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IN MEMORIAM

Obituary Profiles of Entertainment Industry Figures And The Legacies They Leave Behind


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Funny With A Dose of Acid: Blake Edwards

 

Blake Edwards, the American director whose comedic films were always presented with a dose of acid, passed away in his Los Angeles home yesterday. In a career of highs and lows, Edwards carved a particular niche as a funny man with a dark underside and a dramatist who sometimes injected humor into dark tales of desperation. His 1961 film BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY'S, a huge success despite the smoothing out of the edges of its bohemian party girl Holy Gollightly, is a true classic of American filmmaking and its star Audrey Hepburn's finest performance on screen. He was among the first of the writer/director/producers who had complete control of all aspects of his films. His long career, beginning in the 1950s and continuing into the 1980s, was marked by career highs and many films that floundered. In 2004, he received an Honorary Academy Award in recognition of his writing, directing and producing an extraordinary body of work for the screen (he had only been nominated once in competition, for his biting screenplay adaptation of the television drama "The Days Of Wine And Roses"). 

 

Audrey Hepburn in BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY'S 

Edwards, the grandson of a pioneering silent film director, began his career 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 plays and series for television, including the successful "Peter Gunn", a jazzy detective series that first paired him with composer Henry Mancini (who scored most of his film efforts). The big screen then came calling and Edwards first made his mark with highly successful army/navy comedies "Operation Madball" (1957), "The Perfect Furlough" (1958) and  "Operation Petticoat" (1959), the latter pairing Cary Grant and Tony Curtis.  In the 1960s, he really hit his stride with a series of uncompromising films that combined raucous comedy and heartfelt emotion and a rebellious spirit that was just beginning to be felt in the Kennedy-era America. "Breakfast At Tiffany's" (1961) was the glossy big screen adaptation of the Truman Capote novella about a young actress' marginal life in Manhattan. When superstar Audrey Hepburn was cast as the hick golddigger who insists on "fifty dollars for the powder room" in order to survive, critics cried fowl. However, the film was an enormous hit and is much beloved as a snapshot of New York glamour of the period.

 

 

Lee Remick and Jack Lemmon in DAYS OF WINES AND ROSES 

His follow up film was quite unexpected for a director who had been associated with comedy. " Days Of Wine And Roses", an acerbic portrait of a young couple who fight their alcoholism, was first done as a live television drama. When he cast film funnyman Jack Lemmon in the role of the husband, critics also scoffed, saying Lemmon was not equipped for the role's intensity. They were very wrong, since the film was a major success despite its strong theme, and brought Oscar nominations for both Jack Lemmon and his co-star Lee Remick. Edwards next hit gold with the highly successful "Pink Panther" series, which starred Peter Sellers as the accident-prone Inspector Clouseau. He subsequently made five "Pink Panther" films over the years, the last one in 1993, as a vehicle for Italian actor Roberto Benigni.

 

Other important films in his oeuvre included "The Americanization Of Emily" (1965), "S.O.B." (1981), a scathing satire of the immorality of Hollywood and the musical pastiche "Victor Victoria" (1982), all of which starred his wife of 40 years, English thrush Julie Andrews (whose personal fame eclipsed her husband's). His other significant film was the libido-gone-wild satire "10" in 1979, which created instant icon status for starlet Bo Derek as the object of sexual desire of actor/comedian Dudley Moore. Edwards had more than his fare share of box office bombs and for a time retreated to Europe. His last major films "That's Life!" (1986), a mid-life crisis comedy starring his favorite actor Jack Lemmon, and "Sunset", a moody film noir thriller, were not embraced by audiences. Edwards, who had battled mental depression his whole life, was resigned to living the good life in his Malibu palazzo, only coming out of retirement in the mid 1990s to mount a stage version of his last hit "Victor/Victoria" as a vehicle for his wife Julie Andrews.

 

 

Peter Sellers as Inspector Clouseau

But his long career is celebrated for its boldness at a time when American values were parochially traditional and the Hollywood studio system was stalled by the substantial competition from television. Edwards was never considered "hip" or embraced by critics as a film auteur, but if Audrey Hepburn strumming  "Moon River" on a New York City fire escape or Peter Sellers falling down a flight of stairs as the bumbling Inspector Clouseau is your idea of movie heaven, he was a potent inventor of indelible screen images.

 

Sandy Mandelberger, In Memoriam Editor 

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About In Memoriam

Mandelberger Sandy
(International Media Resources)

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IN MEMORIAM

Obituary Profiles of Entertainment Industry Figures And The Legacies They Leave Behind


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