Blake Edwards, 88, the writer-director whose
comedies with Peter Sellers earned him a reputation as a master of sophisticated slapstick comedy and whose legendary disputes with studio chiefs inspired his scathing Hollywood satire
., has died.
Mr. Edwards, whose collaborations with his wife, Julie Andrews, included the 1982 comedy Victor/Victoria, died of complications of pneumonia Wednesday evening at St. John's Health Center in Santa Monica, Calif., said Gene Schwam, Mr. Edwards' longtime publicist. Andrews and members of the immediate family were at his bedside.
A onetime minor movie actor who began writing for films and radio in the late 1940s and a decade later created the TV series Peter Gunn and Mr. Lucky, Mr. Edwards launched his big-screen directing career in 1955.
He scored his first box-office hit with Operation Petticoat, a 1959 comedy about a World War II submarine crew starring Cary Grant and Tony Curtis. A turning point in Mr. Edwards' film career came in 1961 with Breakfast at Tiffany's, a light, sophisticated romantic comedy based on the Truman Capote novella.
Mr. Edwards followed up that success with the 1962 thriller Experiment in Terror and, that same year, Days of Wine and Roses, a grim drama about a young couple (Jack Lemmon and Lee Remick) battling alcoholism.
But it is comedy for which Mr. Edwards is best known.
As cowriter and director of The Pink Panther and A Shot in the Dark (both released in 1964), starring Sellers as the bumbling French police inspector Clouseau, Mr. Edwards earned a reputation as a modern master of slapstick comedy and sight gags.
As a director, Mr. Edwards had a career marked by his share of box-office failures, including Darling Lili, the notoriously over-budget 1970 World War I spy film with music that marked his first collaboration with Andrews, whom he married in 1969.
Mr. Edwards was born William Blake Crump in Tulsa, Okla., on July 26, 1922. His biological father, Donald Crump, left Mr. Edwards' mother before their son was born and she reportedly turned Blake over to an aunt and uncle to raise.
Around the time Mr. Edwards was 3, his mother remarried and he joined her in Hollywood, where her husband, Jack McEdward, the man Mr. Edwards always considered his father, was a studio production manager.
While growing up, Mr. Edwards also spent a lot of time on film sets and earned spending money working as an extra. After graduating from Beverly Hills High School, he landed a bit part in the 1942 film Ten Gentlemen From West Point. A couple of dozen, mostly uncredited, minor film roles followed over the decade.
During World War II, Mr. Edwards served in the Coast Guard for 18 months. His last five months of service were spent at Long Beach Naval Hospital after he was seriously injured in a diving accident in a Beverly Hills swimming pool.
After the service, Mr. Edwards teamed with his friend John Champion to cowrite and coproduce Panhandle, a 1948 western that Champion financed with money from his trust fund. The low-budget film starred Rod Cameron, and Mr. Edwards played the small part of a gunslinger.
As a writer beginning in the late '40s, Mr. Edwards wrote for the radio series Richard Diamond, Private Detective, starring Dick Powell; he also wrote for Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar, and The Lineup.
At Columbia Pictures from the early '50s to the early '60s, Mr. Edwards frequently worked as a writer with writer-director Richard Quine, including such films as My Sister Eileen (1955) and The Notorious Landlady (1962). Mr. Edwards and Quine also worked together on The Mickey Rooney Show: Hey, Mulligan, a 1954-55 TV situation comedy.
In recent decades, Mr. Edwards suffered from chronic fatigue syndrome. He also has been described as a lifelong depressive who spent most of his adult life in therapy.
"My work has been one of the great therapies of my life," he told GQ in 1989. "Being able to express myself and have it validated by laughter is the best of all possible worlds."