Friday, December 17, 2010

The Late Great Blake Edwards

Director and writer Blake Edwards passed December 15, 2010 at the age of 88. The cause was complications from pneumonia.

Blake Edwards was born William Blake Crump in Tulsa, Oklahoma on July 26, 1922. When he was four years old his mother married an assistant director and movie production manager Jack McEdwards, so that the young Blake's name became Blake McEdwards. After graduating from high school. Mr. Edwards enlisted in the United States Coast Guard. He also went into acting, initially on radio. He supposedly worked on The Mercury Theatre of the Air's production of War of the Worlds, among other radio productions. He also broke into writing for radio. Indeed, in 1949 Blake Edwards created the radio show Richard Diamond, Private Detective, for which he also wrote several scripts.

Eventually, as an actor Blake Edwards moved into film, making his debut in The Gentleman from West Point (1942). After his stint in the Coast Guard, Blake Edwards went into acting. He was even briefly under contract to 20th Century Fox. From 1942 to 1948 Mr. Edwards appeared in bit parts, often uncredited, in such films as A Guy Named Joe (1943), Marshall of Reno (1944), Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo (1944), The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946), The Best Years of Our Lives (1946), and Big Town (1948).

It was in 1948 that Blake Edwards broke into writing for film. His first script was for Panhandle (1948). Over the next few years he wrote screenplays for such films as All Ashore (1953) and Cruisin' Down the River (1953). It was in 1953 that Mr. Edwards entered television, writing episodes of Four Star Playhouse. In 1954 he did his first directing for that show as well. Over the next few years Blake Edwards wrote such screenplays as Drive a Crooked Road (1954), My Sister Eileen (1955), Operation Mad Ball (1957), and That Happy Feeling (1958).  On television he created The Mickey Rooney Show and wrote many of its scripts. When Richard Diamond, Private Detecive was brought to television in 1957, he wrote many of the show's teleplays.

While Blake Edwards would later famous for his film comedies, in television his crowning achievement was the private eye series Peter Gunn. Mr. Edwards would not only write many of the show's episodes, but he would also direct several episodes. He also served as the show's executive producer. Peter Gunn centred on a noirish detective of the same name, played by Craig Stevens. Although he had a good deal in common with the hard boiled detectives of the Thirties, he was very much a creature of the late Fifties. Peter Gunn was an untracool hipster who loved jazz and was as smooth as a con man. The show proved to be a hit, running from 1958 to 1961. Blake Edwards also adapted Milton Holmes' story "Bundles for Freedom" as the TV series Mr. Lucky. Although it shared its name with the 1943 film of the same name (also based on the same story), the two were quite different. The show centred on a professional gambler with extraordinary luck.

In 1955 Mr. Edwards broke into directing film with Bring Your Smile Along. Over the next few years he would direct Mister Cory (1957), That Happy Feeling, the classic sex comedy The Perfect Furlough (1959), and Operation Petticoat (1959). It was in 1961 that Mr. Edwards entered the height of his career, with the classic Breakfast at Tiffany's. Over the next several years he directed such classics as Days of Wine and Roses (1962), The Pink Panther (1963), A Shot in the Dark (1964), The Great Race (1965), Gunn (1967-based on the show Peter Gunn), and The Party (1968). He also wrote the screenplays for most his films.

Mr. Edwards' career would falter in the Seventies, when his most remarkable films would be sequels to The Pink Panther such as The Return of the Pink Panther (1975), The Pink Panther Strikes Again (1976), and Revenge of the Pink Panther (1978). His career was revitalised in the Eighties after the success of 10 (1979). He directed such films as S.O.B. (1981), Victor Victoria (1982), The Man Who Loved Women (1983), A Fine Mess (1986), Blind Date (1987), and Skin Deep (1989). His last film was Switch (1991). For television he directed a telefilm of the same title based on the series Peter Gunn. It aired in 1988.

Blake Edwards was immensely talented as a director and writer. He is best known for his comedies, and with good reason. Mr. Edwards had a gift for timing and the ability to mine the faults an foibles of humanity for humour. While very talented at comedy, however, he was also adept at drama. Indeed, what may be his most famous film, Breakfast at Tiffany's, was a drama. Mr. Edwards also had a talent for good detective stories. First on the radio show Richard Diamond, Private Detective and later on the TV show Peter Gunn, Mr. Edwards could generate great mysteries with plenty of atmosphere as well. He had a particular gift for characters, having created some of the most memorable characters in film history. In doing so, he contributed so much to modern pop culture.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for posting this. You said ... absolutely everything and, even if pressed, I simply could not add more. Beautiful post. Thank you for sharing.