Blake Edwards, the director whose collaboration with British comic actor Peter Sellers created the iconic comedy series of Pink Panther movies has died yesterday evening, December 15, 2010 from complications of pneumonia at the Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, CA. He was 88.
With Sellers, Edwards created the classic character of French police inspector Jacques Clouseau, whose bumbling quite literally drove his superior Chief Inspector Dreyfus (Herbert Lom) insane over the course of six films starting with 1963’s The Pink Panther. But this classic team up almost never happened.
Two days before shooting was to commence in Rome when Edwards’ choice for Clouseau, Peter Ustinov suddenly quit. Fortunately, Sellers was also in Rome, having just walked off the caper film Topkapi, which he had been hired to headline. Essentially the stars switched films and Edwards and Sellers launched their long-running partnership.
Edwards got his start in radio, specializing in hardboiled detectives with a wry sense of humor, most notecably demonstrated in the series Richard Diamond, Private Detective which he created. Moving to television he created the detective series Peter Gunn, which is best remembered for its cool jazz theme song composed by Henry Mancini. Edwards would have Blake compose another unforgettable theme song for the Pink Panther series. After directing a few minor comedies, Edwards scored big at the box office with Operation: Petticoat starring Cary Grant, though in later years Edwards would describe Grant as “a pain in the ass to work with.”
In addition to the Pink Panther films Edwards directed numerous other comedy films including the farcical Skin Deep and Mickey And Maude and the slapstick The Great Race. he also found ample material in the war between the sexes and in gender switching in such films as 10, A Fine Mess, Blind Date, Switch and Victor/Victoria, which he write for his wife, actress Julie Andrews.
But Edwards career wasn’t solely confined to comedies. His most well-known work outside of the Pink Panther series is undoubtedly his adaptation of Truman Capote’s novel Breakfast At Tiffany’s. He also directed the 1962 thriller Experiment In Terror with Lee Remick, the alcoholism drama The Days Of Wine And Roses (1962) with Jack Lemmon and the bittersweet Soldier In The Rain (1963) with Steve McQueen.