Blake Edwards Dies at 88

Edward Blake - Academy Of Motion Picture Arts And Sciences - 2010
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"Pink Panther," "10" writer-director passes with wife Julie Andrews at his side.

UPDATED: Blake Edwards, whose magical slapstick direction was the guiding force behind the Pink Panther series, died Wednesday night from complications of pneumonia at St. John’s Health Center in Santa Monica. He was 88.

Actress Julie Andrews — his wife of 42 years and his star in films including 10 (1979), S.O.B (1981) and Victor Victoria (1982) — and their immediate family were at his side. Edwards had been hospitalized for about 10 days, publicist Gene Schwam said, and had been confined to a wheelchair for the past year and a half.

With his flare for farce, Edwards enjoyed a long career as a writer, producer, director and sometime actor. His comic calibration bespoke a visual talent that was gleaned as a child from the Hal Roach movies.

Although his eight Pink Panther films were easily his most popular worldwide movies, Edwards was a versatile director with a penchant for serious subject matter. His range of films was wide, including Operation Petticoat (1959), Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961) and Days of Wine and Roses (1962).

Edwards never won an Academy Award (he was nominated for Victor Victoria), an Emmy or a Golden Globe, but he did receive an honorary Oscar in 2004 in recognition of his body of work. With Victor Victoria, he was one of a handful of helmers to direct his wife to an Oscar-nominated performance.

When he collected the Oscar, 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 did collect WGA awards for Victor Victoriaand The Pink Panther Strikes Again (1976), and the guild honored him with its Laurel Award for Screenwriting Achievement in 2002.

Edwards was born William Blake Crump on July 26, 1922, in Tulsa, Okla. When he was three, the family moved to Los Angeles, where his grandfather worked as a director on silent films and his father became a production manager and directed plays.

Edwards graduated from Beverly Hills High School, then went on to serve in the Coast Guard. He was honorably discharged after suffering a back injury for which he was hospitalized for five months.

Edwards began his movie career as an actor, beginning with Ten Gentlemen From West Point (1942). A restless talent, he soon took to writing and promptly co-wrote a screenplay for the Western Panhandle (1948).

During his twenties and thirties, Edwards wrote for radio, TV and movies, creating the NBC radio series Richard Diamond, Private Detective for Dick Powell in 1949, which then became a TV series in 1957 starring David Janssen. He went on to create two other popular TV detective series: Mr. Lucky with John Vivyan and Peter Gunn starring Craig Stevens. Simultaneously, he directed a number of B-pictures for Columbia, where he gained a mastery of visual set-ups. His first A-picturewas Mister Cory (1957), starring Tony Curtis.

Edwards hit his directorial stride in the early ’60s with a series of sophisticated and often mordant films: Audrey Hepburn-starrer Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Days of Wine and Roses with Jack Lemmon — said to be his favorite actor to work with — and the first of the Peter Sellers’ romps, 1963’s The Pink Panther.

His stylish eye for interior design and sets, in such films as Tiffany’s, inspired a slew of copycat fashion shoots. Edwards also brought his visual comic flare to the first of the Panther sequels, A Shot in the Dark (1964).

During that era, Edwards balanced his Panther comedies with an array of films, including The Great Race (1965), What Did You Do in the War, Daddy? (1966), Gunn(1967) and The Party (1968). With Sellers winning worldwide popularity for his deadpan portrayals of the comedic detective Inspector Clouseau, Edwards’ touch was magic at the box office during the ’70s, with The Return of the Pink Panther (1975), The Pink Panther Strikes Again and Revenge of the Pink Panther (1978).

During his run of Panther triumphs, Edwards also directed the hit 10, which vaulted Bo Derek to stardom with her cornrowed beauty. The comedy about a 42-year-old composer undergoing a midlife crisis, 10 starred Dudley Moore and featured Andrews. It was one of several collaborations that Edwards was to have with Moore.

Edwards’ films were often graced with the music of Henry Mancini (Pink Panther, Tiffany’s,Days of Wine and Roses, 10).

Often at odds with the studios, Edwards lampooned Hollywood with the scathing satire S.O.B., which United Artists released with great trepidation amid the chaos at the studio created by Michael Cimino’s Heaven’s Gate and its costly production overruns.

S.O.B., which many regard as superior to Robert Altman’s The Playeras a lampoon of Hollywood, featured Robert Vaughn as a crazed studio chieftain and Edwards’ cohort Richard Mulligan as a director needing a hit.

“I was certainly getting back at some of the producers of my life,” Edwards once remarked, “although I was a good deal less scathing than I could have been. The only way I got to make it was because of the huge success of 10, and even then they tried to sabotage it.”

In the ’80s, Edwards hit a popular stride with a series of farcical yet eminently sophisticated romantic comedies, including Victor Victoria,which earned seven Oscar noms and won him honors in Italy and France. He also brought his visual panache and sophisticated sheen to Trail of the Pink Panther (1982), Curse of the Pink Panther (1983), The Man Who Loved Women (1983), which starred Burt Reynolds as a serial romancer, and Micki & Maude (1984), with Moore.

Edwards later delighted audiences with such popular slapstick romances as the Bruce Willis-starrer Blind Date (1987) and Skin Deep (1989), which starred John Ritter as a sex addict.

Edwards hit a downturn with A Fine Mess (1986), a homage to the silent movie comedies of the ’20s. He later revealed that during the filming he was suffering from chronic fatigue syndrome and reportedly noted that he never remembered directing the movie.

Although not a boxoffice hit, Edwards also directed Lemmon in That’s Life! (1986), a bittersweet comedy that also starred Andrews as a woman facing a potentially terminal health problem. More recently, he wrote and directed Switch (1991) and Son of the Pink Panther (1993).

Edwards had been working on two Broadway musicals, one an adaptation of The Pink Panther and another called Big Rosemary, a comedy set in the Prohibition era. Victor Victoria, of course, became a huge stage hit.

Andrews and Edwards married in 1968. She had a daughter, Emma, from her marriage to Broadway designer Tony Walton. Edwards had a daughter, Jennifer, and a son, Geoffrey, from his marriage to actress Patricia Edwards. He and Andrews adopted two Vietnamese children, Amy and Jo.

There were no immediate plans for a memorial service. Schwam said Edwards wished to be cremated.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.