What do Julie Andrews, Peter Gunn, the Mystery Writers of America, the bolero, and one rather large pink cat have in common? Hollywood director Blake Edwards, of course. Edwards is married to Andrews, he won an MWA writing award for one of his episodes of the 1950s TV show Peter Gunn, he re-sexed the bolero in 10, and he brought the Pink Panther to the big screen in the long-running film series starring Peter Sellers.
Edwards' movies -- particularly his comedies -- transcend time. In addition to the aforementioned 10, think Breakfast at Tiffany's, A Shot in the Dark, The Man Who Loved Women, S.O.B., and Victor/Victoria. The last will be screened on Thursday, September 22, in a gala fund raiser for the Arizona State University Center for Film and Media Research, with 83-year-old Edwards in attendance.
"Certainly, thus far [Edwards' movies] have withstood the test of time. Some of the films have been so popular with the public that they have affected the fashion world and even how we speak," says Peter Lehman, director of the new ASU center.
Lehman is an Edwards aficionado who has co-written two books about the filmmaker, and says he views Edwards as something of an anomaly -- an artist who was able to forge his own path despite the vagaries of the Hollywood "system" and the sometimes negative critical reaction to his movies.
"What most sticks with me about watching Blake work is the intensity of his concentration. I've never seen anything like it," says Lehman. "He worked very much by himself without much input from others."
In fact, Lehman compares Edwards' work to that of Alfred Hitchcock, another famous filmmaker who was able to prance unscathed through the Hollywood minefield. Neither Hitchcock nor Edwards ever received an Academy Award for an individual film, though both were eventually granted Lifetime Achievement Oscars.
"Hitchcock was a master who was always overlooked because he was associated almost exclusively with the thriller. Similarly, Blake has been associated with comedy and, even worse, physical comedy and slapstick."
Speaking of slapstick, Lehman relates a telling anecdote -- one that rivals any of Edwards' films for pure, absurdist hilarity -- about a run-in the filmmaker had with infamous Columbia Pictures mogul Harry Cohn: "Blake loves to tell the story of what happened at Columbia early in his career, when Blake was working with [director] Richard Quine. Cohn was unhappy with the dailies on a film and called Quine and Edwards into his office. He told them he wanted a scene fixed by adding a speech. Blake immediately quipped, 'What do you want, Hamlet's soliloquy?' 'No, no,' Cohn responded. 'Something like "To be or not to be."' Blake doubled over laughing and Cohn asked Quine, 'What's the matter with him?' Blake said, '"To be or not to be" is Hamlet's soliloquy.' Cohn fired [Edwards] on the spot and Blake left Columbia for Universal, where his career as a director really took off."
The rest, as they say, is comic history.