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The great life of Blake Edwards

Posted by Patrick Sauriol on Thursday, December 16, 2010

Today director/screenwriter Blake Edwards died at the age of 88. To those born in the 1980s and upward Edwards is likely a name that won't resonate with their generation, but for the older ones that came of age in the 1960s to the beginnings of the '80s, his movies are remembered. 10 with Bo Derek and Dudley Moore. Victor/Victoria with Julie Andrews and which was nominated for a Best Screenplay Oscar. The creator of The Pink Panther and its hapless hero, Inspector Clouseau. The director of Breakfast at Tiffany's, which gave us the iconic image of a black-gloved Audrey Hepburn holding her fashionably long cigarette holder.

Edwards began his career writing the screenplays for two westerns of the late 1940s, Stampede and Panhandle. He went on to find regular work in the television shows of the 1950s, being a staff writer on The Mickey Rooney Show before selling his own series to NBC in 1958. It was a show about a suave private detective and it also gave us one of the most recognizable theme songs in the history of TV: Peter Gunn.

In 1961 Breakfast at Tiffany's allowed Edwards to show that he also had a knack at being a feature director. Edwards cemeted his status as a dependable comedic creator when he made The Pink Panther in 1963, giving Peter Sellers a franchise and a character that the actor would be forever remembered for. Edwards kept mining the Panther movies right up to the early '80s, and while the guaranteed paychecks were always a good thing, he used his directing hat to push into more adult and ribald comedy.

If Victor/Victoria were the movie that brought Blake Edwards his greatest critical accolade, 10 was and remains the most iconic of Edwards' films. In 1979 Bo Derek became that year's sex symbol and Dudley Moore an unlikely but well received romantic lead. 10 was an R-rated sex comedy, one that played with the naughty qualities of its subject matter but made it comfortable enough for water cooler discussions thanks to its played-for-laughs approach. Edwards was able to do that kind of movie, and it was a unique talent that other directors of comedy from this time (such as Woody Allen or Mel Brooks) didn't have.

Comedy films began to change in the era of Reaganomics and Edwards' connection to the audience began to wane as the decade approached its end. Sunset, Switch and Skin Deep were bombs, and when he and his wife Julie Andrews tried their hands on a early 1990s TV sitcom called Julie, it too didn't find purchase. His last directing job was for a play adaptation of Victor/Victoria.

Personally, the one film that I have the strongest memories of is 1981's S.O.B., memorable to me in three ways: a fine performance by Richard Mulligan as a director faced with a loss of creativity; Edwards' satirical indictment of the Hollywood factory system; and seeing Mary Poppins show her bare chest. While the latter reason may be more of interest when you're 12-years-old and renting a movie on VHS, for the more mature among us S.O.B. is a fine letter of loathing written to the darker side of Hollywood.

In 2004 Blake Edwards received an honorary Oscar in recognition of his work. 82-years-old and in a wheelchair, the man accepted his statue from Jim Carrey by having his ride lose control and crash into a false wall. Right to his final public appearance Blake Edwards was still finding ways to make strangers laugh.

I can't embed Blake Edwards' Oscar acceptance speech because the organization doesn't want to share its video content on other sites but if you want to see how a Hollywood showman can entertain and also be gracious and humble at the same time, please do watch this video.

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