovers” (1971), was cut to ribbons by the president of MGM, James Aubrey. Then Mr. Aubrey took over the editing of Mr. Edwards’s next picture, “The Carey Treatment” (1972), before Mr. Edwards had even finished shooting it.

“I felt like an animal who goes off into the weeds and sucks its paw,” Mr. Edwards later told a reporter. Instead he went off to England and Switzerland, where he wrote the screenplays for “S.O.B.” and “Victor/Victoria.”

It was the success of “10” that allowed Mr. Edwards to make those movies. And “10” was his revenge on Mr. Aubrey. “Right after ‘Wild Rovers,’ Aubrey called me into his office and told me he hated a screenplay I’d written and refused to pay me the last moneys due on it,” Mr. Edwards told Playboy. Mr. Edwards said he responded, “You don’t have to pay me, but give me the script back.” That script became “10.”

Audiences and critics turned away from Mr. Edwards’s last films, including “That’s Life!” (1986), with Mr. Lemmon as an architect on the eve of his 60th birthday and Ms. Andrews as his wife, who may or may not have cancer, and “Sunset” (1988), a murder mystery hooked together with an elegiac look at the silent film industry. His final film, released in 1993, was “Son of the Pink Panther,” a poorly received attempt to revive that franchise starring Roberto Benigni.

But he had one last triumph. He wrote and directed a stage version of “Victor/Victoria,” which opened on Broadway in 1995, with Ms. Andrews reprising her movie role, and played for almost two years.

His survivors include a daughter, Jennifer, and a son, Geoffrey, from his first marriage; two Vietnamese daughters, Amy and Joanna, whom he and Ms. Andrews adopted; and a stepdaughter, Emma — Ms. Andrews’s daughter from her marriage to the Broadway designer Tony Walton.

“My entire life has been a search for a funny side to that very tough life out there,” Mr. Edwards once said. “I developed a kind of eye for scenes that made me laugh to take the pain away.”

Blake Edwards [Wikipedia]

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