When most people think of Nora Ephron, they think of romantic comedies. While she certainly excelled in this genre, Nora’s wit and wisdom, not to mention her accomplishments, go far beyond the deli scene in When Harry Met Sally. Nora was an essayist, a journalist, and a novelist, and she built a renowned career in film, working as a screenwriter, director, and producer in a time when women in such positions were even rarer than they are now.
Take notes. Everything is copy.
Nora grew up in Beverly Hills. She was the oldest of four girls, and her parents were successful Broadway playwrights and Hollywood screenwriters. From an early age, her parents encouraged all of their daughters to develop their skills as storytellers. In fact, they were required to come to dinner with stories to tell, and her parents often incorporated those stories into the plots of their films. It’s no wonder then that Nora and all of her sisters grew up to become writers.
You can settle for reality, or you can go off, like a fool, and dream another dream.
Nora graduated from Wellesley in 1962 and moved to New York City in hopes of becoming a journalist. She soon got a job at Newsweek but unfortunately, it was in the inauspicious position of “mail girl”. However, during a newspaper strike, Nora wrote an article for a parody paper of the New York Post entitled The New York Pest. The writing was so strong that it caught the attention of the actual New York Post where, in a delightfully ironic twist, she was promptly hired as a writer.
Nora worked for the Post for five years before making the transition to freelance journalism, writing numerous articles for prestigious publications like New York Magazine. It was here that she honed the style that would make her famous, and many of the articles she wrote during this period formed the basis for later collections of her essays.
Above all, be the heroine of your own life, not the victim.
In 1976, Nora married her second husband, writer and investigative journalist Carl Bernstein. Their marriage was reportedly a disaster, ultimately ending when – while seven months pregnant with their second child – she discovered he was having an affair with the wife of the British Ambassador. However, bad as the marriage was, several good things (in addition to her children) came out of it. Their marriage not only served as inspiration for her best-selling novel, Heartburn, but it also served as her first introduction to screenwriting. Carl’s book, All the President’s Men, was being turned into a movie, and Carl and his writing partner were unhappy with the script. As such, he and Nora decided to try their hand at adapting it. Although the studio ultimately decided to go with the original version of the script, it opened many very important doors for Nora.
I try to write parts for women that are as complicated and interesting as women actually are.
In 1983, Nora, along with her friend Alice, wrote another script, and this time, it got made. Silkwood, which starred Meryl Streep and was directed by Mike Nichols, catapulted Nora to Hollywood success, not to mention an Oscar nomination for best screenplay. From there, Nora wrote a string of hits, including her beloved When Harry Met Sally, Sleepless in Seattle, You’ve got Mail, and Julia and Julia. Along the way, she wracked up two more Oscar nominations for best screenplay, inspiring female writers all over the world.
In addition to her work as a screenwriter, Nora branched out into other aspects of filmmaking. She made her directorial debut in 1992 and went on to direct a number of tremendously successful movies. She also worked as a producer, and her work in both of these areas, much like her work as a screenwriter, was remarkable, not only for its quality, but also for the fact that it was done by a woman — although Nora always hated speaking about it in those terms. She tired of living in a world where the fact that a woman could make successful movies was still news. It still is, but, perhaps, in part thanks to Nora, less so.
Busy though she was with her work in film, Nora still continued to work in other forms. She continued putting out collections of essays, and she also began writing for the theatre, ultimately earning her a posthumous Tony nomination for her play, Lucky Guy.
When I buy a new book, I always read the last page first, that way if I die before I finish it, I know how it ends.
Nora died of complications from leukemia in 2012 at the age of 71. In her last collection of essays, a book entitled I Remember Nothing, Nora includes a list entitled Things I Will Miss. It starts with her children and husband and ends with such things as “Taking a bath”, “Coming over the bridge to Manhattan”, “Pie”. In many ways, that sums up the honesty and the wit that made her famous. She will miss pie, and we will miss her.