Au­thor of ‘The World of Henry Ori­ent,’ helped to adapt movie

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette - - News | Obituaries - By Matt Schudel

Nora John­son, who por­trayed the breath­less in­fat­u­a­tion of two school­girls with a con­cert pi­anist in her novel, “The World of Henry Ori­ent,” which she helped to adapt into a pop­u­lar movie star­ring Peter Sell­ers, died Oct. 5 at an as­sisted-liv­ing cen­ter in Dal­las. She was 84.

A daugh­ter, Marion Si­wek, con­firmed the death but did not spec­ify the cause.

Ms. John­son pub­lished seven nov­els and sev­eral other books, in­clud­ing mem­oirs about her fa­ther, Hol­ly­wood screen­writer, pro­ducer and di­rec­tor Nun­nally John­son. But she was best known for “Henry Ori­ent,” which was de­rived from her teenage crush on the pi­anist, ac­tor and wit Os­car Le­vant.

Ms. John­son pub­lished the novel in 1958, when she was 25, and was praised by critic Ju­dith Crist in the New York Her­ald Tri­bune for hav­ing “a very spe­cial gift for re­call­ing — and recre­at­ing — the poignant bit­ter­sweet of late child­hood.”

In the book, two stu­dents at a pri­vate girls’ school in New York be­come ob­sessed with Ori­ent, track­ing his ev­ery move around the city.

Un­usual for the time, both girls are the chil­dren of di­vorce, and one of them leaves school early each day for psy­cho­anal­y­sis.

Nev­er­the­less, Ms. John­son cap­tured the girls’ lives with a spirit of ex­u­ber­ance, show­ing them prac­tic­ing the piano, writ­ing in jour­nals, try­ing on adult cloth­ing and manners, and record­ing ev­ery sight­ing of Henry Ori­ent in their note­books. Their re­lent­less spy­ing re­veals some un­sa­vory facts about their hero and peo­ple closer to home.

Ms. John­son and her fa­ther adapted “The World of Henry Ori­ent” for the screen. The 1964 film, di­rected by Ge­orge Roy Hill, is con­sid­ered some­thing of a vis­ual love let­ter to Man­hat­tan and be­came a cult fa­vorite, of­ten shown on classic movie chan­nels.

New York Times critic Bosley Crowther called it “one of the most joy­ous and com­fort­ing movies about teenagers that we’ve had in a long time” and praised Mr. Sell­ers’ “ev­er­sur­pris­ing” por­trayal of Ori­ent as “a poseur, a popin­jay, a fraud — an arch de­ceiver of women.”

Ms. John­son never equaled the suc­cess of “Henry Ori­ent,” but sev­eral of her other nov­els were well-re­ceived. In her mem­oirs, she wrote about her di­vided life as a child, spent partly in New York with her mother and partly in Los An­ge­les with her charis­matic fa­ther — “al­most a leg­end in Hol­ly­wood” — where she was sur­rounded by “an en­camp­ment of sto­ry­tellers.”

As a girl, she saw Judy Gar­land, Humphrey Bog­art, Lau­ren Ba­call and Mar­i­lyn Mon­roe at her fa­ther’s glit­ter­ing par­ties. Ty­rone Power and Dar­ryl F. Zanuck played cro­quet on the lawn, and song­writer Johnny Mercer crooned “One for My Baby” at the piano.

“The high points in my young life were be­ing alone with Nun­nally,” Ms. John­son wrote in a 2004 mem­oir, “Coast to Coast: A Fam­ily Ro­mance,” “be­ing gen­tly courted, taken out on the town, ad­mired and lis­tened to with no dis­trac­tions, be­ing in­tro­duced to glam­orous peo­ple, be­ing treated like a re­mark­able fe­male per­son.”

Nora John­son was born Jan. 31, 1933, in Hol­ly­wood. Her par­ents met while they were re­porters for the Brook­lyn Ea­gle news­pa­per.

She was 6 when her par­ents di­vorced. She moved to New York with her mother, the for­mer Marion Byrnes, and at­tended the pri­vate Brear­ley School, the in­spi­ra­tion for the school in “Henry Ori­ent.” She grad­u­ated in 1954 from Smith Col­lege in Northamp­ton, Mass., where she was in classes with poet Sylvia Plath.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.