Nora Ephron, who gained a devoted following for her perceptive, deeply personal essays and parlayed that renown into a screenwriting career of wistful romantic comedies such as “When Harry Met Sally” and “You’ve Got Mail,” the marital exposé “Heartburn” and the whistleblower drama “Silkwood,” died June 26 at a hospital in New York. She was 71.
The death was confirmed by her friend Richard Cohen, a Washington Post columnist. She died of complications from the blood disorder myelodysplasia, with which she was diagnosed six years ago.
As a young woman, Ms. Ephron modeled her self-deprecating and deadpan writing style on Dorothy Parker, part of the Algonquin Round Table of sophisticated New York writers and humorists that also included Robert Benchley and S.J. Perelman. Of the philandering husband in her 1983 novel “Heartburn” — modeled on her marriage to former Washington Post journalist Carl Bernstein — Ms. Ephron wrote he was “capable of having sex with a Venetian blind.”
In time, Ms. Ephron became a social confederate of New York playwrights, filmmakers and wits, including Mike Nichols, Woody Allen and Calvin Trillin; Washington journalists including former Post executive editor Benjamin Bradlee and his journalist wife, Sally Quinn; and a Hollywood coterie that included Rob Reiner, Tom Hanks, Steve Martin and Steven Spielberg.
The New York Times calls her a “woman of letters.”
She was a journalist, a blogger, an essayist, a novelist, a playwright, an Oscar-nominated screenwriter and a movie director — a rarity in a film industry whose directorial ranks were and continue to be dominated by men. More box-office success arrived with “You’ve Got Mail” and “Julie & Julia.” By the end of her life, though remaining remarkably youthful looking, she had even become something of a philosopher about age and its indignities.
“Why do people write books that say it’s better to be older than to be younger?” she wrote in “I Feel Bad About My Neck,” her 2006 best-selling collection of essays. “It’s not better. Even if you have all your marbles, you’re constantly reaching for the name of the person you met the day before yesterday.”
Nora Ephron was born on May 19, 1941, on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, the eldest of four sisters, all of whom became writers. That was no surprise; writing was the family business. Her father, Henry, and her mother, the former Phoebe Wolkind, were Hollywood screenwriters who wrote, among other films, “Carousel,” “There’s No Business Like Show Business” and “Captain Newman, M.D.”
“Everything is copy,” her mother once said, and she and her husband proved it by turning the college-age Nora into a character in a play, later a movie, “Take Her, She’s Mine.” The lesson was not lost on Ms. Ephron, who seldom wrote about her children but could make sparkling copy out of almost anything else: the wrinkles on her neck, her apartment, cabbage strudel, Teflon pans and the tastelessness of egg-white omelets.
Ephron’s first marriage, to writer Dan Greenburg, ended after nine years. In 1976 she married Bernstein, who along with Bob Woodward had broken the Watergate scandal for the Washington Post a few years earlier. “Heartburn,” her 1996 novel, found humor in the ruins of her marriage to Bernstein, who, she said, had an affair while she was pregnant with their second son. The Bernstein-based character was played by Jack Nicholson, the Ephron-based character by Meryl Streep, in the 1986 film version.
Streep had also starred three years earlier in the Mike Nichols-directed “Silkwood,” a drama based on the real-life story of a labor organizer at a nuclear-processing plant whose whistle-blowing was abruptly ended when she died in a car accident.
Ephron’s third marriage was to journalist Nicholas Pileggi, who adapted his 1985 book “Wiseguy” into the movie “Goodfellas” (1990), directed by Martin Scorsese.
Pileggi survives her, as do her two sons from her marriage to Bernstein, Max and Jacob.
I loved Ephron’s humorous essays, and her novel Heartburn was absolutely hilarious. I had no idea she was the model for the Sandra Dee role in Take Her, She’s Mine–a romantic comedy starring Jimmy Stewart as the worried father of an attractive teenager. I wasn’t wild about some of Ephron’s sappy movies like You’ve Got Mail, but Silkwood is one of my all-time favorites. As an aside, I don’t think most people really believe Karen Silkwood’s “accident” was anything other than murder.
Rest in peace, Nora. You’ve left us far too soon.
The new year always brings with it lists of the most, the best, the worst of the previous year. And of course the lists of people who are no longer with us. Here’s a sampling of lists from around the internet.
There’s the NYT list of the top ten best books of 2011 based on their 100 notable books list. First is The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach, and second is Stephen King’s book on the Kennedy assassination, 11/22/63.
The New Yorker has a list of the best films of last year. They liked Scorsese’s children’s movie Hugo best. Here’s a list (very different) from Rotten Tomatoes. They also liked a children’s movie, The Muppets.
Here’s a list of some of the famous people who died in 2011 (compiled from various lists around the ‘net)
Gil Scott Heron
Dorothy Rodham (Hillary’s mom)
Tim Hetherington (photographer, died in Libya)
Osama bin Laden
Who did I leave out?
What about the worst political gaffes of 2011? The Week has a list. Not surprisingly, Republican presidential candidates hold several places on the list. Number one was from Michele Bachmann:
1. Michele Bachmann: The Founding Fathers “worked tirelessly” to end slavery
In January, the Minnesota congresswoman said “we know that the very founders that wrote those documents worked tirelessly until slavery was no more in the United States.” Then in June, Bachmann doubled down on her claim that the slave-owning authors of the Constitution worked to end slavery, citing the efforts of John Quincy Adams — who was 9 when the Declaration of Independence was signed. “I hate to be a stickler for reality,” said Steve Benen at Washington Monthly, but “to use the possible beliefs of a 9-year-old boy as evidence that the Founding Fathers ‘worked tirelessly to end slavery’ is simply absurd on its face.”
Which political gaffe was your favorite? I’d have to go with Herman Cain not knowing anything about Libya or Rick Perry not knowing the names of the cabinet posts he wants to eliminate.
At Wired, there’s a list of the top scientific discoveries of 2011. Number one, was faster-than-light neutrinos, a discovery that most scientists dismissed. Another biggie was learning that we all have Neanderthal DNA. And of course there was the possibly earth-like planet that could support life. Check them out!
I’ll end with this one. At the Daily Beast I learned that Boston was America’s drunkest city in 2011. They list the top 25. The number two drunkest city is also in Massachusetts–Guess which one, Pat? Springfield! Interestingly, most of the drunkest cities seem to be in cold-weather areas.
What interesting end-of-year lists have you seen over the past few days? Please share. Or talk about any old thing you want.