The World of Henry Orient
The World of Henry Orient is a 1964 American comedy film directed by George Roy Hill and starring Peter Sellers, Paula Prentiss, Angela Lansbury, Tippy Walker, Merrie Spaeth, Phyllis Thaxter, Bibi Osterwald and Tom Bosley. It is based on the novel of the same name by Nora Johnson, who co-wrote the screenplay with her father, Nunnally Johnson.
|The World of Henry Orient|
|Directed by||George Roy Hill|
|Produced by||Jerome Hellman|
|Screenplay by||Nora Johnson|
|Based on||The World of Henry Orient (novel)|
by Nora Johnson
|Music by||Elmer Bernstein|
Arthur J. Ornitz
|Edited by||Stuart Gilmore|
Pan Arts Company
|Distributed by||United Artists|
|Box office||est. $2,100,000 (US/ Canada)|
The original story was inspired in part by Nora Johnson's own experiences as a schoolgirl, as well as by a real-life incident involving singer Tony Bennett and two teenaged fans.
In early 1960s New York City, concert pianist Henry Orient (Peter Sellers) pursues an affair with a married woman, Stella Dunnworthy (Paula Prentiss), while two adolescent private-school girls, Valerie "Val" Boyd (Tippy Walker) and Marian "Gil" Gilbert (Merrie Spaeth), stalk him and write their fantasies about him in a diary. Orient's paranoia leads him to believe that the two girls, who seem to pop up everywhere he goes, are spies sent by his would-be mistress's husband.
In reality, fourteen-year-old Val, the bright and imaginative daughter of wealthy international trade expert Frank Boyd (Tom Bosley) and his unfaithful, snobbish wife Isabel (Angela Lansbury), has developed a teenage crush on Henry after seeing him in concert, and involved her best friend Marian. Although Marian's parents are divorced, Marian lives a relatively happy and stable life in a townhouse in the city with her mother and her mother's also-divorced female friend, while Val, whose parents are still married (albeit unhappily), sees a psychiatrist daily and lives with paid caretakers while her parents travel the world.
Val's parents return for Christmas, and Val becomes concerned that her mother Isabel is having an extramarital affair with a young pianist. Val's interference leads her mother to find and read Val's diary. Isabel chastises Val and seeks out Henry, ostensibly to tell him to stay away from her underage daughter. The cheating Isabel and the womanizing Henry are quickly attracted to each other and begin an affair, which Val and Marian accidentally discover while stalking Henry outside his apartment. Val's devastation and Isabel's attempts to cover up her own behavior cause Frank to figure out what happened. Frank and Isabel separate, while the paranoid Henry flees the country. However, positive changes for Val result as Frank, who unlike Isabel genuinely cares about his daughter, resolves to stop traveling so much and establish a real home where he and Val can spend more time together. In the end, Val and Marian have matured and moved on from fantasy play to makeup, fashion and boys their own age.
- Peter Sellers as Henry Orient
- Tippy Walker as Valerie "Val" Campbell Boyd
- Merrie Spaeth as Marian "Gil" Gilbert
- Angela Lansbury as Isabel Boyd
- Tom Bosley as Frank Boyd
- Paula Prentiss as Stella Dunnworthy
- Phyllis Thaxter as Mrs. Avis Gilbert
- Bibi Osterwald as Erica "Boothy" Booth
- John Fiedler as Sidney
- Al Lewis as Store Owner
- Peter Duchin as Joe Daniels
- Fred Stewart as Doctor
- Philippa Bevans as Emma Hambler
- Jane Buchanan as Lillian Kafritz
This was the first film appearance for both Tippy Walker and Merrie Spaeth.
The novel was published in 1958. The New York Times said it was written with "warmth, insight and nostalgia."
The pianist's unusual surname, "Orient", came about because Nora Johnson based the character on Oscar Levant, a real-life concert pianist, raconteur, and film actor on whom she had a crush as a teenager. Since the word "levant" means Orient in French (literally the direction from which the sun rises), the name is a play on words. In the film, several allusions to the pianist's unusual name occur when his two teenage fans put on Chinese conical hats, address their idol as "Oriental Henry," kowtow to an Asian-style altar, and adopt vaguely Japanese-sounding names for themselves.
Nora Johnson's father Nunally was a noted screenwriter but he said for three years "it never occurred to me that it could be filmed, because I couldn't think of two girls to do it. " Johnson said his point of view changed when he saw Hayley Mills in the film and felt it could be done with Mills and Patty Duke. Johnson decided to write the script on "spec" and gave it to his agent to sell - one of the rare times in his career he had done this.
In April 1962 Nunally Johnson said he wanted to adapt the book into a screenplay for 20th Century Fox.
Johnson says his daughter had written a script herself but felt it did not work as she was too inexperienced as a dramatist and too faithful to the book. He purchased the screen rights from her and they agreed to split the screenplay fee fifty-fifty.
United Artists were interested in buying the script. Henry Koster, who had directed several comedies written by Johnson at Fox, read the script and loved it and pressured Richard Zanuck at Fox to buy it; Zanuck was keen but wanted his father Daryl to read it first. Daryl did not get around to reading it and Johnson decided to sell to United Artists. This upset Daryl Zanuck who felt he had been misled and ended the formerly close relationship between him and Johnson.
Johnson wrote the role of Henry Orient for Rex Harrison but Harrison turned it down as the part was not big enough. In May 1963 Peter Sellers signed to play the male lead. It would be his first American movie. Sellers reportedly became available when a broken ankle meant he missed out on another job. The film's production was sped up to take advantage of his availability.
Sellers said his character had "a dreadful Brooklyn accent but in an attempt to appear cultured and charming he hides it with a phony French accent."
Spaeth, who was 15 at the time of filming, had no previous acting experience except for a minor role in a school production, and was cast after the head of her school's drama department suggested her to a talent scout. The World of Henry Orient is Spaeth's only film appearance, as she shortly thereafter left acting.
Walker, who was 16 at the time of filming (turning 17 shortly before the film was released), had worked as a model and was suggested to the film's producer by a photographer. The filmmakers had auditioned hundreds of girls but the two who were chosen were recommended through friends.
According to a 2012 article in The New Yorker by John Colapinto, director George Roy Hill handpicked Walker from hundreds of actresses who auditioned for the role of "Val". The filmmakers were so impressed with her performance that they reshaped the film during editing to focus more on her character, and shot the scene of her walking through a snowy Central Park months after production had wrapped. According to Colapinto, in the 2000s Walker revealed through a series of posts on IMDb that she and Hill fell in love during the filming, and that the relationship lasted throughout most of Walker's senior year in high school, despite the fact that Hill was married with children and, at age 44, was nearly 30 years older than Walker. Walker claimed that the resulting Hollywood gossip made others reluctant to cast her and contributed to her decision to stop acting in the early 1970s.
Eddie Duchin's son Peter made his acting debut in the film.
Filming started on July 29, 1963 at the Long Island studios at Roosevelt Field. It wrapped that October.
Johnson said Hill made some notable contributions to the film including "those runs through the park. He used trampolines and some kind of slow motion, and it gave it a real quality of soaring childhood, released, all the way through. He's one of these dedicated directors, one that takes trouble. I thought he did it beautifully, and I appreciated it."
The World of Henry Orient premiered at Radio City Music Hall on March 19, 1964.
The film was well-received by critics and has an 88% rating at Rotten Tomatoes. In his review for The New York Times, Bosley Crowther wrote that it was "one of the most joyous and comforting movies about teenagers that we've had in a long time".
Johnson said "when I saw the picture, I was just delighted with it."
Johnson says the film performed strongly at the box office in New York but struggled elsewhere and failed to return its costs. He and Hill felt that "the title was very bad though he didn't realize it then. It conveyed nothing to anybody." Johnson felt that this may have turned children off from going into the film. Johnson also thought Peter Sellers, while funny, played the role too broadly, and that the film would have worked better with Rex Harrison.
A Broadway musical adaptation of The World of Henry Orient called Henry, Sweet Henry, with music and lyrics by Bob Merrill, book by Nunnally Johnson (the father of Nora Johnson), direction by George Roy Hill and choreography by Michael Bennett, opened at the Palace Theatre on October 23, 1967. It starred Don Ameche as Henry Orient, Neva Small as Marian Gilbert, Robin Wilson as Valerie Boyd, Milo Bouton as Mr Boyd, Carol Bruce as Mrs. Boyd and Louise Lasser as Stella. Pia Zadora also appeared in the role of a student. The show ran for 80 performances and closed on December 31, 1967, receiving less than stellar reviews. William Goldman, in his study of the 1967-68 theater year "The Season", claimed that the musical was of high quality but was old fashioned, and "had the misfortune" to open just a week after all the critics "were overcome by Hair," which had a modern sound.
Although the show was not a success, one of its performers, Alice Playten, received a 1968 Theatre World Award, and was nominated for a Tony Award for "Best Featured Actress in a Musical" for playing the role of Kafritz, which was enlarged substantially for the play. In addition, Michael Bennett was nominated for a Tony for "Best Choreography."
- LEAN WILL FILM 'DOCTOR ZHIVACO': Ponti Production for M-G-M May Be Shot in Italy By EUGENE ARCHER. New York Times 6 Aug 1963: 26.
- "Big Rental Pictures of 1964", Variety, 6 January 1965 p 39. Please note this figure is rentals accruing to distributors not total gross.
- On the Threshold of Adolescence: THE WORLD OF HENRY ORIENT. By Nora Johnson. 214 pp. Boston: Atlantic-Little, Brown. $3.75. JEAN CAMPBELL JONES. New York Times 10 Aug 1958: BR18.
- Colapinto, John (2012-04-03). "A Star is Born, Lost, and Found". The New Yorker. New York City. Retrieved 2015-12-12.
- Johnson p 451
- Looking at Hollywood: Nunnally Johnson Wants to Film Daughter's Story Hopper, Hedda. Chicago Daily Tribune 7 Apr 1962: a6.
- Johnson p 452-453
- Johnson p 370-371
- BY WAY OF REPORT: 'Orient' in Manhattan --Other Film Matters Of 'Charlemagne' By A. H. WEILER. New York Times 14 Apr 1963: 103.
- Johnson p 456
- Sellers Due Here to Star In His first U.S. Movie New York Times 14 May 1963: 31.
- Will the Real Peter Sellers Please Stand Up? Mitchell, Alan. Los Angeles Times 15 Sep 1963: d7.
- UPSETS TRADITION: Film Cinderella Shuns Glamour Smith, Jack. Los Angeles Times 3 July 1964: D3.
- HOLLYWOOD CALENDAR: Stardom Road Strewn With Auditioners Scott, John L. Los Angeles Times 4 Aug 1963: d8.
- Peter Duchin Gets Film Role In 'World of Henry Orient' New York Times 28 June 1963: 18.
- Johnson p 454
- "Festival de Cannes: The World of Henry Orient". festival-cannes.com. Retrieved 2009-03-01.
- "The Girls of Henry Orient". Time. May 15, 1964. Retrieved 2008-04-30.
- Crowther, Bosley (March 20, 1964). "2 Girls Chase Sellers in Henry Orient". The New York Times. Retrieved 2009-03-18.
- "National Board of Review Top Ten Films". National Board of Review. Archived from the original on 2004-02-02. Retrieved 2009-03-18.
- Henry, Sweet Henry at the Internet Broadway Database
- IBDB Awards
- Johnson, Nunnally (1969). Recollections of Nunnally Johnson oral history transcript. University of California, Los Angeles. Dept. of Theater Arts; University of California, Los Angeles. Oral History Program.