Blake Edwards, Master Of Sophisticated Slapstick The director behind Breakfast at Tiffany's, The Pink Panther and several films starring his wife, Julie Andrews, died on Dec. 15 at the age of 88.
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Blake Edwards, Master Of Sophisticated Slapstick

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Blake Edwards, Master Of Sophisticated Slapstick


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.


And I'm Melissa Block.

The writer and director Blake Edwards was a master of slapstick. His crowning achievement, he helped create - with actor Peter Sellers - one of the funniest characters in American movie history, the bumbling Inspector Clouseau of "The Pink Panther" series.

Blake Edwards died yesterday in Santa Monica, California. He was 88.

Reporter Jesse Baker reminds us how he made us laugh.

JESSE BAKER: People often forget Blake Edwards was even involved in one of his earliest hits, and it was a sensation - starring Audrey Hepburn and her little black dress.

(Soundbite of movie, "Breakfast at Tiffany's")

Ms. AUDREY HEPBURN (Actress): (as Holly Golightly) I don't even want to own anything until I can find a place where me and things go together. Not sure where that is, but I know what it's like. It's like Tiffany's.

Mr. GEORGE PEPPARD (Actor): (as Paul 'Fred' Varjak) Tiffany's? You mean the jewelry store?

Ms. HEPBURN: (as Holly Golightly) That's right. I'm crazy about Tiffany's.

BAKER: "Breakfast at Tiffany's" was elegant but bittersweet - a story of a woman paid for love by wealthy patrons. But there's one scene that hints at the man behind the camera - one scene of pure comic chaos with Hepburn centered neatly in the middle of it all.

(Soundbite of movie, "Breakfast at Tiffany's")

(Soundbite of laughter)

BAKER: The party in Holly Golightly's cramped New York apartment.

(Soundbite of movie, "Breakfast at Tiffany's")

BAKER: People were jammed together more tightly than cigarettes in a pack, though cigarettes in this case were being smoked out of dainty little holders. Champagne corks repeatedly popped as the bubbly replenish their frequently spilled drinks. A drunken woman has an overwrought conversation with herself in the mirror. Holly's tabby cat goes flying over the top of people's heads desperate for space. People were even crowded into the bathtub.

Mr. SAM WASSON (Author, "A Splurch in the Kisser: The Movies of Blake Edwards"): What I think one of his big, major contributions is that he took slapstick, which is considered to be a low form, and really sophisticated it.

BAKER: That's Sam Wasson, the author of "A Splurch in the Kisser: The Movies of Blake Edwards." The film won two Academy Awards for composer Henry Mancini, who would become Edwards' go-to guy for music.

(Soundbite of song, "The Pink Panther Theme")

BAKER: Blake Edwards' calling card was ridiculously absurd but seriously funny situations. He collaborated with Peter Sellers on the incomparably clueless Inspector Clouseau, he of the little mustache and the faux French accent.

(Soundbite of movie, "A Shot in the Dark")

Mr. PETER SELLERS (Actor): (as Jacques Clouseau) You, sir, are under arrest.

Mr. BRYAN FORBES (Actor): (as camp attendant) Arrest? What for?

Mr. SELLERS: (as Jacques Clouseau) For making lewd and suggestive remarks to an official of the French government.

Mr. FORBES: (as camp attendant) Lewd and suggestive remarks?

Mr. SELLERS: (as Jacques Clouseau) Also for indecent exposure. Doesn't anyone wear any clothes around here?

Mr. FORBES: (as camp attendant) No.

Mr. SELLERS: (as Jacques Clouseau) What?

Mr. FORBES: (as camp attendant) This is a nudist colony.

BAKER: Blake Edwards filled up his movies with pies in the kisser, cats in the fridge, bees up the nose. Sam Wasson says Edwards used his comedy, not just in his scripts but on his film sets to keep the actors on their toes.

Mr. WASSON: You get tired take after take. It feels like work. And you got to keep it fresh. I know on the set of "Micki and Maude," he had a man in a gorilla costume just jump out of the closets and ruin the takes.

BAKER: But by 1979, Edwards knew he also had to get serious about his work. He'd had a string of commercial flops and have been exiled by the Hollywood studios for much of the decade. So Edwards needed to be perfect with "10," and that started with finding the perfect actress, Bo Derek.

Ms. BO DEREK (Actress): Evidently, someone up at Hugh Hefner's was commenting that Blake Edwards was looking for a girl who is supposed to be a 10 on a scale of one to 10, and someone commented that I looked the part.

BAKER: Blake Edwards was relying on Derek and the movie for his comeback. The film had beauty, beaches and Dudley Moore going nose first down a canyon after being attacked by his own telescope.

(Soundbite of movie, "10")

Mr. DUDLEY MOORE (Actor): (as George Webber) Oh. Ah.

Mr. WASSON: I don't think there is a slapstick comedy in America that has been as sophisticated in terms of its emotional comprehension of slapstick.

BAKER: Sam Wasson says with the success of "10," Blake Edwards was back on top. That allowed him to turn his sights to a very personal project in 1981. He'd written a screenplay for his wife Julie Andrews to untie her apron strings and free her from her earlier wholesome image as Mary Poppins and Maria von Trapp. In exchange, the film "S.O.B." asked Andrews to reveal a lot of herself.

Ms. JULIE ANDREWS (Actress): (as Sally Miles): There is no way in God's earth that I'm going to bare my (unintelligible) out there on that stage. I thought I could.

Unidentified Man: You can. You can.

Ms. ANDREWS: (as Sally Miles): My mind says yes, but my body says no.

BAKER: Julie Andrews told NPR's Scott Simon in 1994 only the presence of her husband in the director's chair really allowed her to let loose.

Ms. ANDREWS: It wasn't gratuitous. It was part of what was really needed in -for the character.

And so, at the preview, the whole audience broke into this huge round of applause and I wasn't sure if it was for my boobs or for my performance, you know?

(Soundbite of laughter)

BAKER: It's the funny moments like that, says writer Sam Wasson, that often obscure the intellect Edwards brought to his work.

WASSON: He gets credit for the movies that we all know, but the body of work is so huge, so complicated and so inventive and funny. He really ought to be considered in the line of great American Hollywood directors of comedy that goes all the way back to Chaplin. He is in that line of greats.

BAKER: In 2004, the actor Jim Carrey presented Blake Edwards with an Academy Award for Lifetime Achievement. Edwards was waiting in the wings. When his name was announced, he zoomed by Carrey in a motorized wheelchair, snagged the Oscar out of his hands, and then proceeded to crash his wheelchair into a wall, displaying perfect comic timing.

For NPR News, I'm Jesse Baker.

BLOCK: Jesse Baker with that tribute to Blake Edwards who died yesterday at age 88.

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