Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, 2-time Oscar winning screenwriter, dead at 85

Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, winner of two Academy Awards for Screenwriting
Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, winner of two Academy Awards for Screenwriting

Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, a two-time Academy Award winner for Best Adapted Screenplay, has died at the age of 85.  She is known for her lengthy association with director James Ivory and the late producer Ismail Merchant, the duo who created Merchant Ivory Productions.

Born in Germany of Jewish parents, she and her family fled the Nazi regime in 1939, moving to England.  She moved to India in 1951 with her architect husband.  She began to write novels about her life living in India.  “To Whom She Will”, “Nature of Passion” and “The Householder” were among her early works from that period.  The latter novel, first published in 1960 came to the attention of Ivory and Merchant, who approached her a few years later about turning her work into a film.

Sir Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson in a scene from 'The Remains of The Day' one of two films for which Ruth Prawer Jhabvala won an Oscar
Sir Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson in a scene from ‘The Remains of The Day’ one of two films for which Ruth Prawer Jhabvala won an Oscar

While she had no experience with film at the time, she wrote the screenplay, the first in a working arrangement that would result in the production of more than 20 movies.  Many of her screenplays were adaptations of the novels of others, although she did pen original works for the screen.  Her two Oscars were for the adaptations of Howard’s End and A Room With a View.  The Remains of The Day brought her a third Oscar nomination but she lost out that year to Steve Zaillian for his adaptation of Schindler’s List.

Other films from Jhabvala include Quartet (not the recent film but a 1981 film that also happened to star Dame Maggie Smith), Heat and Dust, The Bostonians, Jefferson in Paris, Surviving Picasso and her final film, 2008’s The City of Your Final Destination.

Ms Jhabvala died in New York City at her home.  She’d become a naturalized U.S. citizen in the 1980s.  She is survived by her husband Cyrus Jhabvala, three daughters and six grandchildren.

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