LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Director, writer and producer Blake Edwards, who made more than 40 films including the classic “Breakfast at Tiffany‘s” and the “Pink Panther” comedies, has died from complications of pneumonia at age 88.
A spokesman for his wife, Julie Andrews, said Edwards died Wednesday night at St. John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California, with Andrews and immediate family members by his side.
During a career that spanned nearly seven decades, Edwards won wide acclaim for films such as “Days of Wine and Roses” and “Victor Victoria,” but he also suffered flops.
At times he skewered Hollywood executives who sometimes shunned his work, and his battles with those executives got so intense that for a period he secretly taped conversations with them in order hold them to their promises.
Born July 26, 1922, in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Edwards moved to Los Angeles at age 3. He broke into movies as an actor with a small role in the 1942 film “Ten Gentlemen from West Point” and appeared in some two dozen less-than-successful films.
“Look at any one of those movies,” Edwards once said, “and you’ll see why I decided to become a writer.”
In the late 1940s, Edwards created the popular “Richard Diamond, Private Detective” radio series and wrote for other radio shows.
He later created two popular private-eye series for television, “Peter Gunn” and “Mr. Lucky.” Edwards received Emmy nominations for writing and directing for “Peter Gunn” but decided to concentrate on writing and directing movies.
His diverse body of work included light-hearted comedies, as well as heart-breaking dramas and featured some of Hollywood’s top talent.
In 1959, Edwards had his first big film success with “Operation Petticoat,” starring Cary Grant and Tony Curtis.
After making “Breakfast at Tiffany‘s” with Audrey Hepburn and “Days of Wine and Roses” starring Jack Lemmon, Edwards shifted gears and directed “The Pink Panther,” the first of seven wacky comedies featuring Peter Sellers as the bumbling Inspector Clouseau.
Despite their successes, Edwards and Sellers were not always a happy team.
“The most fun and the worst times were with Peter,” Edwards told Reuters in an interview in 2002 when the Writers Guild of America gave him a lifetime achievement award. “When he was at the top of his form, he was great fun. When he was in his depressed, angry world, he was impossible.”
Edwards, who was given an honorary Oscar in 2003, also had critical and financial failures, including “Darling Lili,” co-starring Julie Andrews, which was such a box-office disaster that it imperiled Paramount Pictures.
After a series of flops derailed his career, Edwards bounced back in 1979 with “10,” a salute to male mid-life crisis. It also featured Andrews and the funny, poignant film made stars of Bo Derek and Dudley Moore.
Andrews also appeared in 1982’s “Victor/Victoria,” which earned Edwards an Oscar nomination for the screenplay, and the dark comedy “S.O.B.,” Edwards’ semi-autobiographical indictment of Hollywood studio executives.
“I had a lot of bitterness in me when I wrote the first draft,” Edwards said of “S.O.B.” “The final screenplay was toned down a lot. What’s funny now is that I keep meeting people who are characters straight out of that movie and who don’t know it. They’re the same terrible people doing the same terrible things.”
He was married twice, the second time in 1969 to Andrews. Andrews and Edwards remained together for 41 years and raised five children, three from separate marriages and two they adopted. He is survived by Andrews and all of his children.
Additional reporting and writing by Bill Trott; Editing by Xavier Briand