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‘Pink Panther’ director Blake Edwards dies at 88
Question of the Day
Although many of Edwards’ films were solid hits, he was nominated for Academy Awards only twice, in 1982 for writing the adapted screenplay of “Victor/Victoria” and in 1983 for co-writing “The Man Who Loved Women.” Lemmon and Remick won Oscar nominations in 1962 for “Days of Wine and Roses,” and Hepburn was nominated for “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” in 1961.
The motion picture academy selected Edwards to receive a lifetime achievement award in 2004 for “his writing, directing and producing an extraordinary body of work for the screen.”
When he collected the award, he jokingly referred to his wife: “My mother thanks you, my father thanks you, and the beautiful English broad with the incomparable soprano and promiscuous vocabulary thanks you.”
Edwards had entered television in 1958, creating “Peter Gunn,” which established a new style of hard-edged detective series. The tone was set by Henry Mancini’s pulsating theme music. Starring Craig Stevens, the series ran until 1961 and resulted in a 1967 feature movie “Gunn.”
“Peter Gunn” marked the beginning of a fruitful collaboration between Edwards and Mancini, who composed melodic scores and songs for most of Edwards’ films. Mancini won Academy Awards for the score of “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” and the song “Moon River,” the title song of “Days of Wine and Roses” and the score of “Victor/Victoria.”
The Edwards family history extended virtually the entire length of American motion pictures. J. Gordon Edwards was a pioneering director of silent films, including more than 20 with the exotic vamp Theda Bara. His son, Jack McEdwards (the family name), became a top assistant director and production manager in Hollywood.
William Blake McEdwards was born July 26, 1922, in Tulsa, Okla. The family moved to Hollywood three years later, and the boy grew up on his father’s movie sets.
Edwards began in films as an actor, playing small roles in such movies as “A Guy Named Joe” and “Ten Gentlemen From West Point.” After 18 months in the Coast Guard in World War II, he returned to acting but soon realized he lacked the talent. With John Champion, he wrote a Western, “Panhandle,” which he produced and acted in for the quickie studio, Monogram. He followed with “Stampede.”
In 1947, Edwards turned to radio and created the hard-boiled “Richard Diamond, Private Detective”; it was converted to television in 1957, starring David Janssen with Mary Tyler Moore as his secretary, whose face is never seen on-screen.
Tiring of the TV grind, Edwards returned to films and directed his first feature, “Bring Your Smile Along.” After a few more B movies which he usually co-wrote, he made the big time in 1958 with “The Perfect Furlough,” starring Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh, and “Operation Petticoat” with Cary Grant and Curtis.
“Breakfast at Tiffany’s” in 1961 established Edwards as a stylish director who could combine comedy with bittersweet romance. His next two films proved his versatility: the suspenseful “Experiment in Terror” (1962) and “Days of Wine and Roses” (1963), the story of a couple’s alcoholism, with Lemmon in his first dramatic role.
“The Great Race,” about an auto race in the early 1900s, marked Edwards’ first attempt at a big-budget spectacle. He spent Warner Bros.’ money lavishly, raising the ire of studio boss Jack Warner. The 1965 release proved a modest success.
Edwards’ disdain for the studios reached a peak in the 1970 “Darling Lili,” a World War I romance starring his new wife, Andrews, and Rock Hudson. The long, expensive Paris location infuriated the Paramount bosses. The movie flopped, continuing Andrews’ decline from her position as Hollywood’s No. 1 star.
For a decade, Edwards’ only hits were “Pink Panther” sequels. Then came “10,” which he also produced and wrote. The sex comedy became a box-office winner, creating a new star in Bo Derek and restoring the director’s reputation. He scored again in 1982 with “Victor/Victoria,” with Andrews playing a woman who poses as a (male) female impersonator. His later films became more personal, particularly the 1986 “That’s Life,” which he wrote with his psychiatrist.
After Sellers’ death in 1980, Edwards attempted to keep the “Pink Panther” franchise alive. He wrote and directed “Curse of the Pink Panther” in 1983 and “Son of the Pink Panther” in 1993 but both were failed efforts.
By Andrew P. Napolitano
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