Blake Edwards, the prolific film director, producer and screenwriter who made his name with Breakfast at Tiffany's before managing, via the Pink Panther films, to create a hugely lucrative comedy franchise which jollified Hollywood for almost four decades, has died at the age of 88.
A publicist, Gene Schwam, announced yesterday that Edwards, who had been in a wheelchair for the final year and a half of his life, had died overnight due to complications of pneumonia. His wife, the actress Julie Andrews, was at his side, along with other family members.
Though he was responsible for more than 100 films and television shows – including the box office smash 10, Dudley Moore's 1979 romantic comedy with Bo Derek – Edwards will be chiefly remembered as the man responsible for perfecting the modern screwball comedy in collaboration with his friend Peter Sellers, who played Inspector Clouseau in the five original Pink Panther films of the sixties and seventies. Like many of his more commercial hits, the films were acclaimed for their brilliant dialogue and perfectly-pitched use of slapstick. Yet despite their influence, and enduring popular following, they met with a mixed critical reception and were occasionally derided by the Hollywood establishment.
Edwards was nominated just once for an Oscar, getting a nod for Best Screenplay for his 1982 film Victor Victoria. The only time he actually walked away with a gold statuette, however, was in 2004, when (as if to correct their previous oversights) the academy presented him with an honourary gong.
When he collected the award, he jokingly referred to Julie Andrews, who became his second wife in 1969: "My mother thanks you, my father thanks you, and the beautiful English broad with the incomparable soprano and promiscuous vocabulary thanks you."
Throughout his career, Edwards frequently clashed with his paymasters at the major studios, even devoting a dark comedy, 1981's S.O.B., which starred Andrews, to express his disdain for their efforts (as he saw it) to bastardise the cinematic art form.
"I was certainly getting back at some of the producers of my life," he once remarked, of the film. "Although I was a good deal less scathing than I could have been." The only reason he was able to finance S.O.B., he added, was that it followed hot on the heels of the huge commercial hit 10. "Even then [the studio] tried to sabotage it."
Not even Breakfast at Tiffany's, the 1961 cult hit, could escape being almost ruined by studio interference, he once revealed. After attending an early screening, a Paramount executive instructed him to "get rid of that fucking song" from the film.
The piece of music was "Moon River." It was kept in after the film's star, Audrey Hepburn, informed the executive that the track would be cut "over her dead body." It went on to win an Oscar and become one of the most famous pieces of film music of all time.
A third generation film-maker, who was born in Oklahoma, Edwards began his career as a playwright and bit-part actor. At the time of his death, he was working on two Broadway musicals. One was based on the Pink Panther franchise; the other, Big Rosemary, was to be an original comedy set during Prohibition.