LOS ANGELES - Blake Edwards, the director and writer known for clever dialogue, poignancy and occasional belly-laugh sight gags in "Breakfast at Tiffany's," "10" and the "Pink Panther" farces, has died at age 88.
Edwards died from complications of pneumonia at about 10:30 p.m. Wednesday at St. John's Health Center in Santa Monica, publicist Gene Schwam said. Blake's wife, Julie Andrews, and other family members were at his side. He had been hospitalized for about two weeks.
He directed and often wrote a wide variety of movies including "Days of Wine and Roses," a harrowing story of alcoholism; "The Great Race," a comedy-adventure that starred Lemmon, Tony Curtis and Natalie Wood; and "Victor/Victoria," his gender-bender musical comedy with Andrews.
He was also known for an independent spirit that brought clashes with studio bosses. He vented his disdain for the Hollywood system in his 1981 black comedy, "S.O.B."
"I was certainly getting back at some of the producers of my life," he once said, "although I was a good deal less scathing than I could have been. The only way I got to make it was because of the huge success of '10,' and even then they tried to sabotage it."
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. But the motion picture academy selected Edwards to receive a lifetime achievement award in 2004.
William Blake McEdwards was born July 26, 1922, in Tulsa, Okla. The family moved to Hollywood three years later, and the boy grew up on his father's movie sets.
He began in films as an actor, playing small roles in such movies as "A Guy Named Joe" and "Ten Gentlemen From West Point." After 18 months in the Coast Guard in World War II, he returned to acting but soon realized he lacked talent.
In 1947, Edwards turned to radio and created the hard-boiled "Richard Diamond, Private Detective" for Dick Powell; it was converted to television in 1957.
Edwards entered television in 1958, creating "Peter Gunn," which established a new style of hard-edged detective series. The tone was set by Henry Mancini's pulsating theme music. "Peter Gunn" marked the beginning of a fruitful collaboration between Edwards and Mancini, who composed melodic scores and songs for most of Edwards' films.
Tiring of the TV grind, Edwards returned to films and directed his first feature, "Bring Your Smile Along." "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" (1962).
Edwards' disdain for the studios reached a peak in the 1970 "Darling Lili," a World War I romance starring his new wife, Andrews, and Rock Hudson. The movie flopped and 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. He scored again in 1982 with "Victor/Victoria," with Andrews playing a woman who poses as a (male) female impersonator.
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.