Saturday, May 18, 2024

Eras End: Merchant Ivory, An Irish Actor, and A Polish Golddigger Who Preceded Anna Nicole Smith


Three deaths in the last two days: Ruth Prawer Jhabvala was the exceptional writer who made those Merchant Ivory movies classics for all time. She died today in New York at age 85. It’s hard to think now that she and Ismail Merchant are gone. All that remains from their incredible trio is James Ivory. Together they made “Remains of the Day,” “Howard’s End,” “The Europeans,” “The Bostonians,” “A Room with a View,” “Mr. and Mrs. Bridge,” “A Soldier’s Daughter Never Cries,” “The Golden Bowl,” “Quartet,” “Jefferson in Paris,” “Surviving Picasso” and “Heat and Dust.”

German by birth, Prawer Jhabvala, the British Ivory, and Indian Merchant caught lightning in a bottle so many times. She won two Oscars– for “Howard’s End” and for “A Room with a View.” She should have won for “Remains of the Day,” too but was just nominated. She did not attend any Oscar ceremonies, however. The trio’s command of E.M. Forster’s work was so forceful I’m actually surprised they didn’t make “A Passage to India.” That was another legend, David Lean. But if you liked “Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” this year, or Dustin Hoffman’s “Quartet,” they each carried echoes of Merchant, Ivory, and Prawer Jhabvala. Lovers of fine films owe those three a lot.

Milo O’Shea died yesterday. He was a fine Irish actor who had a sort of pinnacle from 1979 to 1981, when he appeared on Broadway in “Mass Appeal,” got a Tony nomination, and then in film with Paul Newman in “The Verdict.” He worked constantly until ten years ago, and was one of those actors you were immediately happy to see on a stage or upon the screen. He will be missed.

You think Anna Nicole Smith or Lindsay Lohan make headlines? Basia Johnson was hot stuff. A Polish emigre, she came to America, worked as a maid for billionaire J. Seward Johnson, Sr. When she married him, she was 34 and he was 76. He died, left her $500 million, cutting his children out of his will. Among J. Seward Johnson’s children was Mary Lea Johnson Richards, who later married Broadway producer Marty Richards.

The children sued, she partied, eventually there was a settlement but she got most of the money. Basia Johnson was a natural fit for Tina Brown’s Vanity Fair in the money hungry 80s. She was in the gossip columns nearly every day. These people seem so important when they’re in scandals, and then they’re gone, Poof. Basia Johnson was 76. There’s a very good piece about her in the New York Times by Bruce Weber. I didn’t realize that her lawyer and good friend was Nina Zagat, who went on with her husband Tim to become the food gurus of the world.

Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman began his Showbiz411 column in April 2009 after 10 years with Fox News, where he created the Fox411 column. His movie reviews are carried by Rotten Tomatoes, and he is a member of both the movie and TV branches of the Critics Choice Awards. His articles have appeared in dozens of publications over the years including New York Magazine, where he wrote the Intelligencer column in the mid 90s and covered the OJ Simpson trial, and Fox News (when it wasn't so crazy) where he covered Michael Jackson. He is also the writer and co-producer of "Only the Strong Survive," a selection of the Cannes, Sundance, and Telluride Film festivals, directed by DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus.

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