Nora Ephron, an essayist and humorist (and in many ways the embodyment of the WIF ideal) who became one of her era’s most successful screenwriters and filmmakers, making romantic comedy hits like Sleepless in Seattle and When Harry Met Sally..., died Tuesday night in Manhattan. She was 71.
The cause was pneumonia brought on by acute myeloid leukemia, her son Jacob Bernstein said.
Ephron was born on May 19, 1941, in New York City. She was the daughter of Phoebe and Henry Ephron. Her parents were both screenwriters, born and raised on the East Coast. Ephron was the eldest of four daughters. When she was four years old, the family moved to Beverly Hills, remaining there until she graduated from Beverly Hills High School and moved back East to attend Wellesley College.
Ephron's sisters Delia and Amy are also screenwriters, while her sister Hallie Ephron, is a journalist, book reviewer and novelist who writes crime fiction. Ephron's parents based Sandra Dee's character in the play and the Jimmy Stewart film Take Her, She's Mine on their 22-year-old daughter Nora and her letters to them from college. Ephron graduated from Beverly Hills High in 1958. It was during her junior year there that she became interested in journalism. She majored in political science and wrote for the weekly newspaper at Wellesley, from which she graduated in 1962.
After Ephron graduated, she worked briefly as an intern in the White House of President John F. Kennedy, and then moved to New York and became a "mail girl" at Newsweek. She held that position for a year.
When New York City's newspapers suspended publication during a strike by the International Typographical Union, Ephron and some of her friends, including the young Calvin Trillin, put out their own satirical newspaper. Ephron's parodies of New York Post columnists caught the eye of the Post's publisher, Dorothy Schiff. When the strike was over, Schiff hired Ephron as a reporter. The 1960s were a lively time for journalism in New York and Dorothy Schiff's Post, at that time a liberal-leaning afternoon tabloid, offered Ephron a free hand to explore her favorite city from top to bottom. In 1966, she broke the news in the Post that Bob Dylan had married Sara Lownds in a private ceremony three-and-a-half months earlier. While working at the Post, Ephron also began writing occasional essays for publications such as New York magazine, Esquire and The New York Times Magazine. Her work as a reporter won acclaim as part of the "New Journalism" movement of the 1960s, in which the author's personal voice became part of the story. Her humorous 1972 essay, "A Few Words About Breasts," made her name as an essayist. As a regular columnist for Esquire, and she became one of America's best-known humorists. Her essays, often focusing on sex, food and New York City, were collected in a series of best-selling volumes, Wallflower at the Orgy, Crazy Salad, and Scribble Scribble.
While married to Carl Bernstein in the mid-1970s, at his and Bob Woodward's request she helped Bernstein re-write William Goldman's script for All the President's Men, because the two journalists were not happy with it. The Ephron-Bernstein script was not used in the end, but was seen by someone who offered Ephron her first screenwriting job, for a television movie.
Ephron enjoyed her greatest writing success with When Harry Met Sally . . . (1989), a romantic comedy directed by Rob Reiner, starring Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan. The film struck an instant chord with audiences and became an international hit. Ephron contemplated a transition to directing, in part to protect her own writing career in an industry still largely inhospitable to films by or about women. Unfortunately, This Is My Life (1992), her directing debut, about the struggles of a single mother working as a stand-up comic, was a box office disappointment. Ephron knew her future as a director would stand or fall with her next assignment.
Sleepless in Seattle (1993) was co-written by Nora Ephron and her younger sister, Delia. Director Nora cast Harry and Sally star Meg Ryan, teaming her with Tom Hanks. The resulting film was an enormous success, and Ephron was now established as Hollywood's foremost creator of romantic comedies. A follow-up film, Mixed Nuts (1994), was a commercial disappointment, but Michael (1996), starring John Travolta as an angel, enjoyed solid success at the box office. In You've Got Mail (1998), Ephron re-united Sleepless stars Hanks and Ryan in a contemporary variation on the classic comedy, The Shop Around the Corner (1940). With You've Got Mail, the team of Ephron, Ryan and Hanks scored another huge success.
In the following years, Ephron pursued a wide variety of projects. She made an unexpected foray into writing for the stage with her 2002 play "Imaginary Friends", based on the turbulent rivalry of authors Lillian Hellman and Mary McCarthy. She coauthored the play "Love, Loss, and What I Wore" (based on the book by Ilene Beckerman) with her sister, Delia and it has played to sold out audiences in Canada, New York City, and The Geffen Playhouse in California. She took another unusual tack with an offbeat big-screen adaptation of the 1960s television series "Bewitched", starring Nicole Kidman and Will Ferrell. Her 2006 collection of essays, I Feel Bad About My Neck: And Other Reflections on Being a Woman, immediately shot to number one on the New York Times best-seller list.
In her film Julie & Julia (2009), she returned to a favorite subject — food — by telling the parallel stories of prominent food writer Julia Child and a contemporary Manhattan woman who sets out to cook her way through every recipe in Childs's classic Mastering the Art of French Cooking. The film starred Ephron's friend and previous collaborator, Meryl Streep, as Julia Child. In addition to her books, plays and movies, Ephron wrote a regular blog for the online news site The Huffington Post. Her 2010 collection of essays, I Remember Nothing, takes a humorous look at the aging process and other topics.
In 1994, she was awarded the Women In Film Crystal Award.
Ephron was married three times. Her first marriage, to writer Dan Greenburg, ended in divorce after nine years. Her second was in 1976 to journalist Carl Bernstein, involved in exposing Watergate. Ephron had an infant son, Jacob, and was pregnant with her second son, Max, in 1979 when she found out that Bernstein was having an affair with their mutual friend, the married British politician Margaret Jay. These events inspired Ephron to write the 1983 novel Heartburn, which was made into a 1986 film starring Jack Nicholson and Meryl Streep with a screenplay by Ephron. In the book, she wrote of a husband named Mark, who was "capable of having sex with a Venetian blind".
Ephron was married for more than 20 years to her third husband, screenwriter Nicholas Pileggi, with whom she lived in New York City until her death.
[Adapted from WIKIPEDIA]