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Last Updated: Thursday, 26 May, 2005, 11:51 GMT 12:51 UK
Maverick Merchant's winning ways
Ismail Merchant
Merchant was born in Mumbai (Bombay) on 25 December 1936
The late film-maker Ismail Merchant formed half of one of cinema's most enduring screen partnerships.

With director James Ivory, he produced a series of high-quality costume dramas that brought both critical acclaim and financial success.

Thanks to Howards End, A Room with a View and The Remains of the Day, Merchant Ivory became one of the most celebrated independent production teams in Hollywood.

And while their distinctive style of film-making fell out of fashion in the 1990s, Merchant was active as both a producer and director right up to his sudden death at the age of 68.

Born in Mumbai (Bombay) on Christmas Day 1936, Ismail Noormohamed Abdul Rehman was the son of a middle-class Muslim family.

MERCHANT IVORY HITS
Heat and Dust (1983)
Room with a View (1985)
Maurice (1987)
Howards End (1992)
Remains of the Day (1993)
His father, a wealthy textile importer, sent him to study business in New York, where he briefly worked as a messenger at the United Nations.

From an early age, however, he was fascinated with cinema and initially had ambitions to become an actor.

He made his debut as a producer in 1960 with The Creation of Woman, paying for a cinema release himself to ensure it was eligible for Academy Award consideration.

The short was nominated for an Oscar and played in competition at the 1961 Cannes film festival.

It was there he met James Ivory, who was at the festival with his own short documentary, The Sword and the Flute.

James Ivory, Ruth Prawer Jhabvala and Ismail Merchant
James Ivory and Ismail Merchant received Bafta fellowships in 2002
The pair hit it off both professionally and personally and made their first film together, The Householder, in 1962.

The film also marked their first collaboration with screenwriter Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, who would go on to script nearly all their subsequent projects.

"When we first began, Ruth told us she had never written a screenplay," Merchant said in 2004.

"That was not a problem, since I had not produced a feature film and Jim had not directed one."

The Merchant Ivory team had their first hit with Shakespeare Wallah (1965), the story of a travelling troupe of actors in India based on and starring Felicity Kendal and her family.

MERCHANT IVORY MISSES
The Wild Party (1975)
Slaves of New York (1989)
Jefferson in Paris (1995)
The Golden Bowl (2000)
Le Divorce (2003)
But their subsequent projects enjoyed mixed fortunes. Indeed, it was not until 1979's The Europeans that the tide began to turn in their favour.

Based on the novel by Henry James, the Oscar-nominated film led to a series of well-crafted literary adaptations characterised by opulent trappings, lavish costumes and cost-effective budgets.

In the 1980s and early 1990s, Merchant Ivory productions were regular contenders at the Oscars and Baftas.

But critics derided their polished period dramas, while director Alan Parker dismissed their work as the "Laura Ashley school of film-making".

In recent years Merchant went behind the camera himself, though the films he directed were not as well-received as Ivory's.

Emma Thompson in Howards End
Emma Thompson won a best actress Oscar for Howards End
At the time of his death he was working on The Goddess, a musical about the Hindu goddess Shakti starring Tina Turner.

Merchant also had a passion for food, opening a restaurant in 1993 and publishing several books on travel and cuisine.

"He was a damn good cook," film critic Derek Malcolm told the BBC's Breakfast programme.

"Merchant Ivory never paid their actors much but they always fed them well."

However, it will be his tireless endeavours as a producer for which the late film-maker will be chiefly remembered.

"James Ivory would never have been able to make films without the push and the shove Ismail gave him," said Mr Malcolm.

"People used to say he could get money off a dead porcupine."




SEE ALSO:
Ismail Merchant: Your tributes
26 May 05 |  Have Your Say
Merchant Ivory's novel ways
22 Feb 02 |  Film


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