Oscar-winning director Blake Edwards, who made the ‘Pink Panther’ movies and the 1961 classic ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’ has died at the age of 88, his agent said.
Edwards worked with some cinema legends such as Audrey Hepburn, Cary Grant, Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon in a career stretching more than half a century.
But he is probably most well known for the “Pink Panther” series starting in 1963, in which bumbling Inspector Clouseau played by British actor Peter Sellers hunts David Niven’s aristocratic jewel thief Sir Charles Lytton.
He also rated actress Bo Derek a perfect “10” in the 1979 film of that name with Dudley Moore.
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences awarded Edwards — who was married to actress Julie Andrews — an honorary lifetime achievement Oscar in 2004.
His agent Lou Pitt confirmed he had died, while the “Entertainment Tonight” news show and website reported that he died in Santa Monica on Wednesday night from complications of pneumonia, with Andrews at his side.
Born William Blake Crump in Tulsa, Oklahoma on July 26, 1922, Edwards was a stepson of stage director Jack McEdwards. He grew up in the film business, went to school with children of Hollywood stars and roomed with actor Mickey Rooney.
After a brief stint as an actor, Edwards mastered behind-the-camera crafts including screenwriting, directing and producing. He began as a script writer for a radio detective show where the first glimmers of his humor appeared.
The “Pink Panther” movies — with their infectious theme music scored by Henri Mancini — were immediate blockbusters, although Edwards did not always see eye to eye with Sellers.
The men clashed on the set, but Edwards allowed Sellers to make a bumbler out of Clouseau and move the character to the center of the plot. It worked.
They made seven films all together between 1964 and 1978. But the relationship between the two men soured, and at the time of Sellers’ death in 1980, Edwards was working on a new Clouseau movie without him.
“Peter Sellers became a monster. He just got bored with the part and became angry, sullen and unprofessional,” Edwards said in remarks on the industry website imbd.
In the end Edwards was to work closest with Andrews, who ditched her most holy image as the nun Maria in the “Sound of Music” to play a cross-dresser in his 1992 film and 1995 stage production of “Victor/Victoria.”
She even famously bared her breasts in his 1981 film, “S.O.B.”
Art imitating life became a natural and recurring theme for Edwards, and he was accused of doing just that in “S.O.B.,” about a director whose wholesome film starring his wife bombs.
To save the movie, the director decides to make it steamier and win a Restricted rating by adding nude shots of his wife, but Edwards was accused of manipulating Andrews.
As for the one actor he liked to work with best, Edwards named Jack Lemmon. He played Jack Clay, who slides into alcoholism with his wife, played by Lee Remick, in the 1962 film “Days of Wine and Roses.”.
Edwards tackled a wide variety of topics, including the coming-out story of “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” an adaptation of a novel by Truman Capote, earning Oscars for Audrey Hepburn, Mancini and Johnny Mercer, who wrote the lyrics to “Moon River.”
When asked why he took on the Herculean task of staging “Victor/Victoria” on Broadway, he replied: “I needed to do it for me, and I needed to do it for Julie. “She needed a challenge,” he added in a 1996 PBS interview.
Edwards is survived by Andrews, his second wife, whom he married in 1969, along with their five children and two children from his previous marriage.