Blake Edwards (born William Blake Crump, July 26, 1922 – December 15, 2010) was an American film director, screenwriter and producer.
Edwards' career began in the 1940s as an actor, but he soon turned to writing radio scripts at Columbia Pictures. He used his writing skills to begin producing and directing, with some of his most well-known films including Experiment in Terror, The Great Race, and the hugely successful Pink Panther film series with the British comedian Peter Sellers. Often thought of as primarily a director of comedies, he also directed drama films, including Breakfast at Tiffany's and Days of Wine and Roses. His greatest successes, however, were his comedies, and most of his films were either musicals, melodramas, slapstick comedies, or thrillers.
In 2004, he received an Honorary Academy Award in recognition of his writing, directing and producing an extraordinary body of work for the screen.
Born William Blake Crump in Tulsa, Oklahoma. His step-grandfather was J. Gordon Edwards, a director of silent movies, and his stepfather, Jack McEdwards, became a film production manager after moving his family to Los Angeles in 1925. In an interview with Village Voice in 1971, he said that he had "always felt alienated, estranged from my own father." After attending grammar andhigh school in Los Angeles, he began taking jobs as an actor during World War II. Edwards describes this period:
I worked with the best directors – Ford, Wyler, Preminger – and learned a lot from them. But I wasn't a very cooperative actor. I was a spunky, smart-assed kid. Maybe even then I was indicating that I wanted to give, not take, direction.
Edwards served in the United States Coast Guard where he experienced a severe back injury, which left him in pain for years afterward.
In the 1954-1955 television season, Edwards joined with Richard Quine to create Mickey Rooney's first television series, The Mickey Rooney Show: Hey, Mulligan, a sitcom about a young studio page trying to become a serious actor. Edwards' hard-boiled private detective scripts for Richard Diamond, Private Detective became NBC's answer to Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe, reflecting Edwards's unique humor. Edwards also created, wrote and directed the 1959 TV series Peter Gunn, with music by Henry Mancini. In the same year Edwards produced, with Mancini's musical theme, Mr. Lucky, an adventure series on CBS starring John Vivyan andRoss Martin. Mancini's association with Edwards continued in his film work, significantly contributing to their success.
- Operation Petticoat (1959)
Operation Petticoat was Edwards' first big-budget movie as a director. The film, which starred Tony Curtis and Cary Grant, became the "greatest box-office success of the decade for Universal [Studios]," and made Edwards a recognized director.
- Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961)
Breakfast at Tiffany's, based on the novel by Truman Capote, is credited with establishing him as a "cult figure" with many critics. Andrew Sarris called it the "directorial surprise of 1961," and it became a "romantic touchstone" for college students in the early 1960s.
- Days of Wine and Roses (1962)
Days of Wine and Roses, a dark psychological film about the effects of alcoholism on a previously happy marriage, starred Jack Lemmon and Lee Remick. It has been described as "perhaps the most unsparing tract against drink that Hollywood has yet produced, more pessimistic than Billy Wilder's The Lost Weekend." The film gave another major boost to Edwards' reputation as an important director.
Edwards' most popular films were comedies, the melodrama Days of Wine and Roses being a notable exception. His most dynamic and successful collaboration was with Peter Sellers in six of the movies in the Pink Panther series. Five of the those involved Edwards and Sellers in original material, while Trail of the Pink Panther, made after Sellers died in 1980, was made up of unused material from The Pink Panther Strikes Again. He also worked with Sellers on the film The Party. Edwards later directed the comedy film 10 withDudley Moore and Bo Derek.
- Darling Lili (1969)
Darling Lili, starring Julie Andrews, is considered by many followers of Edwards' film as "the director's masterpiece." According to critic George Morris, "it synthesizes every major Edwards theme: the disappearance of gallantry and honor, the tension between appearances and reality and the emotional, spiritual, moral, and psychological disorder" in such a world. Edwards used difficult cinematography techniques, including long-shot zooms, tracking, and focus distortion, to great effect.
However, the film failed badly at the box office. At a cost of $17 million to make, few people went to see it, and the few who did weren't impressed. It brought Paramount Pictures to "the verge of financial collapse," and became an example of "self-indulgent extravagance" in filmmaking "that was ruining Hollywood."
In 2004, Edwards received an Honorary Academy Award for cumulative achievements over the course of his film career.
Pink Panther films
Edwards is best known for directing most of the comedy film series The Pink Panther, and all of the entries starring Peter Sellers as the inept Inspector Clouseau. It was considered a fruitful, yet complicated relationship, with many disagreements during production. At various times in their film relationship, "he more than once swore off Sellers," as too hard to direct. However, in his later years, he admitted that working with Sellers was often irresistible:
"We clicked on comedy, and we were lucky we found each other, because we both had so much respect for it. We also had an ability to come up with funny things and great situations that had to be explored. But in that exploration there would oftentimes be disagreement. But I couldn't resist those moments when we jelled. And if you ask me who contributed most to those things, it couldn't have happened unless both of us were involved, even though it wasn't always happy."
The films were all highly profitable. The Return of the Pink Panther (1975), for example, cost just $2.5 million to make, but grossed $100 million, while The Pink Panther Strikes Again (1976), did even better.
- Silent film style
Having grown up in Hollywood, the son of a studio production manager and grandson of a silent film director, Edwards had watched the films of the great silent era comedians, including Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd, and Laurel and Hardy. Both he and Sellers appreciated and understood the comedy styles in silent films and tried to recreate it in their work together. After their immense success with the first two Pink Panther films, The Pink Panther (1963) and A Shot in the Dark (1964), which adapted many silent film aspects, including slapstick, they attempted to go even further in The Party (1968). Although the film is relatively unknown, some have considered it a "masterpiece in this vein" of silent comedy, even though it included minimal dialogue.
Edwards, the step-grandson of prolific silent-film director J. Gordon Edwards, married his first wife, actress Patricia Walker, in 1953; they divorced in 1967. She appeared in the comedy All Ashore (1953), for which Edwards was one of the screenwriters. Edwards' second marriage from 1969 until his death was to Julie Andrews. She appeared in a number of his films, including Darling Lili, 10, Victor Victoria and the autobiographical satire S.O.B., in which Andrews played a character who was a caricature of herself. In 1995, he wrote the book for the stage musical adaptation of Victor/Victoria, also starring Andrews.
Edwards described his struggle with the illness chronic fatigue syndrome for 15 years in the documentary I Remember Me (2000).
Edwards and Andrews had five children. The two eldest, Jennifer and Geoffrey, are from his previous marriage; middle child Emma is from Andrews' first marriage; and the youngest children are two adopted orphans from Vietnam, Amelia Leigh and Joanna Lynne. Edwards and Andrews adopted them in the early 1970s. All of the children, except Joanna, have appeared in his movies.
On December 15, 2010, Edwards died of complications of pneumonia at the Saint John's Health Center in Santa Monica, California. His wife and children were at his side. His death came after 15 years of suffering from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and depression.