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Producer Ismail Merchant Dies at 68

Producer Ismail Merchant Dies at 68

Producer Ismail Merchant, who, along with James Ivory, brought such acclaimed literary adaptations as A Room with a View and Howards End to the screen, died Wednesday in London; he was 68. Reports on Merchant's death cited that he had been ill for some time and had undergone surgery for abdominal ulcers, and passed away at a London hospital surrounded by family and friends. Born in Bombay and educated both there and in New York, Merchant studied film at USC and early in his career produced and directed a number of acclaimed shorts. His film work brought him to the attention of New York's Asia Society, which commissioned him to make a documentary about Delhi. In India, he met American director James Ivory, and in 1961 the two embarked on a career together (both personally and professionally) that would result in more than 40 films; the first was The Householder (1963), based on the novel by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, who, as their longtime screenwriter, was effectively the third "partner" in Merchant-Ivory Films. Initially, Merchant-Ivory was formed with the charter of making English-language films in India for international release, and their films reflected the conflicts between Indian and British culture. In the early '70s, they tentatively explored new territory . specifically 1920s Hollywood . with The Wild Party, but wouldn't find success outside of India-based films until 1979's The Europeans, based on the Henry James novel, which marked their first major literary adaptation. Small but acclaimed films followed, including Jane Austen in Manhattan and Heat and Dust, but Merchant-Ivory made a name for itself in the mid-'80s with two Oscar-nominated films: 1984's The Bostonians, featuring an Academy Award-nominated performance by Vanessa Redgrave, and their breakout hit, 1985's A Room With a View, the sublime adaptation of E.M. Forster's novel. The film made a star of a young ingénue named Helena Bonham Carter, established Merchant-Ivory as the highbrow literary filmmakers, and received eight Oscar nominations, including Best Picture (it won three). Taking on Forster again, Merchant-Ivory made the groundbreaking gay-themed drama Maurice in 1987 before unsuccessfully trying on modern-day Manhattan in Slaves of New York. After that film, Merchant-Ivory returned to classic literary adaptations including Mr. and Mrs. Bridge and two back-to-back Best Picture nominees, Howards End (eight Oscar nominations and three wins, including Best Actress for Emma Thompson) and The Remains of the Day (also eight nominations). Merchant's remaining films, from Jefferson in Paris (1995) to Le Divorce (2003) were relatively well-received, but never achieved the heights of his previous films. No further details regarding Merchant's death were forthcoming, and a statement was expected to be released later in the day. --Prepared by IMDb staff