Bimbo Banter


The World of Nora Johnson


  • Wildcard
  • October 11, 2017
  • by Merrie Spaeth

Nora johnson (2)

The news arrived that Nora Johnson, author of “The World of Henry Orient,” has died at age 84. Her obituary noted her many books, articles and essays and, of course, the screenplay she wrote with her father, Nunnally Johnson.  “The World of Henry Orient” was the United States entry to the Cannes Film Festival when it was released, and I represented the movie as well as our country.

In many ways, I am Nora Johnson, or at least half of her. The two young girls in “The World of Henry Orient,” Valerie Boyd and Marion Gilbert (my character) represented her conflicting desires. Nora’s life was just like that, split between her famous, Hollywood father and New York City mother. In the movie, Valerie experiences deep pain and betrayal when her mother (played wonderfully by Angela Lansbury before she became Miss Marple) has an affair with the philandering pianist, Henry Orient (played by Peter Sellers in one of his most memorable and too-little recognized roles). Though Marion also experienced divorce, she had a down-to-earth mother and was happy, well-adjusted and – let’s admit it – kind of boring. Valerie spiced up her life.

Nora spent her life pinging back-and-forth from daring and disturbing to settled and predictable. But then, who among us doesn’t yearn for the same contradictory experiences? We can pine for fame and the contentment of ordinary life in the same moment.

When Nora moved to Dallas a few years ago to be near her son, we saw each other a few times. While it would have been wonderful to be able to say we laughed and shared stories, it wouldn’t be true. She resented getting old. She was annoyed to be dependent on other people. She hated being out of New York City and couldn’t make her voicemail work. She was regretful that I was a generation younger and, channeling Marion, seemed to be happy. I’m embarrassed to admit I reacted to this by ceasing to call.

This is an overdue thank you and recognition that one of the most amazing things about Nora was that she created characters that came alive, and live still. Thank you, Nora Johnson.

For more information about Merrie’s role in the classic film, “The World of Henry Orient,” take a look at this post or watch this video in which Merrie explains what it was like working with Peter Sellers.



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