In 1963 Edwards was directing a live-action film about a diamond called The Pink Panther, so named for a distinctive flaw in the center of the stone. This was the first of the film series involving the bumbling Inspector Clusoe. Edwards secured the services of composer Henry Mancini, and gave him total creative freedom. Mancini's mind was on the jewel thief played by David Niven, when he decided to score a piece centered on a big solid saxophone. The result would become Mancini's most recognizable melody, and won him a 1964 Academy Award.
When Edwards heard the recording he decided to use it not just for the jewel theft scene - but as the general theme for the whole movie.
With the music chosen, he began work on the opening titles. A long time fan of Warner Brothers cartoons, Edwards contacted veteran animator, Friz Freleng and requested that the animator draw up a pink panther character. Freleng, the creator of Porky Pig and Yosemite Sam, began scratching out ideas. He and his partner David Depatie remember showing up at Edwards' office and spreading before him nearly 150 different versions of what a pink panther might look like. Edwards immediately pointed to one lanky fellow and said "That's the guy."
When the piece was completed, enthusiasm for the opening titles was so strong that the animation sequence threatened to overshadow the popularity of the film. Encouraged, Freleng and Depatie began making Pink Panther shorts. Their first try, entitled Pink Phink, concerned a little man with some blue paint, the Pink Panther with some pink paint and the battle that ensues. That cartoon won them an Academy Award.
The contemporary look and sophisticated - and often surreal - humor earned the cartoon series a loyal following, A moral character, The Pink Panther was often perplexed by the modern world and unscrupulous humans. With the advent of the Saturday morning Pink Panther Show in 1969, the character was brought to children. Those old cartoons are still popular today, and The Pink Panther may go on forever, sauntering down the road, skipping his feet in time with the music.
Blake Edwards, by Peter Lehman and William Luhr, Ohio University Press, 1981
Contemporary Authors, New Revision Series, Blake Edwards, 1922-, Volume 32, 1991.
Henry Mancini, The Days of Wine and Roses, RCA Records, New York, 1995
Copyright 2004 © Kevin Shortsleeve
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