Two more movie celebrities died this week, one more well known than the other, and if they don’t both appear in the Oscars tribute next year I’m going to storm the Academy.
My first thought upon hearing that director Blake Edwards died Wednesday at the age of 88 was of his wife of 42 years, Julie Andrews. I remember sitting in front of the two of them a few years ago at the El Capitan Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard and they were acting like real lovebirds. I just started reading Andrews' autobiography, “Home,” and while I didn’t think my admiration of her could go any higher, it has. “He was the most unique man I have ever known—and he was my mate,” Andrews said in a statement yesterday. “He will be missed beyond words, and will forever be in my heart.” Edwards and Andrews worked together many times from the badly received “Darling Lili” to the underrated “The Tamarind Seed” to the exquisite “S.O.B.” and “Victor/Victoria.”
Much has been written about Edwards' success with the Pink Panther films. I remember seeing the first (and best) one during its opening weekend at the Lakeshore Theatre in Chicago a million years ago. Of Edwards' early films, my favorite is “Operation Petticoat” starring Cary Grant and Tony Curtis (who also died this year). The wacky film starring a bevy of army nurses on a submarine (I only remember the beautiful Dina Merrill) was a precursor to some of his crazy funny films that would follow.
But while I admire many of the director’s comedies (it’s probably harder to pull off a truly funny film than an effective drama), my favorite Blake Edwards film is definitely “The Days of Wine and Roses,” a riveting, tragic, and no-holds-barred look at alcoholism starring Jack Lemmon (Edwards’ favorite actor) and a very young and powerful Lee Remick. I saw this film at the American Cinematheque recently and it haunted me for months. That same year Edwards made “Experiment in Terror,” also starring Remick—a gripping film but, in my opinion, less successful than "Wine and Roses."
Edwards’ “10” was one of the Big Movies of my teen years and it transformed Bo Derek into an instant cultural icon. But one of my other favorite Blake Edwards movies, one that I don’t think did very well, was the autobiographical “That’s Life,” one of the first films I saw after moving to Los Angeles in 1986. Jack Lemmon stands in for Edwards in the film, playing a neurotic man celebrating his 60th birthday while waiting for the results of a throat biopsy. Julie Andrews plays the wife, Edwards and Andrews' children and Jack Lemmon’s son play the kids of Lemmon and Andrews, and the whole film was shot at Edwards and Andrews’ actual Malibu film. Talk about life imitating art.
Did I mention Edwards’ “Breakfast at Tiffany’s?” A near-perfect film except for the outrageously offensive performance of Edwards’ former roommate Mickey Rooney as Audrey Hepburn’s Japanese neighbor. (Forgive me, Mickey—you’ll be happy to know that we introduced Charlie to several Andy Hardy films on Turner Classic Movies last night and every time Andy came on the screen, Charlie yelled “Da-Da!”)
We were also very sad to hear that actress Neva Patterson died on Tuesday at the age of 90. Patterson was a friend of Kendall and her family and I remember well when Kendall used to visit her regularly, especially after her husband, writer Jimmy Lee, died in 2002. Kendall and her mom meant to bring Charlie over to Neva’s for a visit but it unfortunately never happened. Most of Patterson’s obituaries focus on her role as Cary Grant’s fiancée in the 1957 tearjerker, “An Affair to Remember.” After a successful career on Broadway (she originated the role of the cynical wife in “The Seven-Year Itch”), Patterson was thrilled to get to kiss Cary Grant her first day on the set.
My first memory of Neva Patterson was as the nervous mother in the excellent and unusual film “David and Lisa” and in a bunch of TV appearances, from “The Patty Duke Show” to “The Waltons” to “Maude” and “St. Elsewhere.” She was a regular on one of my favorite if long-forgotten TV shows from 1970, “The Governor and J.J.” She played the hard-boiled secretary of Governor William Drinkwater, played by Dan Dailey. Anyone remember that show?
But my most vivid memories of Neva Patterson are from the wonderful, if dated, Katharine Hepburn/Spencer Tracy movie “The Desk Set,” written by Phoebe and Henry Ephron (parents of Nora, Delia, and Amy). Patterson played the no-nonsense woman who is responsible for the room-sized computer called EMERAC (a parody of the early UNIVAC computers) that efficiency expert Spencer Tracy was installing at a TV network to replace the human-operated reference department led by Katharine Hepburn.
Here’s a funny scene of Patterson with her beloved computer, which probably cost millions of dollars and was less powerful than my old cell phone:
God, I love that film, also starring Joan Blondell, Gig Young, and, again, the lovely Dina Merrill.
Rest in peace, Blake and Neva. And Academy, if you know what’s good for you, do NOT forget either of these folks in your tribute!