Ismail Merchant, the art-house producer whose 44-year partnership with director James Ivory produced such popular costume dramas as A Room with a View and Howards End, died Wednesday in a London hospital, the Associated Press reports. He was 68 and had recently undergone surgery for abdominal ulcers. The Merchant Ivory website said only that he ”passed away after a brief illness.”
Among industry folk, Merchant was known for generating lavish costume dramas on shoestring budgets, and for his gourmet Indian cooking, which led him to write several cookbooks. Among moviegoers, the Bombay-born Merchant, along with American director Ivory and German-born screenwriter Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, was known for the dozens of movies made under the Merchant Ivory banner, most of them drawn from prestigious literary works by such authors as E.M. Forster and Henry James. Their greatest successes included The Bostonians (1984), A Room with a View (1986), Howards End (1992), and The Remains of the Day (1993). Such films helped make international stars of such actors as Helena Bonham Carter, Daniel Day-Lewis, Emma Thompson, and Hugh Grant.
Merchant and Ivory’s last released collaboration was one of the few they made with a contemporary setting, 2003’s Le Divorce, starring Naomi Watts and Kate Hudson. Unreleased at the time of Merchant’s death were the company’s films The White Countess, starring Ralph Fiennes and Natasha Richardson, and The Goddess, a musical about the Hindu goddess Shakti, starring Tina Turner, one of a handful of productions directed by Merchant himself.