Friday, December 17, 2010

Goodbye Blake

Blake and Julie

Operation Petticoat & a Pink Submarine

"Breakfast at Tiffany's"

Longtime Collaborators

The Panther

With one of the best pie fights on film

Too many goodbyes this week.
First my friend Erin, and I found out yesterday that one of my favorite writers and directors passed away Wednesday night in nearby Santa Monica, where Erin happens to live as chance would have it.
Am I suggesting that lovely Erin had something to do with it?! Why no, I'm not. Blake was 88 years old and died of complications of freaking pneumonia, as so many of us do.
But Blake might have suggested it, because he was the master of dark comedy, and painting a picture of sweet little Erin committing a dastardly act of foul murder was just the kind of thing he loved to do. As a matter of fact, watch "A Shot in the Dark," where he did that very thing with the lovely Elke Sommer.
Edwards was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma on July 26th, 1922, as William Blake Crump. His stepfather was a stage director and film production manager by the name of Jack McEdwards, whose own father was the silent film director J. Gordon Edwards, so we have a fairly good idea where Blake would eventually get his professional name.
He began his career as a writer for radio, and I'm told he participated in the production of Orson Wells famous 1938 broadcast of "The War of the Worlds," of which if you're not familiar, dear readers, terrified the listening public who thought the radio drama was really a news broadcast of an actual invasion from Mars.
Blake was an actor as well, beginning with "Ten Gentlemen from West Point," in 1942. But his greatest successes were from writing and eventually directing what he had written. He created, wrote and directed the 1959 TV series "Peter Gunn," which marked the beginning of a long and fruitful relationship with the film and television music composer, Henry Mancini ("Breakfast at Tiffany's," "Days of Wine and Roses," "The Pink Panther").
Blake's best known work were his comedic films, but like another favorite director of mine, Robert Wise, he was quite eclectic in his choice of material and made a wide range of movies.
I guess, if you discount the "Peter Gunn," series, which I vaguely remember, the first of his films I became familiar with and really liked was 1959's "Operation Petticoat," with Cary Grant, Tony Curtis, and Arthur O'Connell, the story of the U.S.S. Sea Tiger, a World War II submarine that got painted pink when they ran out of Haze Gray (what can ya do?). The only problem with that though was it made the boat a hell of a target.
You know what? I hate to admit it but I've never seen "Breakfast at Tiffany's," although the Mancini /Mercer song "Moon River," which figures prominently in the film, is a favorite of mine (I sometimes sing it to myself while walking over the 6th Street Bridge in the morning. Myself thinks I sing it very well). The very next year (1962) Blake directed Lee Remick, Glenn Ford, Ross Martin, and a very young Stephanie Powers, in the triller, Experiment in Terror, which we have discussed on Stephanie's birthday. That same year he made a film close to my heart, but exceptionally painful for me to watch, "Days of Wine and Roses," the story of an alcoholic couple (Jack Lemmon, with Lee Remick again. Blake would work with the same actors that he favored throughout his career, concluding with his own wife, the lovely July Andrews, in "That's Life," (with Jack Lemmon again) in 1986), one turning their life around and entering recovery, the other not quite making it.
And then came "The Pink Panther," and "A Shot in the Dark," in 1963 and 1964 respectively, arguably the best two of the six film franchise (with Peter Sellers in his arguably most famous role as Inspector Jacques Clouseau. There where other Pink Panther films with other actors, notably Alan Arkin and Steve Martin playing Clouseau, but as much as I love the work of both of those actors they're performances never came close to those of Sellers, whose own performances deteriorated during the run of the series), all co-written and directed by Edwards. Why I can see Fran Jeffries butt swinging in the breeze right now as she's just about to launch into "Meglio Stasera" (known in English as "It Had Better Be Tonight").
This series of films is what Blake is probably most known for, though certainly after the first two they were not representative of his best work. But they did make him a lot of money, and that's why he continued to make them.
They also made a lot of money for Peter Sellers, and that's why he continued to make them, although he became disenchanted with the work, and the role.
"Peter Sellers became a monster. He just got bored with the part [Inspector Clouseau] and became angry, sullen and unprofessional. He wouldn't show up for work and he began looking for anyone and everyone to blame, never for a moment stopping to see whether or not he should blame himself for his own madness, his own craziness," is what Edwards said about the film's star. But we'll talk about Peter at another time.
The very next year (1965) Blake worked with both Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon again (and Arthur O'Connell for that matter) in "The Great Race," with the lovely Natalie Wood, another of my favorite films.
Quite frankly I haven't seen "Victor Victoria," (which was nominated for 7 Academy Awards, winning one for Best Original Musical Score. Edwards himself was only nominated once for an Oscar (for "Victor Victoria" in 1983, but was presented with an Honorary Oscar in 2004 "in recognition of his writing, directing and producing an extraordinary body of work for the screen"), but I have seen "10," and a few of his later films, with which I'm not a great big fan.
But so what? Many of his movies are and will always be favorites of mine, films I'll watch over and over again until I myself pass into the great beyond.
As a matter of fact that wouldn't be a bad way to go.
Blake Edwards was surrounded by his wife and family when he passed away. He will certainly be missed.
He was certainly loved.

1 comment:

  1. I actually saw them filming the Russian seaport scene in "The Great Race," on the back lot of Universal when I was a kid. It was like a 100 degrees outside and the actors had to wear all that cold weather clothing all day