Nora Johnson, Author of ‘The World of Henry Orient,’ Dies at 84

She attended the Brearley School in Manhattan, Abbot Academy in Massachusetts and Smith College, where she received her degree in 1954. Ms. Johnson based “The World of Henry Orient,” published in 1958, on her experiences at Brearley. A satire, it revolves around two precocious 13-year-old girls who become obsessed with a classical pianist.

In her review in The New York Times, Jean Campbell Jones wrote that Ms. Johnson had “some sharp observations on what it’s like to grow up in New York – particularly in an East Sixties brownstone with a divorced and vaguely intellectual mother.” One of the girls, she added, “has the signal distinction among her classmates of being excused from school every day in time for her session with her analyst.”

In 1964, Ms. Johnson shared the screenwriting credit with her father on the film version of “Henry Orient,” which featured Peter Sellers in the title role and was directed by George Roy Hill. The Times film critic Bosley Crowther called it “one of the most joyous and comforting movies about teenagers that we’ve had in a long time.”


Peter Sellers, as a concert pianist, with Tippy Walker and Marrie Spaeth in the 1964 movie “The World of Henry Orient,” based on Nora Johnson’s 1958 novel of the same name. She shared screenwriting credit with her father, Nunnally Johnson. Credit United Artists

In 1967, a musical based on “Henry Orient,” “Henry, Sweet Henry,” ran for 80 performances on Broadway, with Mr. Hill again directing. Nunnally Johnson wrote the book, Bob Merrill the music and lyrics, and Don Ameche played Henry Orient.

Father and daughter clashed over that production, an episode Ms. Johnson recounted in 1979 in “Flashback,” a part-biography of him, part-memoir about her struggles to gain his attention and respect.

She covered some of the same territory in “You Can Go Home Again: An Intimate Journey” (1982), a reflection on how her life was influenced by the places in which she had lived, and in “Coast to Coast,” which Michiko Kakutani, reviewing it in The Times, called “a lovely, piercing book, a book that provides the reader with a twinkling portrait of Hollywood and New York in the 1940s and ’50s, while at the same time creating a poignant picture of the fallout that divorce can have on a young, self-conscious child.”

Ms. Johnson’s novels include “The Two of Us” (1984), “Tender Offer” (1985) and “Perfect Together” (1991). She also wrote numerous book reviews, short stories and essays, including one for The Atlantic in 1959, titled “Sex and the College Girl,” which challenged the idea that women are preoccupied with catching a man.

“Men,” she wrote, “when they are pinned down on the subject, admit that what really irritates them about modern women is that they can’t, or won’t, give themselves completely to men the way women did in the old days.”

Ms. Johnson’s marriages to Leonard Siwek, in 1955, and Jack Milici, in 1964, ended in divorce. Her son Jonathan Milici died in 2001.

In addition to Ms. Siwek, she is survived by another daughter, Paula Siwek; a son, Justin Milici; her half brothers, John David and Scott Johnson; her half sisters, Christie Lucero and Roxana Briggs; and nine grandchildren.

Ms. Johnson’s last marriage, in 2006, was to George Johnston. In 2013 she wrote an essay about their late-life relationship and his death, in 2011, for The Times’s “Modern Love” series.

“He had said I was his last, loveliest adventure,” she wrote, “and he brought joy and magic to my life. He died when he was 91 and I was 78. Only then did I start to get old.”

The piece remains one of the most heavily read “Modern Love” essays ever published.

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