Doodad Kind of Town

Farewell, Blake Edwards
December 16, 2010, 10:10 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

I rarely write obituary posts, but I could not let the news of Blake Edwards’ death today go by without comment.

I’m old enough now to have experienced the deaths of all my grandparents and many of my aunts and uncles; with each of those deaths,  I have felt as though a part of my childhood had gone away with them. Until today, I had never felt anything like that same kind of loss from the death of a filmmaker, but Edwards has seemed almost like a member of my extended family for as long as I can recall.

My father is, was and always shall be a die-hard Peter Sellers fanatic.  We grew up with Sellers’ films, watching so many of them together as a family that Sellers started to feel as much as fixture in our living room as the TV set itself.  And as a kid nothing made me laugh harder than the sight of Sellers wearing his guitar for protective modesty in the nudist colony scene of A Shot in the Dark.  When the Pink Panther franchise was relaunched in the 1970s,  it carried the same rush of heady excitement in our household as the release of each new Harry Potter film does for today’s families.  As each new Panther film arrived, we would excitedly plan our opening weekend trip to Lafayette, IN – some 50 miles away – to have the all-you-can-eat fish and fries special at Wag’s Restaurant, followed by a trip to the cinema to see Dad’s favorite actor bring the hysterically bumbling Inspector Clousseau to life once again.

It’s that magical slapstick collaboration with Sellers that Edwards is being most remembered for today. (Along with his direction of Breakfast at Tiffany’s, which, for me, is not one of his greatest accomplishments. The casting of Mickey Rooney as Holly Golightly’s upstairs Japanese neighbor alone is just about unforgivable.)  But Edwards’ gift for directing slapstick extended beyond his work with Sellers, and when I was growing up, the next best thing to wathcing a Sellers movie was gathering around the TV set with our bowls of popcorn  for a late show viewing of The Great Race. (Later, as a college student, I was amused to read Andrew Sarris’ effusive accolades for its climactic pie-throwing-fight-to-end-all-pie-throwing-fights: “the last spasm of action painting in the Western world,” he called it.)

My appreciation of Edwards was only enhanced when I learned he was married to the woman I had idolized since the age of 4.  I spent most of my childhood wanting to be Julie Andrews, endlessly singing along the soundtrack albums from Mary Poppins and The Sound of Music, and trying to perfect an ability to sing with an English accent (as Julie did) somehow imagining that it was the highfalutin accent that qualified her singing as being really good.   Many years later, I would see their collaboration Victor Victoria not only on film, but also onstage in its pre-Broadway run at Chicago’s Shubert Theatre in 1996.  While my main remembrance of that afternoon is of basking in Andrew’s amazing, light-up-the-stage star power, I also recall being rather dazzled at how deftly Edwards was able to stage the same kinds of over-the-top slapstick bits that characterized his films.  (And we’re talking that dangerous, somebody’s-gonna-get-hurt kind of slapstick, the kind of stuff that, in his films, was usually followed up by a shot of Inpector Dreyfuss with a big bandage on his nose or his arm in a sling: at one point the far-from-young character actor Richard B. Shull went right off the lip of the stage and into the orchestra pit.)

Last year, on Christmas afternoon, my father broke out his DVD of The Party and we laughed ourselves silly over the antics of Peter Sellers in what is arguably Edwards’ funniest film, even surpassing the Panther series. Something tells me we will be replaying that film this year.

In honor of Edwards, here is the final send-off of Felix Farmer from his corrosive Hollywood satire SOB. 

Good night, sweet prince: