Gay filmmaker Ismail Merchant, who with partner James Ivory became synonymous with classy costume drama in films such as A Room With a View and Howard's End, died Wednesday. He was 68. Merchant died surrounded by friends and family at a hospital, Merchant-Ivory's London production office said.
Merchant, who was born in Bombay but spent most of his life in the West, had been unwell for some time and recently underwent surgery for abdominal ulcers, according to Indian television reports. Merchant and Ivory, an American, made some 40 films together and won six Oscars--four for best picture--since forming their famous partnership in 1961 with German-born screenwriter Ruth Prawer Jhabvala. Their hits--especially E.M. Forster adaptations like A Room With a View, Howard's End, and the gay drama Maurice--helped revive the public's taste for well-made, emotionally literate period drama.
In an interview with the Associated Press last year, Merchant said Merchant-Ivory films worked because they captured great stories. "It should be a good story--speak about a time and place that is permanent," he said. "It should capture something wonderful with some great characters whether it's set in the past or in the future." (AP, with additional reporting from Advocate.com)