Blake Edwards, Versatile, Volatile Movie Director, Dies at 88

Blake Edwards, the versatile and volatile Hollywood figure who wrote, directed or produced eight “Pink Panther” movies and films such as “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” “Days of Wine and Roses,” “10” and “Victor/Victoria,” has died. He was 88.

He died yesterday of complications from pneumonia at St. John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California, the Associated Press reported, citing publicist Gene Schwam.

The writer-director received an honorary Oscar in 2004 from the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences, in a gesture that many Hollywood figures considered overdue. Edwards directed almost 50 movies and wrote or co-authored 38 screenplays, yet received a lone nomination, for his adapted screenplay for “Victor/Victoria” (1982). That movie garnered a Golden Globe award for his wife, singer-actress Julie Andrews.

Edwards feuded with studio bosses at Paramount, MGM and other studios over the handling of some films. In the early 1970s, he moved with Andrews to Europe for six years. An early script for the film “S.O.B.” (1981), a biting satire about Hollywood, was written during that period.

His fortunes revived when he reunited with actor Peter Sellers to make three “Pink Panther” sequels from 1975 to 1978. A year later, Edwards returned to Hollywood with “10” (1979), the bittersweet sex-comedy that made Bo Derek a star.

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Late Director Blake Edwards attends Academy Of Motion Picture Arts And Sciences' 'Evening With Blake Edwards' on Sept. 30, 2010 in Beverly Hills, California. Close

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Photographer: Valerie Macon/Getty Images

Late Director Blake Edwards attends Academy Of Motion Picture Arts And Sciences' 'Evening With Blake Edwards' on Sept. 30, 2010 in Beverly Hills, California.

Raised in Hollywood

William Blake Crump was born on July 26, 1922, in Tulsa, Oklahoma, to Lillian and Donald Crump, according to his biography in Contemporary Theatre, Film, and Television.

He was 3 or 4 when his mother married Jack McEdward, an assistant film director in Los Angeles. McEdward was the son of J. Gordon Edwards, who directed films in the silent era for the Fox Film Corp. Blake Edwards later used his grandfather’s surname.

Edwards attended Beverly Hills High School, then took his first acting role in “Ten Gentlemen from West Point,” the 1942 film released by Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp. He acted in the same studio’s 1944 film, “In the Meantime, Darling,” directed by Otto Preminger.

After a stint in the U.S. Coast Guard, Edwards co-wrote and produced his first film, the low-budget Western “Panhandle” (1948), and played the part of a gunslinger. He abandoned acting to write radio scripts and movie screenplays. He made his directorial debut with “Bring Your Smile Along” (1955), one of two films he wrote and directed for Columbia Pictures.

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Late Director Blake Edwards poses with his Honorary Oscar during the 76th Annual Academy Awards at the Kodak Theater on Feb. 29, 2004 in Hollywood. Close

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Late Director Blake Edwards poses with his Honorary Oscar during the 76th Annual Academy Awards at the Kodak Theater on Feb. 29, 2004 in Hollywood.

He moved to Universal, where he earned a reputation for deft directing of stars such as Tony Curtis in “Mister Cory” (1957) and Debbie Reynolds in “This Happy Feeling” (1958). He directed Cary Grant in the military service hit, “Operation Petticoat” (1959).

Tried Television

Edwards tried his hand at television, creating the “Peter Gunn” detective series in 1958. He asked arranger Henry Mancini to write music for the show, and the resulting soundtrack soared to No. 1 on the Billboard chart.

He married actress Patricia Walker in 1953. The marriage, which produced two children, ended in divorce in 1967. He and Andrews were wed in 1969 and adopted two Vietnamese children in the mid-1970s.

Andrews made eight films with Blake, beginning with “Darling Lili” (1970), a box-office flop that caused a row with Paramount for cost overruns. Edwards blamed the studio -- and new corporate owner Gulf & Western Industries -- for insisting on filming many exterior shots in weather-plagued Ireland.

“That film was a product of people’s taking over a motion- picture company without having any credentials at all,” Edwards told Playboy magazine in 1982.

MGM Battle

Edwards said he was devastated by his treatment at the hands of MGM President James Aubrey when he directed “Wild Rovers” (1971), starring William Holden and Ryan O’Neal. Aubrey, a former CBS executive, edited 40 minutes from the director’s cut and changed the ending.

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Late Film Director Blake Edwards holding a viewfinder on the set of his film 'Revenge of the Pink Panther' in 1978. Close

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Late Film Director Blake Edwards holding a viewfinder on the set of his film 'Revenge of the Pink Panther' in 1978.

Depressed and angry, Edwards bought back a screenplay that Aubrey said he hated. The script eventually became “10.”

Edwards told Playboy that he reunited with the actor Peter Sellers to make more sequels to “Pink Panther” (1963) when they were both down on their luck in 1975. Instead of a salary, the two said they each wanted only their expenses and 10 percent of the gross. “Therein lies the secret of my wealth,” Edwards said.

Edwards quarreled with MGM/UA Entertainment Co. in 1983 over the marketing of “Victor/Victoria,” “Trail of the Pink Panther” and “Curse of the Pink Panther.” He accused the studio of damaging the “Pink Panther” franchise, while MGM/UA leveled charges of extravagant spending.

Autobiographical Films

Edwards walked off the set of “City Heat” (1984), a film he was directing for Warner Bros., because he couldn’t satisfy the two stars, Clint Eastwood and Burt Reynolds, with his script rewrites.

Over the next decade, his films became more autobiographical. He shared writing credits with his analyst, Milton Wexler, for “The Man Who Loved Women” (1983) and “That’s Life!” (1986), about a man in mid-life crisis.

Edwards was slowed by chronic fatigue syndrome and troublesome knees. He used canes to walk onstage to accept an award from a video retailers’ association in 2004. Edwards had not directed a feature film since the poorly received 1993 “Son of the Pink Panther.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Kathryn Harris at kathrynh@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: James Greiff at jgreiff@bloomberg.net

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