When Julie Andrews began writing her 2008 autobiography, "Home," her husband Blake Edwards had just one piece of advice: "Characters make your story."
In a career that spanned writing, directing and producing nearly 50 films, Edwards, who died Wednesday, cultivated more than his share of indelible characters: Peter Sellers' bumbling Inspector Clouseau of the "Pink Panther" movies, Dudley Moore's George Webber from "10," Audrey Hepburn's high-fashion wild child Holly Golightly in "Breakfast at Tiffany's."
His strength was comedy, farce and slapstick that he captured in a visual style trained on silent comedies. It was, after all, in his blood.
Edwards' stepfather, Jack McEdwards (the family name), was an assistant director, and his stepfather's father, J. Gordon Edwards, was a pioneering director of silent films. Though born in Tulsa, Okla., Edwards soon moved to California and was raised on movie sets. He was an extra and supporting actor before he was a filmmaker.
Edwards, 88, died from complications of pneumonia Wednesday evening at St. John's Health Center in Santa Monica, Calif., after being hospitalized for about two weeks, said publicist Gene Schwam, who knew him for 40 years.
A longtime painter, Edwards began sculpting in mid-life, and his bronze works in the style of Henry Moore drew critical praise in shows in Los Angeles and Bucks County, Pa.
At the time of his death, Edwards was working on two Broadway musicals, one based on the "Pink Panther" movies. The other, "Big Rosemary," was to be an original comedy set during Prohibition, Schwam said.
Edwards was praised for evoking classic performances from Sellers, Moore, Hepburn, Jack Lemmon, Lee Remick and Andrews, his wife of nearly half a century.
Although many of Edwards' films were solid hits, he was nominated for Academy Awards only twice, in 1982 for writing the adapted screenplay of "Victor/Victoria" and in 1983 for co-writing "The Man Who Loved Women." Lemmon and Remick won Oscar nominations in 1962 for "Days of Wine and Roses," and Hepburn was nominated for "Breakfast at Tiffany's" in 1961.
Edwards spent 18 months in the Coast Guard in World War II.
In 1947, he turned to radio and created the hard-boiled "Richard Diamond, Private Detective," which was converted to television in 1957.
Edwards had entered television in 1958, creating "Peter Gunn," which established a new style of hard-edged detective series. The tone was set by the pulsating theme music of Henry Mancini, with whom Edwards later collaborated on many films. Starring Craig Stevens, the series ran until 1961.
Tiring of the TV grind, Edwards returned to films. He made the big time in 1958 with "The Perfect Furlough," starring Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh, and "Operation Petticoat" with Cary Grant and Curtis.
"Breakfast at Tiffany's" in 1961 established Edwards as a stylish director who could combine comedy with bittersweet romance. His next two films proved his versatility: the suspenseful "Experiment in Terror" (1962) and "Days of Wine and Roses" (1963), the story of a couple's alcoholism, with Lemmon in his first dramatic role.
For a decade, Edwards' only hits were "Pink Panther" sequels. Then came "10," which he also produced and wrote. The sex comedy became a box-office winner, creating a new star in Bo Derek and restoring the director's reputation.