january 2011

blake edwards

‘How Do You Thank Someone For A Million Laughs?’

by Peter Bogdanovich

How do you thank someone for a million laughs? With the passing of Blake Edwards, one of the very last survivors of the golden age of pictures has gone. At 88, he had seen the whole parade: his grandfather was a silent film director, his father was in the business, and Blake started out as an actor in the l940s, eventually turned to screenwriting—-quite successfully—-and then to directing in the mid-l950s. Over the years, he had an impressive array of popular and superbly made pictures, including Breakfast at Tiffany’s (probably Audrey Hepburn’s most iconic appearance), Operation Petticoat (Cary Grant’s biggest box office hit), 10 (which made Dudley Moore a superstar), S.O.B. (which bared wife Julie Andrews’ breasts and skewered Hollywood mercilessly), Victor/Victoria (a taboo-breaking gender-bending farce that he transferred successfully to Broadway as a musical), and, of course, the glorious Pink Panther series that started in the l960s and ran throughout the l970s (giving Peter Sellers his most devastatingly funny incarnation as the hopelessly bumbling Inspector Clouseau).

I first met Blake on the set of his comic extravaganza, The Great Race, where I discovered he was the first person besides Jerry Lewis to use video-assist monitors (which Lewis invented), and which is standard equipment on sets now. Edwards was very laidback in a kind of intense way, which is a contradiction in terms but fits the man I came to know over the years. He had a mordantly wicked sense of humor, very black Irish—-Julie Andrews’ nickname for him was Blackie—-and a self-deprecating manner that was quite disarming. He often seemed very amused at the absurdities of life in the movie business, indeed life in general. This was a man who once, at night, dove by accident into an emptied swimming pool and broke nearly every bone in his body; he was often doing things like that, so that a lot of his humor was derived from his own foibles. But Blake’s most vivid characteristic was this wry sense of rebellion, a kind of conspiracy against any form of authority.

The unsparing greenhouse scene from Blake Edwards’s Days of Wine and Roses: after a late-night drinking binge with his wife Kirsten (Lee Remmick), Joe Clay (Jack Lemmon) destroys an entire greenhouse of his father-in-law’s plants while searching for a bottle of liquor he stashed there earlier. After making this film, both Edwards and Lemmon quit drinking.

For a man famous for his comedies, he also made one of the most searing dramas ever filmed about alcoholism—-something he himself successfully overcame: Days of Wine and Roses is a devastating look at addiction and features perhaps Jack Lemmon’s greatest performance, as well as an equally brilliant one from Lee Remick; the picture is viscerally difficult to watch. He could do crime melodrama as well as anyone, as the noir thriller, Experiment in Terror, conclusively proves. And detective pictures, like Gunn based on the TV series he created, Peter Gunn. Also some of his best work went unnoticed, like the uproariously funny World War II farce, What Did You Do in The War, Daddy? with a classic performance by comic Dick Shawn, or Skin Deep, with a memorable job by dear John Ritter.

Though he began in the waning years of the old studio system, Blake succeeded in making the transition to independent production, but he had been brought up in the golden age when directors didn’t shoot everything in sight, but cut in the camera; knew what they wanted, and knew how to get it. If it could be done in one shot, without cutting, that was the way to do it. I just recently saw again A Shot in the Dark, the second Panther picture, and was amazed at one living room scene with a half dozen actors playing out a complicated series of gags and slapstick bits which required great precision, all done in one long continuous shot; it was breathtaking. As Orson Welles said, when I once asked him what he thought was the difference between cutting up a scene or playing it through in one shot, “Well, we used to say that was what separated the men from the boys.” Blake Edwards was definitely among the men—a really terrific guy—and with him goes one of the final examples of real, classic filmmaking.

From “Blogdanovich by Peter Bogdanovich” at the indieWIRE Blog Network

peterBlogdanovich is the blog of director, producer, writer, actor, film critic, and author Peter Bogdanovich. He has directed over 25 feature films including international award winners The Last Picture Show, What’s Up, Doc?, Paper Moon, Daisy Miller, Saint Jack, Mask; cult favorites Targets, Texasville, Noises Off, They All Laughed, and A The Thing Called Love; among stars he’s introduced: Cybill Shepherd, Tatum O’Neal, Madeline Kahn, John Ritter, Sandra Bullock; has directed stars Audrey Hepburn, Barbra Streisand, Michael Caine, Cher; best-sellers Who the Devil Made It: Who the Hell's In It, The Killing of the Unicorn; standard texts John Ford, This is Orson Welles; and was a recurring guest-star on the popular HBO series The Sopranos.


TCM Remembers Blake Edwards

blake edwards

Writer and director Blake Edwards is best known for helming the "Pink Panther" comedies of the 1960s and 1970s, but his contributions to entertainment stretch far beyond those wildly popular slapstick tales of the bumbling Inspector Clouseau. He made a name for himself as a "modern cinema" original by combining a colorful visual style with a knack for layered jokes and subtle blend of high and low humor in films like Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961), The Pink Panther (1963) and A Shot in the Dark (1964) and as the creator of the stylish detective series Peter Gunn (NBC, 1958-60, ABC 1961). A career-long collaboration with composer Henry Mancini's playful compositions became a crucial element in this creative vision. During the 1970s and 1980s, Edwards balanced his ongoing Pink Panther releases with more personal, dramatic material that explored the lives of aging artists and society's evolving sexual conventions, best exemplified in his 1979 hit, 10. Only a handful of Edwards 39 films were hailed with Oscar, Golden Globe and Emmy nominations, but ongoing creative disputes with studio executives compromised what might have been an even larger body of revered work. Misfires notwithstanding, Edwards earned enormous respect among the film industry and his comedies remained popular for generations.

Blake Edwards was born William Blake Crump on July 26, 1922, in Tulsa, OK. His parents divorced when he was young and his mother remarried to Jack McEdwards, a production manager in Hollywood. His stepdad's father was J. Gordon Edwards, an early film director known for his Fox Studio films with racy screen vamp Theda Bara during the teens and early 1920s. Studio backlots became Edwards' playground and the kids of Hollywood heavy-hitters were his childhood friends. Edwards graduated from Beverly Hills High School and served in the Coast Guard briefly before entering the family business, where his stepfather first snared him work as an extra. Edwards advanced to supporting roles, eventually signing a contract with Fox, appearing in nearly 25 films during the mid 1940s including B-films like Strangler of the Swamp (1945) and classics like William Wyler's The Best Years of Our Life (1946).

Shifting his efforts to writing, Edwards wrote for NBC's hardboiled radio serial Richard Diamond, Private Detective (NBC, 1949), which began the development of his trademark sense of humor. He made his screenwriting debut in 1948 with Panhandle and by the 1950s, Edwards was steadily cranking out screenplays. He produced the syndicated series City Detective (1953) and in 1955, made his directorial debut with Bring Your Smile Along, a thin musical romance in which Constance Towers played a schoolteacher and would-be songwriter who finds love in the big city. He made a bigger impression with his writing and directing efforts on Mister Cory (1956), which also helped boost the career of the film's star, a young Tony Curtis. In 1958, Edwards created and directed the Emmy-nominated TV detective series Peter Gunn, whose jazz-loving hipster private eye breathed new life into the genre and established Edwards' fresh, youthful vision.

Jack Lemmon and Lee Remick in ‘The Days of Wine and Roses,’ which explored a couple’s descent into full-blown alcoholism. The film was a Golden Globe nominee for Best Drama.

In theaters, Edwards entered his peak filmmaking years, beginning with the classic Cary Grant and Tony Curtis Navy comedy Operation Petticoat (1959). In 1961, Edwards directed Audrey Hepburn in one of the era's most iconic films, a loose adaptation of Truman Capote's Breakfast at Tiffany's, which earned the actress an Oscar nomination for her portrayal of a fragile country girl masquerading as an eccentric New York socialite. Henry Mancini, who had begun his collaborations with Edwards on Peter Gunn, earned an Academy win for the film's enduring score and the famous song, "Moon River." The director followed up with a groundbreaking film that boldly explored a couple's descent into full blown alcohol addiction, The Days of Wine and Roses (1963), starring Jack Lemmon and Lee Remick. The film was a Golden Globe nominee for Best Drama, and one that inspired both Lemmon and Edwards to seek their own recovery from alcohol shortly after the film was released.

After proving his versatility with the taut, strikingly photographed thriller Experiment in Terror (1962), Edwards introduced audiences to a bumbling French inspector named Jacques Clouseau (Peter Sellers) and began the era of his beloved "Pink Panther" film series. The first release, The Pink Panther (1963) was an immediate hit thanks to writer-director Edwards' blend of high and low humor, a lush, modern visual style, and another sophisticated Mancini score. Sellers, known for his elaborate character creations, ran with the material and left his mark as one of film history's most unlikely and likeable outsider heroes. Behind the camera, however, Sellers and Edwards locked horns often, vowing never to work together again after the successful sequel, A Shot in the Dark (1964). Edwards' continued in the vein of madcap comedies with the unsuccessful slapstick ode to Laurel and Hardy, The Great Race (1965), which was notable for a pie fight that involved the flinging of 2,357 baked goods. The Party (1968) found Edwards and Sellers burying the hatchet for a "fish out of water" tale of an East Indian at a swanky Hollywood party. The film later gained a loyal cult following, thanks to Sellers' physical humor and in spite of abundant toilet humor and insensitive cultural stereotyping.

A tribute to the films of Blake Edwards

Edwards continued to stumble at the box office, with the enormous financial failure of the espionage spoof Darling Lili (1969) on his head and clashes with studio executives over their "butchering" of dramas Wild Rovers (1971) and The Carey Treatment (1972). Eventually Edwards' heartbreak over the system turned to depression, and he and new bride Julie Andrews—star of Darling Lili —moved to Europe, where they remained for most of the decade. Andrews and Edwards collaborated again on the spy/romance, The Tamarind Seed (1974) before financial necessity led Edwards to reconsider the "Pink Panther" series. Sellers was also experiencing a career lull and both put their differences aside to facilitate a career boost. Independently produced, The Return of the Pink Panther (1975) broke box office records and revived the film franchise. Clouseau's boss Dreyfus (Charles Lom) was again obsessed with destroying his underling, the Pink Panther diamond was still at large, and audiences were again rocking theaters with laughter. Edwards and Sellers repeated their success with two more sequels, The Panther Strikes Again (1976) and Revenge of the Pink Panther (1978). Making his recent success even sweeter, in 1979, Edwards returned triumphantly to the Hollywood fold with the stunning box office and critical success of 10. In the first of a number of autobiographical films, Edwards' adult comedy explored middle-aged angst in an era of changing sexual mores. Edwards' insightful study was one of the biggest box office hits of the year and earned Golden Globe nominations for stars Julie Andrews, Dudley Moore and Bo Derek—who created a sensation, running on a beach in a flesh-colored bathing suit, cornrows blowing in the breeze—and another Oscar for composer Mancini.

Edwards was back in Hollywood, but he was no longer playing the Hollywood games. He next wrote and directed a biting satire of his experiences with big studio brass, S.O.B. (1981) that remained one of the best send-ups of the film business. He went on create one of the artistic triumphs of his and Andrews' careers with Victor/Victoria (1982), a musical adaptation of a 1933 German film about a woman masquerading as a man in drag. The film earned eight Oscar nominations including one for Edwards' adapted screenplay. The same year however, Edwards' received some flak for The Trail of the Pink Panther (1982), which used old footage of the now deceased Sellers to piece together a story. The following year's Curse of the Pink Panther (1983) revolved around a new bumbling American detective (Ted Wass) and failed to attract movie audiences.

The remainder of Edwards' work throughout 1980s seemed to emanate from his own psyche and ran the risk of being labeled self-obsessed. The Man Who Loved Women (1983) was a weak remake of the 1977 Francois Truffaut film and starred a womanizing Burt Reynolds, and That's Life! (1986) focused on a man (Jack Lemmon) and his fear of turning 60, while his wife (Andrews) worries whether or not she has cancer. It was perhaps Edwards' most personal film, shot at his and Andrews' Malibu home, with much of the dialogue improvised. It was met with mixed critical reception and indifference from audiences. Edwards made a second attempt to pay homage to Laurel and Hardy with a remake of their 1932 short The Music Box called A Fine Mess (1986). Again Edwards was plagued by studio interference and unwanted editing, which rendered the film a forgettable flop. Switch (1991), in which a macho man awakens as a woman (Ellen Barkin), was resoundingly panned by critics, and Edwards attempted to resurrect his comedy success with Son of the Pink Panther (1993), in which Roberto Benigni stepped in as Clouseau's son. Reviews unfavorably compared this effort with the originals and it sank at the box office.

‘How do you feel about 42?’—Dudley Moore as George Webber and Julie Andrews as Samantha Taylor in the birthday party scene in 10. With Robert Webber as Hugh and, in her first onscreen sighting, Bo Derek as Jenny Hanley.

In 1995, Edwards fulfilled a long-held dream of writing and directing a stage musical adaptation of Victor/Victoria for Andrews. After a bumpy start in Chicago, the show arrived on Broadway with a score by Henry Mancini and Leslie Bricusse. Many reviews faulted Edwards' direction and musical book, however Andrews received personal raves and the show went on to become a box office success, due in no small part to her presence. Edwards never received an Academy Award during his film career, but in 2004 the Academy of Motion Pictures gave him an honorary award for his lifetime contributions to the film world.

Blake Edwards died on December 16, 2010 from complications from pneumonia, at St. John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, CA. Blake’s wife, Julie Andrews, and other family members were at his side. He had been hospitalized fοr abουt two weeks.

Edwards had knee problems, had undergone catastrophic procedures and was “pretty much cramped tο the wheelchair fοr the final year-and-a-half οr two,” said his publicist.

Posted at TCM.com


Blake Edwards: Perspectives from Far and Wide

blake edwards

Filmmaker Shawn Levy writing in the Los Angeles Times online on December 20, 2010:

Every one of us working in film comedy today is a descendant of Blake Edwards. Some of us more than others, to be sure, but one way or another, in ways both overt and subliminal, Edwards' films have influenced film comedy ever since.Edwards had a nose for frame size, using tighter close-ups when a verbal joke required a more focused payoff, while lying back in wider, head-to-toe frames and longer editorial pieces needed for physical comedy. Edwards' mise-en-scène was unobtrusive and fluid, often using the blocking and movement of actors to keep refreshing and reconstituting the composition within the frame. Edwards embraced and exploited the wide shot in ways still emulated by many of us making comedies now. He gave his actors—and his one central star in particular—room to breathe, room to perform. He recognized that for certain performers, of which Sellers was surely one, the entire body was required to convey a performer's mojo.

Shawn Levy's complete appreciation of Blake Edwards is at http://articles.latimes.com/


Breakfast at Tiffany’s trailer

From Guardian.co.uk. obituary by Brian Baxter, published December 16, 2010:

The filmmaker Blake Edwards, who has died aged 88, will be best remembered as the creator of the Pink Panther films, and as the husband of the entertainer Julie Andrews. But Edwards was a third-generation show-business figure whose complex and controversial career spanned more than 50 years, initially as an actor and writer and subsequently as one of America's most prolific producer-directors, primarily concerned with the popular genres of comedy and musicals and with creating television series.

Despite working in mainstream cinema, his maverick spirit and ego made him an uneasy partner with Hollywood studios. He famously savaged the hand that had fed him so well with S.O.B. (1981), a raucous, vitriolic attack on Tinseltown. His sophisticated work drew strongly on his love of early cinema (his stepgrandfather had directed silent films), and on his own life and psychological problems (he wrote two movies with his psychoanalyst, Milton Wexler). He also reworked his own films and remade those of other directors.

Baxter’s complete article is at http://www.guardian.co.uk/


From Roger Ebert at www.rogerebert.com:

His life was filled with laughter, its end, shadowed by illness. He remained productive as long as he could. As Inspector Clouseau once observed, in words written by Edwards, "There is a time to laugh and a time not to laugh, and this is not one of them."

Roger Ebert’s tribute to Blake Edwards is at http://rogerebert.suntimes.com/


Breakfast at Tiffany’s—the final scene

From AOL News, ‘Five Facts on the Filmmaker and Husband of Julie Andrews’:

1. He was born into the biz.
Edwards was a third-generation filmmaker: His stepgrandfather was a silent-movie director, and his stepfather also worked in Hollywood. When he was starting out, Edwards and a young Mickey Rooney roomed together.

2. He worked on "War of the Worlds" with Orson Welles.
Before moving into film, Edwards worked in radio, including the 1938"War of the Worlds" broadcast that terrified Americans across the country.

3. He tangled—frequently—with Hollywood brass.
The "volatile" Edwards went toe-to-toe with bosses at Paramount, MGM and other studios over his movies. His 1981 dark comedy S.O.B.—which stood for "Standard Operational Bulls***"—took a cynical look at Hollywood and show business.

4. Despite his legendary status, he wasn't a regular at industry award shows.
During his career, "Edwards directed almost 50 movies and wrote or co-authored 38 screenplays, yet received a lone nomination, for his adapted screenplay for Victor/Victoria," which starred his wife as a cross-dresser.

5. He was working until the very end.
Though he was confined to a wheelchair, Edwards continued to make his mark in show business. At the time of his death, he was working on developing two Broadway musicals, one based on The Pink Panther, the other a Prohibition comedy called Big Rosemary.

He also never lost his biting sense of humor. In October, after receiving an award from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, he opened his acceptance speech by asking: "Can I go now?"


The Great Race pie fight: ‘Even when slapstick reigned, one finds lovely grace notes of emotion tucked away amidst the mayhem that has conquered the characters’ attempts to uphold standards of civilized decorum.’

From The Hollywood Reporter’s chief film critic Todd McCarthy:

At its best, from the mid-1950s through the early 1980s, Blake Edwards' career represented an unexpected extension of the spirit of classical Hollywood comedy in the Ernst Lubitsch-Billy Wilder vein. Like his Germanic forebears, the Oklahoma-born Edwards was able to blend unashamed, pie-in-the-face slapstick with genuine sophistication as he continually addressed the issue of maintaining a civilized demeanor while faced with the ever-present threat of anarchy and loss of control.

After a string of strongly written comedies, notably Mister Cory and Operation Petticoat at Universal and High Time at Fox, Edwards achieved a new level of elegance and mixed moods in Breakfast at Tiffany's in 1961. Much has been made of late as to how significantly the filmmakers tidied up the more unsavory aspects of Truman Capote's story and there is always the insufferable embarrassment of Mickey Rooney's Japanese caricature, but the unforgettable images of Audrey Hepburn in New York and the poignant feelings caught prevail over the shortcoming and compromises. Even when slapstick reigned in such films as The Great Race, What Did You Do in the War, Daddy? and The Party, all of which stand up well today on repeated viewings, one finds lovely grace notes of emotion tucked away amidst the mayhem that has conquered the characters' attempts to uphold standards of civilized decorum. The Party, in particular, remains something of a marvel in its perhaps over-extended but nonetheless protean attempt to recreate the aesthetics of a silent movie, just as it incidentally evokes the feel of Hollywood just before everything literally went to pot in the late 1960s.

Todd McCarthy’s complete appreciation of Blake Edwards is at http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/:



On ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’: ‘I can’t separate Audrey Hepburn from Mr. Yunioshi’—Gil Asakawa

I can't think of Audrey Hepburn without thinking of Holly Golightly, then Mr. Yunioshi.

Who is Mr. Yunioshi? He was the creepy, salacious and bumbling Japanese man who lived upstairs from Holly Golightly in the film. A photographer and the building's superintendent, he was always yelling at Hepburn's character and begging Holly Golightly to come upstairs and pose for him. "Miss-uh Go-Right-Ree!" he calls down the stairwell.

The character has magnifying-glass spectacles, squints and mumbles with pronounced buck teeth. It's almost a WWII-era caricature of a "Jap" from a poster, comic book or cartoon, come to life. Only it's not 1942, it's 1961.

And, the character of Mr. Yunioshi was played by Mickey Rooney, the diminutive Caucasian movie star. Maybe it's because no Asian would agree to play the part. I can only hope.

The history of "Yellowface"—Caucasian actors playing Asian characters—had a long tradition in Hollywood, even up until the 1960s and '70s (including the most famous instance of all, David Carradine playing the half-Chinese character in the TV series Kung Fu that was originally supposed to be played by Bruce Lee, who came up with the idea for the show).

But this wasn't just an example of letting a white actor play an Asian character. It was a broad and particularly nasty stereotype captured in a major motion picture featuring a cast of big name stars. It was a statement that said loudly, that this particular stereotype is (was) an acceptable way to portray Asians in America.

At least on the closing commentary on the Anniversary Edition of Breakfast at Tiffany's, producer Richard Shepard admits, "If we could just change Mickey Rooney, I'd be thrilled with the movie!"

That's good to know, but Rooney is there as part of the film's legacy forever, and I still end up associating its brutal racist depiction of Japanese—of me—with it, and with Hepburn's image. A lot of fans of the movie can dismiss or overlook the stereotyped character. Some even think it was a high point of the movie, that it added comedic elements. (Read the Amazon.com comments.)

When I was younger, I could squirm and chuckle along with it, but I can't stand to watch the movie anymore. And the old saw about "that's what it was like back then" doesn't fly with me, either. Imagine an African-American character in 1961 being satirized that way. Like I've already mentioned, Rooney's portrayal was a throwback to WWII depictions of Japanese—it was over the top, even for 1961.

Gil Asakawa’s complete essay is at http://www.gather.com/

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