In 2003, film director James Ivory met with a class of aspiring filmmakers at the University of Oregon. “Get the best possible cameraman you can afford,” he told them, and “Always try to get your own way.” Once a student himself at the UO, graduating in 1951, James Ivory went on to become a major figure in contemporary cinema, establishing a partnership with well-known producer Ismail Merchant and novelist-screenwriter Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, which led to the formation of Merchant Ivory Productions.
The James Ivory Papers in Special Collections and University Archives at the University of Oregon provide a unique through-the-lens look at contemporary filmmaking, the career of a prominent working filmmaker, and the artistic development and process of a creative mind. In 1999, Ivory was formally asked by the library to donate his papers to the University of Oregon. He organized and identified material to fill some 26 boxes that he shipped to the library. His personal remarks, on Post-It notes on many of the papers, give insight and background to many of the documents and will in themselves be of interest to researchers and students of film. The library has a continuing commitment to collect, process, and preserve future materials from James Ivory as he pursues new films and projects.
The James Ivory Papers constitute a remarkable collection of primary source material that documents over 40 years of filmmaking by one of the film industry’s oldest and most prestigious companies. Ivory’s feature films are lauded for their elegance, beautiful visual imagery, and award-winning actors. Hallmarks too of Ivory films are finely-honed historical detail and extraordinary foreign locations. Actor Christopher Reeve stated simply about Ivory, “He’s a terrific judge of what’s good and what isn’t.”
Merchant Ivory Productions include Academy Award winners A Room with a View, Howards End, and Remains of the Day. For each of his films, every aspect of filmmaking is represented in this collection: location scouting, set design, script writing, actor selection, direction, filming, editing, and publicity. Researchers will find correspondence, notes, sketches, call sheets, original screenplays, photographs, and artifacts. The collection is particularly rich in correspondence between Ivory and major film stars with whom he has worked, including Tom Cruise, Judi Dench, Emma Thompson, John Lithgow, and Vanessa Redgrave.
The James Ivory Papers offer scholars and students a remarkable resource for research in numerous fields of study, including filmmaking, writing, set design, and film production. The Film Studies faculty at the University of Oregon have used the James Ivory Papers as a teaching collection that offers an abundance of primary source material. Film scholars and film buffs alike can search the online finding aid through Northwest Digital Archives and use the collection on site.
To celebrate the acquisition of the James Ivory Papers in 2003, the library mounted an exhibit from the collection. At the opening reception Ivory remarked to a local reporter, “It’s good to hear that I wasn’t just saving all these things in vain.”
Collection Profile and Overview: Linda Long and Marilyn Reaves
Illustrations: Lesli Larson and Rick Gersbach