At an academy tribute, Blake Edwards gets himself out of a fine mess
Blake Edwards, the filmmaker best known for his sexy and stylish comedies, always did things his way. Which makes it fitting that, as the audience at his academy tribute Thursday night welcomed him to the stage with a standing ovation, his first words were: "Can I go now?
Edwards got serious quickly, though, replying to an early question from his frequent producer and collaborator Walter Mirisch with, "I'm having a kind of hard time tonight because I did five films with Tony Curtis and he passed away recently -- today, I guess -- and it's a little hard to accept, to be humorous about myself and my career. I just want to say before I do whatever it is I'm going to do here, to think of Tony and wish him well. I'll miss him."
The 88-year-old Edwards seemed alert and thoughtful as he sat in a wheelchair (which at one point he railed against with an "I hate this [gosh-darn] thing"). Following a reel of clips from 11 of Edwards' films, including four "Pink Panther" pictures, "The Party" and "Breakfast At Tiffany's," Edwards gave an affectionate shout-out to wife Julie Andrews.
"I never had a great deal of luck with permanent relationships with females until my current spouse of 40 years. Although she is to some extent a pain in the... she has so many virtues." He went on to say that he will often lie in bed at night "and hope to make a version of 'Saint Joan' for her to star in and to make sure it was a real fire."
Mirisch asked Edwards to recall the time they met with Peter Sellers in a New York restaurant to discuss the possibility of playing Inspector Clouseau in the first "Pink Panther" movie. "I've kind of blocked him out," joked Edwards, adding that Sellers was "a man who had nightly conversations with his dead mother, things like that which make it very hard to reminisce." And Edwards did get in a dig at fellow comedic filmmaker Billy Wilder. "Billy I admired," he said, before adding "There was for me a certain pomposity about him.... He didn't much care for me as a talent."
After Edwards again asked everyone to take a moment to remember Tony Curtis, the crowd rose to its feet for another standing ovation, and Edwards was assisted up out of his wheelchair, standing briefly as the applause swelled even louder.
A few moments later, the lights went down and a screening began of Edwards' 1981 film "S.O.B." A scathing satire of Hollywood morals -- or lack thereof -- the film features oddball directors, ground-down careerists, imperious starlets, pill-happy doctors, meddling studio execs and snoopy gossip reporters. As a fitting end to the evening's tribute to Edwards, the nearly 30-year-old film simply seemed to say that Hollywood, for better or worse, has been this way for quite a while.
-- Mark Olsen
Photo: Blake Edwards and Julie Andrews at the tribute. Credit: Valerie Macon/Getty Images