Role models of greatness.

Here you will discover the back stories of kings, titans of industry, stellar athletes, giants of the entertainment field, scientists, politicians, artists and heroes – all of them gay or bisexual men. If their lives can serve as role models to young men who have been bullied or taught to think less of themselves for their sexual orientation, all the better. The sexual orientation of those featured here did not stand in the way of their achievements.

Friday, May 4, 2012

James Ivory & Ismael Merchant

California-born film director James Ivory (b. 1928, shown at left) and Indian-born producer Ismail Merchant’s collaboration with Merchant-Ivory Productions resulted in films that won six Academy Awards. Merchant (1936-2005) and Ivory were long-term life partners, and their professional and romantic relationship lasted for more than forty years – from the early 1960s until Merchant’s death. They enjoyed a lavish lifestyle together on their 40-acre country estate in the Hudson River Valley north of NYC. They also maintained apartments in London and New York City.

Ismail Merchant (below), born and educated in Bombay, went to the U.S. to earn an MBA from New York University. He met James Ivory in 1961 at a New York City screening of Ivory’s film about Indian art miniatures, and the two became instant friends. Merchant recalled, “Some people meet and part ways, others bond together on a lifelong stream. I guess you could call our relationship destiny.”

Ivory was born in California and educated at the University of Oregon before attending the University of Southern California Film School. He wrote, photographed, and produced “Venice: Theme and Variations”, as a thesis film for his degree in cinema. This film was named by The New York Times as one of the ten best documentaries of 1957.

In 1961, Ivory created Merchant Ivory Productions with Ismail Merchant (right) and Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, who served as the screenwriter for many of their films. Jhabvala, who was married to an Indian man, lived in the New York City apartment above the one occupied by Merchant and Ivory. Of his partnership with Ivory and Jhabvala, Merchant once commented, “It is a strange marriage we have at Merchant Ivory...I am an Indian Muslim, Ruth is a German Jew, and Jim is a Protestant American. Someone once described us as a three-headed god. Maybe they should have called us a three-headed monster!” Merchant raised the money, squeezed the budgets (no Merchant-Ivory film has ever cost more than $3.2 million) and cajoled top talent to work for a pittance. He also sheltered Ivory from the exigencies of the marketplace, leaving the director free to work with the actors, including high-profile stars such as Vanessa Redgrave, Maggie Smith, James Mason and Julie Christie. “We offered them quality,’ says Ivory. The camaraderie on the sets was enhanced by Merchant’s skilled cooking, usually preparing huge Indian meals for the cast and crew. Merchant has published several cookbooks, each covering an aspect of Indian cuisine.

There is no arguing with success. While their first film premiered in 1963, their first real commercial winner was The Europeans, adapted from the Henry James novel. A Room with a View (1985), based on the book by E. M. Forster, was nominated for eight Academy Awards and won three; it won many other awards at home and in the U.K. and Italy.

Maurice (1987) – pronounced Morris – received a Silver Lion Award for Best Director at the Venice Film Festival, Best Film Score for Richard Robbins and Best Actor Awards for co-stars James Wilby and Hugh Grant (seen in photo above). 

Mr. and Mrs. Bridge (1990) was adapted from novels by Evan S. Connell; it received an Oscar nomination and awards from the New York Film Critics Circle.

Ivory directed another Forster-adapted film, Howards End (1992), and it was nominated for nine Academy awards, including Best Picture and Best Director, and won three; the film also won Best Picture at the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) Awards, as well as awards for Best Picture, Best Actress for Emma Thompson and Best Director for Ivory from the National Board of Review; the Directors Guild of America gave its D.W. Griffith award, its highest honor, to Ivory for this film.

The Remains of the Day (1993), was in turn was nominated for eight Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director. Emma Thompson and Anthony Hopkins, who co-starred in Howard’s End, were reunited in working in this film.

Taking a break from filming historical novels, Merchant Ivory Productions had a success with Le Divorce (2003), which Jhabvala adapted from the 1997 novel by Diane Hohnson; despite tepid reviews, the film grossed $13 million on a budget of $3 million. The final Merchant-Ivory film was The White Countess (2005).

MAURICE (1987) deals with the subject of coming of age as a homosexual in a restrictive society; the novel by E. M. Forster was so scandalous that it was not published until after Forster’s death. This clip features scenes of Rupert Graves as Alec Scudder, a gameskeeper, who climbs a ladder into the bedroom (and bed) of Maurice, portrayed by James Wilby. Their sex scene begins at the 7:15 timing mark. Both actors are straight men, so don’t get your hopes up.

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