Romantic Comedy legend Nora Ephron died Tuesday June 26 at the age of 71 in her home in New York. She died of pneumonia brought upon by acute myeloid leukemia, which she had been battling since 2006. Her death was a dark cloud upon the entertainment industry as it lost one of its most beloved figures. Ephron worked as a screenwriter, director, actress, journalist, and producer. She was funny, smart, tough and broke the barriers for women within media.
Ephron was born on May 19, 1941 in Manhattanto a family of writers. Her mother Phoebe Wolkind and father Henry Ephron were Hollywoodscreenwriters, responsible for Carousel and There’s No Business Like Show Business. Their daughters, Nora, Delia, Hallie, and Amy all became writers; even collaborating with one another throughout their careers. Regulars around the Ephron dinner table included Casablanca co-writer Julius J. Epstein and Sunset Blvd’s Charles Brackett. Her parents later became alcoholics, which would shape Ephron’s insight into comedy, creating humor out of sadness.
Her fate as a Hollywood figure was set when the family moved to Beverly Hills when Ephron was four. She went back to New York to attend Wellesley College where she found her voice as an essayist and through journalism. Her college persona was the inspiration to a character in one of her parent’s plays titled, “Take Her, She’s Mine.” Ephron was sure to never to write about her own children in this respect.
Her first job out of college was as a mail girl for Newsweek. However it was The New York Post that recognized her talent after she began contributing to a parody of the publication, remarking, “If they can parody The Post, they can write for it.” She stayed at The Post for five years before turning to magazine work. With that career move, Ephron blossomed into a humorist and essayist making parodies and funny observations about herself and profiles of the famous. These pieces were later collected into bestselling books, “Wallflower at the Orgy,” “Crazy Salad,” and “Scribble Scribble.” The genius of Ephron is apparent within these works, she can find deeper meaning to the human condition in making fun of herself. The humor within the tragedy isn’t really tragic at all.
It wasn’t until her marriage to Carl Bernstein (of the Woodward and Bernstein duo who exposed Watergate) that Ephron began her screenwriting career when she helped collaborate with a draft of All the President’s Men. The version of the script wasn’t used but Ephron’s talent was discovered and pursued and she went on to collaborate with friend Alice Arlen on the movie Silkwood. Her marriage with Bernstein eventually fell apart when she was pregnant with their second child after finding out he was unfaithful. Her heartbreak turned into inspiration for her professional life and she wrote the novel Heartburn that was later adapted into a film. She later married Nicholas Pileggi, best known as author of Wiseguy (novel Goodfellas was based off of) and Casino, whom she remained happily married to up to her death.
Her next professional triumph was her screenplay for When Harry Met Sally… The hit featuring Meg Ryan demonstrating a hilarious fake orgasm in the middle of a diner showed off Ephron’s ability to bring together poignancy and humor. With the encouragement of peers Ephron made her directorial debut in 1992 with This is My Life. The film was a flop but Ephron continued on to make Sleepless in Seattle, which made her a household name.
All three films, Silkwood, When Harry Met Sally…, and Sleepless in Seattle earned Ephron Academy Award nominations for best screenplay. She continued on to write and direct films like Michael (1996), You’ve Got Mail (1998), and Bewitched (2005). However she never gave up on her first love of writing. During this time she also wrote two bestselling essay collections “I Feel Bad About My Neck: And Other Reflections on Being a Woman” (2006) and “I Remember Nothing” (2010). She also began a blog with the Huffington Post and began playwriting with her sister Delia.
Her last film, and in my opinion her best, was Julie and Julia that incorporated all her favorite aspects of life: love, humor, and food. I’ve admired Nora Ephron for years, not just from her career and success but the humor and strength she exhibited behind it.
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About the Author: Currently working on my B.A in Film Studies at CSU Sacramento full time, working part time, and playing the rest of the time. Began my love of comedy with Gene Wilder, and haven't looked back. Tweet me @steviewho