American filmmaker Blake Edwards was the grandson of J. Gordon Edwards, director of such silent film epics as The Queen of Sheba (1922). Blake started his own film career as an actor in 1943; he played bits in A-movies and leads in B-movies, paying his dues in such trivialities as Gangs of the Waterfront and Strangler of the Swamp (both 1945). He turned to writing radio scripts, distinguishing himself on the above-average Dick Powell detective series Richard Diamond. As a screenwriter and staff producer at Columbia, Edwards was frequently teamed with director Richard Quine for such lightweight entertainment as Sound Off (1952), Rainbow 'Round My Shoulder (1953), and Cruisin' Down the River (1953). He also served as associate producer on the popular syndicated Rod Cameron TV vehicle City Detective the same year. Given his first chance to direct a movie in 1955, Edwards turned out a Richard Quine-like musical, Bring Your Smile Along; ironically, as Edwards' prestige grew, his style would be imitated by Quine. A felicitous contract at Universal led Edwards to his first big box-office successes, including the Tony Curtis film Mister Cory (1957) and Cary Grant's Operation Petticoat (1959).
In 1958, Edwards produced, directed, and occasionally wrote for a hip TV detective series, Peter Gunn, which was distinguished by its film noir camerawork and driving jazz score by Henry Mancini. A second series, Mr. Lucky (1959), contained many of the elements that made Peter Gunn popular, but suffered from a bad time slot and network interference. (Lucky was a gambler, a profession frowned upon by the more sanctimonious CBS executives.) The show did, however, introduce Edwards to actor Ross Martin, who later appeared as an asthmatic criminal in Edwards' film Experiment in Terror (1962). Continuing to turn out box-office bonanzas like Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961) and Days of Wine and Roses (1962), Edwards briefly jumped on the comedy bandwagon of the mid-'60s with the slapstick epic The Great Race (1965), which the director dedicated to his idols, "Mr. Laurel and Mr. Hardy." (Edwards' next homage to the duo was the far less successful 1986 comedy A Fine Mess). In 1964, Edwards introduced the bumbling Inspector Clouseau to an unsuspecting world in The Pink Panther, leading to a string of money-spinning Clouseau films starring Peter Sellers; actually, The Pink Panther was Edwards' second Clouseau movie, since A Shot in the Dark, although released after Panther, was filmed first.
Despite the carefree spirit and great success of his comedies, Edwards hit a snag with Darling Lili (1969), a World War I musical starring Edwards' wife Julie Andrews. The film was a questionable piece to begin with (audiences were asked to sympathize with a German spy who cheerfully sent young British pilots to their deaths), but was made incomprehensible by Paramount's ruthless editing. Darling Lili sent Edwards career into decline, although he came back with the 1979 comedy hit 10 and the scabrous satirical film S.O.B. (1981). Edwards' track record in the 1980s and '90s was uneven, with such films as Blind Date (1987), Sunset (1988), and Switch (1991). The director was also unsuccessful in his attempts to revive the Pink Panther comedies minus the services of Sellers (who had died in 1980) as Clouseau. Still, Edwards always seemed able to find someone to bankroll his projects. And he left something of a legacy to Hollywood through his actress daughter Jennifer Edwards and screenwriter son Geoffrey Edwards.
In 2004, just when the world began to think it might never again hear from Edwards, the filmmaker gave a slapsticky acceptance speech in response to an honorary Academy Award. He died six years later, of complications from pneumonia, at the age of 88. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi