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Norah Ephron (1941-2012)


Nora Ephron Dead at 71

Nora Ephron Dead at 71 Linda Nylind, eyevine / Redux

Celebrated screenwriter and author.

Nora Ephron, acclaimed writer, screenwriter, has died after a battle with leukemia at age 71 on Tuesday night. Ephron, a native New Yorker and Hollywood icon, began her career in journalism before writing film classics like SilkwoodSleepless in SeattleYou’ve Got Mail, and When Harry Met Sally. Her work has won three Academy Awards, and she has directed many of her own films. Ephron married Goodfellas screenwriter Nicholas Pileggi in 1987, following a four-year marriage to The Washington Post’s Carl Bernstein.

Read it at ABC News


Nora Ephron Memorial

‘Nora Was Never Wrong’

With sweet memories from family and friends like Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks, and Rosie O’Donnell, Nora Ephron’s sendoff was as rich as the food she loved to cook. Rebecca Dana reports.

Everyone is reading and quoting Nora Ephron now. On the subway, on Twitter, in every living room on the Upper East Side. For those who loved her, this is both wonderful and a nightmare. New York has never sounded more like her New York, which is the best New York. But it’s a trick. Her voice is everywhere, and she is gone.

Nora Ephron Memorial

Getty Images

Fortunately, and oh so Nora-ly, she planned her own memorial service before she went. On Monday, Nora’s New York gathered in Alice Tully Hall for this service, which she detailed, they told us, in a file marked “Exit.” She chose who would speak, in what order and for how long. The entire thing was to take 47 minutes.

It was the express wish of her family that anything written for or about Nora’s Exit be “as funny as possible.” So we will glance over the part where everyone spent two hours going in and out of sobbing fits over this monstrous and seemingly unbearable loss.

Nora also hated adjectives. And complaining.

Martin Short began the service, but his speech is mostly unquotable in a humor piece. I know this because I cannot read the quotes in my notebook, because I have cried all over that page. He told a story of his last night with Nora and her husband, Nicholas Pileggi. It was April 25, “a night of celebration, a night of bliss.” He expressed his joy at “having them all to myself, not having any of you around.” He told another story, of how Nora came over every night with piles of food after his wife’s death in 2010. He attributed a quote to her—“Hazelnuts are what’s wrong with Europe”—that her sister Delia, when speaking later in the service, said had actually been her (Delia’s) observation.

“Nora didn’t have opinions, she had decrees,” said Richard Cohen, The Washington Post columnist, who spoke next. “Was there anyone in the world with more opinions?” Delia said later. “The planet is practically opinionless now.” There was some disagreement about how right she was. “Nora was never wrong,” Cohen said. Nora was wrong about 10 percent of the time, maybe 12, Delia said later.

One of Nora’s opinions was that this life is all we get. Her son Max recounted a conversation with family friend Diana Sokolow, which occurred after her death from leukemia late last month. “I hope when I die I go to heaven,” Sokolow told Max, “so I can go right up to Nora and say: ‘Ha! I was right about something.’”

New York Story

The Power of Nora’s Voice

She was the girl to impress at Wellesley—and we were all in awe of her. From her all-purple days to putting a novelist on the hot seat, a look at the early days of a trailblazer.

I can’t get her voice out of my head. Thank goodness. It’s all over the airwaves now, and people who loved both her work and her self are laughing again at her wit. You can see her in interviews and “hear” her speak through the most memorable scenes from her movies. It’s a wonderful way to remember Nora Ephron.]But I’m sorry for the young pundit on the cable TV show who, when asked for his favorite Nora Ephron moment, had to quote something he’d only read that morning in her obituary—about her summer in Washington during JFK’s presidency, and how she was the “only intern he didn’t make a pass at.” Really, it was much better when you heard her deliver the lines in person.

Nora Ephron

Nora Ephron in the newsroom of Wellesley College's school paper, the Wellesley News, in a 1962 yearbook photo. (Wellesley College / AP Photo)

I first met Nora when we were both students at Wellesley College, where she memorably gave the commencement address in 1996. The shrewd advice she shared with that lucky class was the grownup distillation of what I’d discovered more than three decades earlier. To know Nora then was to be in awe. Not only because she was a year ahead of me and therefore certifiably wiser; but because she was sharp and quick and seemed utterly self-confident at a time when most of us were still struggling to outgrow adolescence. We worked together on the Wellesley News, the college weekly that prided itself on tilting at authority at a time when young women were still supposed to be silent and in white gloves. One day, Nora strode into our basement office wearing bright purple skinny pants and a purple top, handing out wads of purple chewing gum. “I’m into purple,” she announced matter-of-factly. There was so much authority, so much magic in how she said it, some of us actually considered converting our wardrobes.

Nora wasn’t glamorous then—not in the sleek-haired, black-clad, wide-eyed look that came to define her chic later years. But she was magnetic, and I think it was partly her actual voice—the snappy delivery, the distinctive sound. Elaine May meets Damon Runyon, as a mutual friend later put it, asking me, “Is she for real?”

Oh yeah.

“You always wanted her approval, wanted to please her,” recalls Ellen Levine, another Wellesley News alumna who now is editorial director for Hearst Publications. “She wasn’t the top editor, but you wanted her to like your story.”

In her junior year at Wellesley, Nora helped write (and act in) the college’s annual musical comedy production, that year a silly little parody of the hit movie, Ocean’s Eleven. The plot involved some gun-toting dames in a gang called “Orchid’s Eleven,” and while Nora didn’t play Orchid, or even Violet (yes, purple is a theme because it was her class color. Don’t ask.), she did play a character called Nails, which allowed her to flesh out even further the smart-talking moll that she often appeared to be in real life.


A Very Modern Woman

Nora Ephron was the first modern woman that agent Robert Bookman ever knew. Whether it was writing films about natural, effortless couples or advising him on how to be a father, she understand our new world before we did.

I met Nora Ephron in the mid-1970s through Lynn Nesbit, who was her lifetime literary agent and my close colleague at ICM, then the dominant talent agency.


American screenwriter and director Nora Ephron gestures while speaking during a 'Women in Literature' conference at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, New York City, April 12, 1972. (New York Times Co. / Getty Images)

I was a neophyte motion picture literary agent in Los Angeles and Nora, recently divorced from the writer Dan Greenberg with whom she had collaborated unsuccessfully on some television projects, had written a script with her new husband, Carl Bernstein, called The Eastern Shuttle. Lynn sent me the script to see if I could sell it. Thus began a more than decade long relationship with one of the most remarkable people I’ve had the pleasure to know, a relationship that went through three discrete phases, a relationship that introduced me to the first woman I can call a “modern woman.”

The so-called women’s movement exploded in the mid-sixties. Its mostly celebrated early proponents were all smart, articulate, and angry. Anger is not fun. Nora was always fun (not to mention funny, as everyone knows). And natural. On top of smart and articulate. The Eastern Shuttle was arguably not Nora’s finest screenplay. A lot of screenwriting is craft—Nora was just learning that key part of it—but the underlying sensibility was of an effortless equality between the two sexes. The eponymous Eastern Shuttle was the now-defunct Eastern Air Lines commuter plane that flew hourly between New York and Washington, the two cities where the protagonists lived, respectively, and worked apart from each other, being reunited every weekend in one city or the other. The two protagonists shared an easygoing equality of status, not of roles or skills or power or any of the other lenses that sexual politics were always viewed through at that time. It was natural, and because it was natural it was effortless. That attitude was new, it was fresh, and it was modern.

In the early 80s I was an executive at ABC Motion Pictures, the second of two failed attempts by the network to create an ongoing motion picture production company. We had gotten lucky for once. The television movie division owned the rights to the Karen Silkwood story, Meryl Streep wanted to play Karen Silkwood under the direction of Mike Nichols, and Mike Nichols wanted Nora Ephron and Alice Arlen to write the screenplay.

The movie Silkwood went on to great acclaim with multiple Oscar nominations including Original Screenplay. What I remember most vividly about the script was Karen Silkwood’s character. It was not so much that she was heroic or even a heroic woman. It was that she was a funny, fully fleshed-out, flawed human being who happened to be a woman and who tried to do the right thing in an inhumanly stressful situation, not asking for any special treatment as a woman. She was the modern working woman revealed in all her glory on screen for the first time.

The final phase was the most personal. By the mid-80s Nora was famously divorced from Carl Bernstein, leaving her with two young boys to raise with no father at home. I had just divorced my wife who had then moved back to France with our young son. I was beyond bereft. Every time I came to New York in that period, Nora would meet me for breakfast at E.A.T. on Madison and give me practical advice to help me be a father six thousand miles away from my son. It was Nora who told me to call Gary every day even if he didn’t want to speak to me. I always did and he usually did. I believe that it became the glue of our relationship that created an inseparable father-son relationship to this day. This was the modern-woman understanding how to cope with the reality and new rules of the modern family.

To me, the first modern woman on the silver screen was Nora Charles in The Thin Man, played by Myrna Loy, who was married to Nick Charles, played by William Powell in the 1934 classic.  It was an uncanny parallel that when the first modern woman in my life, another Nora, finally met the man of her life, it was another Nick, Nick Pileggi. Nick and Nora. It sounds right. It sounds modern. It sounds timeless.

Writerly Ambitions

Tea With Nora

When Jessica Bennett and Jesse Ellison wanted to write about the women of Newsweek, they turned to Nora Ephron, who invited them over for two uninterrupted hours of talk about taking risks, breaking up—and quitting your job.

In retrospect, there was nothing particularly unusual about it: there was tea; there were cookies, and dainty porcelain saucers, and an immaculate white couch. Maybe the room was unusually pristine. (We were terrified of dropping crumbs.) Maybe the address was a little fancier than we were used to. (The Upper East Side, just off Park Avenue.) But it was natural, and easy. We cleared the teacups together. We bumped elbows in the kitchen.


Michael Loccisano / Getty Images

But at the time it felt preposterous. If there was an icon for young female writers making a go of it in New York City, Nora Ephron was it. We had cold-called her, on a line we weren’t sure was hers, and she had promptly invited us over. We were embarrassingly giddy.

It was November 2009, and we had just started working, unbeknownst to our editors, on a story about the women of Newsweek—women who, in 1970, had sued the magazine for gender discrimination in the first case of its kind.

Nora had not been involved in that suit, but she had, somewhat famously, toiled in the magazine’s mailroom in the 1960s. It was her first job out of Wellesley, and she was paid $55 a week to deliver the mail to the magazine’s editor, Osborn Elliot. We wanted to know what it was like and, more important, why she had left.

Newsweek was a different place half a century ago. And though Ephron knew she wanted to be a writer—and announced as much in her first interview—she was told, in no uncertain terms, that “women don’t write at Newsweek.” Instead, they were given jobs as clerks and mail girls, tasked with delivering coffee, and fact-checking the men’s copy if they were lucky. “There were no mail boys at Newsweek,” Ephron later wrote. “If you were a college graduate (like me) who had worked on your college newspaper (like me) and you were a girl (like me), they hired you as a mail girl. If you were a boy (unlike me) with exactly the same qualifications, they hired you as a reporter.”

Ephron would spend just nine months at the magazine, and yet even before she was famous, she was a legend among her contemporaries. She was the success story among droves of women with writerly ambitions: the one who’d escaped the boy’s club, who’d made a name for herself, who’d gone on to prove that women could write.

But when it came to the women who had sued their company—and us, the women who came after them, questioning how much had changed—we knew Nora would have something to say: about women, work, and, well, the age-old debate over having it all.

Ephron’s Legacy

The Hollywood Trail Nora Blazed

Now filming her directorial debut, Diablo Cody, the Oscar-winning screenwriter of ‘Juno’ and ‘Young Adult,’ says she wouldn’t be directing today if Nora Ephron hadn’t paved the way.

It’s really sad for everybody.

I think it’s safe to say that, as a filmmaker, Nora Ephron has been a godsend to any aspiring woman in this business. Her body of work is an eternal reply to the questions “Are women funny? Can women direct?” Everything she did was unbelievably elegant, hilarious, and warm—basically everything anyone aspires to when they’re writing a romantic comedy, but I don’t think anyone will ever do it as well as she did. I don’t know if there is an heir to Nora Ephron working today; she was singular in that way.

When I think about Sally from When Harry Met Sally, we’ve seen the archetype of the uptight, neurotic woman in romantic comedies before, but Sally is real. That’s the difference. There’s an intelligence there and she doesn’t just function as the uptight foil to Billy Crystal; she’s a multidimensional character with her own story and desires. I think that movie’s a masterpiece. There’s that amazing scene where Billy Crystal goes in to comfort her, and she says, “I’m going to be 40!” The way she’s sobbing, the scene is just so well-directed because it’s screwball comedy the way Meg Ryan’s playing it, but at the same time, it’s just so unbelievably funny and real.

There’s an elegance and a fluidity to her writing, and it never feels contrived or forced. The amazing thing was that she never had to resort to cheap jokes. So many scripts now rely on gross humor or pop-culture references—which is fine, and god knows I’ve relied on it—but she really didn’t have to.

Watch the infamous deli scene from 'When Harry Met Sally...'

I always wanted to be a writer, but at the time I don’t think it ever occurred to me to write movies. When I first saw When Harry Met Sally, for me, it was just pure entertainment; there was no sense of the filmmaker, which is the best kind of film. You believe the people are real, and you are completely lost in their relationships. When I first started writing screenplays, her work was something to aspire to. The best possible version of a scene is “the Nora Ephron version.”

Like everybody, I went to the theater and saw all her movies. It seemed like the highest sophistication—good, grownup humor—yet still not boring for a 15-year-old girl. With Sleepless in Seattle, I mean, everyone loved that movie. The pairing of Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks alone is probably the closest thing our generation has to the classic Cary Grant/Katharine Hepburn pairings from the golden era of filmmaking. And that’s all Nora and her instincts.

Nora Ephron and Diablo Cody

Astrid Stawiarz / Getty Images; Matt Sayles / AP Photo

Reiner on Ephron

Nora Ephron: the Sally to My Harry

Filmmaker Rob Reiner worked with Nora Ephron on the classic film ‘When Harry Met Sally.’ The director and friend shares his favorite memories of working with Ephron on the film, and the great times they shared off-set.

It’s just horrible. It’s so sad. I couldn’t sleep last night.

Rob Reiner

Director Rob Reiner (center) with actors Billy Crystal (left) and Meg Ryan on the set of "When Harry Met Sally" in 1989. (Everett Collection)

I was just talking to a very good friend of Nora’s who was with her right until the end, and she didn’t let anyone know about her health until the end. It was really kept very quiet. It’s the way she was. She always looked at everything positively and embraced life. She never complained about stuff or was one of those people who said “Oh poor me.” 

I’m one of those people who’s out there with everything, so when we did When Harry Met Sally, she said, “You know, you don’t have to tell everybody everything that’s going on the moment it’s going on. You don’t have to.” That became a line that we put in the film, when Meg says to Billy, “You don’t have to say how you’re feeling the moment you’re feeling it all the time,” and Billy says to Meg, “You keep everything inside—you don’t let anything out!” Nora was like that. She never complained and was always upbeat and looking to have fun.

She was so smart, so funny, and so witty. The thing you always got from her was that she wanted everybody to enjoy things as much as she did, so if you had dinner with her, she’d always say, “Try that!” and try to orchestrate whatever fun you had. And she was always right! We put a line in the film where Billy says about Meg, “She orders things in a way where even the chef didn’t realize how good it could be.” And she was like that. The greatest, most fun times I’ve ever had were going over to her house for dinner parties, because you knew you were going to get great food and great conversation, since all her friends were so smart and funny. The thing that you always came away with every time you met her was, “Boy, I’m glad I was in her presence and got to hang out there.” It was one of the great “hangs” of all time.

I think the reason why When Harry Met Sally works is that there’s a lot of Nora in Sally. It was an idea I had based on the fact that I had been single for 10 years and making a mess of my single life, and started thinking about how men dated and whether sex gets in the way of a friendship. I started talking to Nora about it and she said, “There’s definitely a film in this.” I knew I needed to have a woman’s voice, and I was lucky enough to pick the smartest, funniest woman on the planet.

We started the process on When Harry Met Sally by her interviewing me and my partner and friend Andy Scheinman, and just finding out what men think about and what goes on inside our heads. She interviewed us like a journalist, got all these thoughts down, and that became the basis for Harry, and she became the basis for Sally. A lot of times, she would do things she wasn’t even aware of and I’d say, “My god, Nora, we need to put that in [the movie]!” We’d go to restaurants while we were working on the script and she’d order just the way that Sally does in the movie. Definitely Sally was an extension of her and Harry was an extension of me.

Watch the infamous deli scene from 'When Harry Met Sally...'

Elegant and Effortless

Remembering Nora Ephron

Our tributes to writer and filmmaker Nora Ephron, who wrote classics like 'When Harry Met Sally' and 'Sleepless in Seattle.'

by Rob Reiner

Filmmaker Rob Reiner worked with Nora Ephron on the classic film ‘When Harry Met Sally.’ The director and friend shares his favorite memories of working with Ephron on the film, and the great times they shared off-set.


Mike Nichols, Nicole Kidman, Tom Hanks, and other stars and friends remember writer, filmmaker, and humorist Nora Ephron, who died at 71.

“I am very sad to learn of Nora’s passing. She was a brilliant writer and humorist. Being her Harry to Meg’s Sally will always have a special place in my heart. I was very lucky to get to say her words.”


Nora Ephron, Filmmaker With a Voice

Ephron was once an essayist and became an accomplished filmmaker, especially of romantic comedies like ‘Sleepless in Seattle,’ which solidified her voice. Kate Aurthur celebrates the writer and director’s work, from ‘You’ve Got Mail’ to ‘Silkwood’ to ‘Heartburn.’

INT. SONY LINCOLN SQUARE THEATRE—NIGHT. That’s a script heading from the screenplay for You’ve Got Mail, which Nora Ephron co-wrote and directed. I saw it on Christmas night in 1998, one week after it had opened. The story, as everyone knows, was about a big chain bookstore encroaching on an independent bookstore, and how the two opposing owners—Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks—fell in love on the Internet without knowing who the other was. Having worked at Shakespeare & Co. for years, the one on 81st and Broadway that had been put out of business by a Barnes & Noble two blocks away, I already felt like Nora Ephron, a regular customer at Shakespeare, was speaking to me.

Nora Ephron's "You've Got Mail"

Actors Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan in a scene from the romantic comedy "You've Got Mail," directed, co-written, and coproduced by Nora Ephron. (Warner Bros. Home Video / AP Photo)

So it was a true out-of-body experience when the Meg Ryan character and her not-right-for-her boyfriend (Greg Kinnear) walked into the movie theater, Sony Lincoln Square (now the AMC Loews), in which my friends and I were watching the movie. Everyone in the theater giggled in recognition; as the characters went up the escalator we had all recently ascended, talking all the while, and then walked into the exact theater where we were watching You’ve Got Mail, blasé New Yorkers were alternately gasping and laughing. The entire crowd broke into applause. Merry Christmas to us.

You’ve Got Mail was the fifth movie Ephron, who had been an essayist, directed. She was prolific in film in the 1990s; she directed her first, This Is My Life, in 1992, and it’s an underappreciated movie. It’s homey and has a great cast. And if you can imagine a film coming out now starring someone like the great Julie Kavner, then you have more hope for this world than I do. It didn’t do well, which might have damned her forever, considering how few chances women directors got 20 years ago.

But thank God it didn’t. Because Sleepless in Seattle was released the following year, and not only was it a huge hit, but it solidified Ephron’s voice as a filmmaker, particularly of romantic comedies. So much so that I noticed that when the news of her death broke, she was credited in several hastily prepared obituaries (and in many tweets) as having directed 1989’s When Harry Met Sally. (Rob Reiner directed it; Ephron wrote the screenplay.) Retroactively, though, we can see that When Harry Met Sally had some key Ephronian elements—dating dilemmas, relatable friendships, Meg Ryan, and a big ending. It also had one of the most famous scenes of the past 25 years (do I need to specify?); no one has looked at Katz’s Deli, or Meg Ryan, the same since.

Despite the strong point of view she had as a filmmaker, Ephron wasn’t limited. Remember, the first screenplay she co-wrote that got made was for the activist Silkwood, which is as far away from New York City–based romance and Meg Ryan as you can get. She was nominated for an Oscar, and to me, it’s my favorite of the Meryl Streep/Ephron collaborations, which also includes the recent Julie & Julia. Looking back at the Oscars for 1983 movies, Ephron should have won for best original screenplay—she and her writing partner, Alice Arlen, lost to Horton Foote for Tender Mercies, which is a wonderful film, but it’s no Silkwood. (Cher should have won for best supporting actress, too, for her part as Karen Silkwood’s lesbian friend, but for god’s sake, Linda Hunt played a man that year in The Year of Living Dangerously. That’s not fair competition.)

Watch the 'When Harry Met Sally...' scene that made the deli sandwich famous.

Heartburn, Ephron’s wonderful autobiographical vengeance novel about her marriage to Carl Bernstein, was the next film she wrote. Streep starred in it, Mike Nichols directed it—he had directed Silkwood, too—and Ephron adapted her own book for the 1986 movie. It’s not great. Part of the problem is that the witty, sometimes internal rage Ephron had achieved in the book was impossible to enact. I flipped through it tonight and found this bit from a dinner party scene toward the end when the Ephron character, Rachel, has finally had it.

Perfect Wit

Intimidated by Nora

Nora Ephron, who died Tuesday at 71, managed to state truths no one else had seen, never stopped writing and creating—and had a real life. Joan Juliet Buck on being paralyzed by admiration and finally working with her icon on ‘Julie & Julia.’

I don’t even know what tense to use to write this.

I didn’t know Nora Ephron well because I was paralyzed by admiration. She’d crossed the divide between journalism and fiction, and then the one between fiction and screenplays, and then the one between screenplays and directing, without ever losing the beat of her own voice. She’d scattered the culture with markers that will forever be hers, “I’ll have what she’s having” among them.

Nora Ephron

Charles Sykes / AP Photo

She also had a real life, two early marriages and then one great one, and two sons, one of whom I know and adore. And she cooked.

I admired Nora Ephron’s candor and balls as far back as her pieces in Esquire, was devastated by her Silkwood script, loved her movies, and marveled at the way she plainly stated truths that no one else had seen.

She was confident and she was consistent. Her voice proved that clear logic combined with stark honesty creates the most perfect wit. I think she’ll be an even bigger icon than Mark Twain.

She also turned out to be the best thing that happened to me in New York. One day at one of those Peggy Siegal lunches that you shouldn’t go to because daytime is for writing, not for eating lunch to celebrate a film you haven’t seen, I found myself placed next to Nora. I knew her slightly, but my awe had kept me at a distance. While I dawdled away my life in uncertainties, obligations, and improv classes, Nora never stopped writing books, plays, and screenplays, directing, working. She didn’t mess around. She meant everything she did, and everything she did had a life.

I asked a real question: “How do you manage not to get in your own way?”


She Never Stopped

The famed writer, filmmaker, and humorist Nora Ephron died on June 26 at the age of 71 from leukemia. Nancy Hass reports on her private final days and speaks to friends about what made her such an icon—and such a lively presence.

Nora Ephron, the film director, writer, and humorist who died Tuesday, June 26, at 71 of pneumonia caused by acute myeloid leukemia, spent the last weeks of her life in New York Presbyterian hospital on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, a few blocks from her apartment. Until hours before her death, no one except her family and closest friends knew she was even ill.


Director Nora Ephron speaks at the 2011 Directors Guild Of America Honors at the Directors Guild of America Theater in New York City, Oct. 13, 2011. (Michael Loccisano / AP Photo)

“That was the way she wanted it,” said Richard Cohen, The Washington Post columnist who had known her for more than 35 years and who was among those at her bedside. “She was a very open person, someone who wasn’t afraid to live her life in public, but this she wanted to have control of.”

Ephron, who gained literary fame as an essayist and Esquire writer during the 1970s and eventually became one of the few women to write and direct a slew of major commercial hits, including You’ve Got Mail and Sleepless in Seattle, was diagnosed with myelodysplastic Syndrome, the precursor to acute myeloid leukemia about five years ago. The disease progresses to the fatal form of leukemia in about 30 percent of cases.

“What kind of place is this?” asked the director Mike Nichols, when he was informed that Ephron had died. Nichols directed Heartburn, the 1987 film that Ephron wrote, based on her own thinly novelized account of her calamitous marriage to Carl Bernstein, of Watergate fame. “I feel like someone reached in and grabbed my compass from around my neck and threw it from a moving train. How will I navigate?”

Ephron, according to Nan Talese, the book editor who is married to Gay Talese, one of Ephron’s close friends, said Ephron had planned carefully for her death, leaving an “exit memo,” with a list of people she hoped would speak her funeral. “She got the idea from [Time magazine editor in chief] Henry Grunwald. He had left a list like that and Nora was on it. It made an impression on her.” Ephron, said Talese, was “brilliant, funny, and dangerous to be with. She lived life acutely observed at every moment.”

Married three times (her first husband was the humorist Dan Greenburg), she is survived by her husband, Nicholas Pileggi, whose book, Wiseguy, was made into the Martin Scorsese film Goodfellas, and two sons, Jacob, a correspondent for Newsweek and The Daily Beast, and Max Bernstein, a musician.

The first of four daughters of the screenwriting team of Henry and Phoebe Ephron—all became writers—Ephron was born on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, but moved with her family to Beverly Hills when she was 4. She attended Wellesley College, and became a summer intern in the Kennedy White House. Her first postcollege job was at Newsweek as a “mail girl” in 1962. That year, during an infamous newspaper strike, she was among the writers who worked on a parody of the New York Post, which caught the eye of Post owner Dorothy Schiff, who hired her as a reporter. While there, she wrote wry profiles of Ayn Rand and “Cosmo Girl” Helen Gurley Brown. Her knowing style on the page was a revelation. Until then, women feature writers tended to be cheery and breathless.

When Nora Met Nora

Nora Ephron’s Best Quotes

She was one of our wittiest writers, in any form, and she’s perhaps best appreciated in her sly, wisely original lines—they are works of beautiful brevity. Here are some of her best.

Nora Ephron was our Dorothy Parker, but she was a multimedia Dorothy Parker, excelling in books, films, scripts, humor. Perhaps her genius is best appreciated in her sly, aphoristic brevity. There is music in her quotes—note the “my heart does a little dance” and the “bounce bounce bounce.” Her prose wears tap shoes. Here are some of her best lines.


Author and playwright Nora Ephron poses inside the Barrymore Theatre in New York, Dec. 11, 2002. (Gino Domenico / AP Photo)

“I look out the window and I see the lights and the skyline and the people on the street rushing around looking for action, love, and the world's greatest chocolate chip cookie, and my heart does a little dance.”

“I always read the last page of a book first so that if I die before I finish I'll know how it turned out.”
—Billy Crystal to Meg Ryan in When Harry Met Sally

“We all look good for our age. Except for our necks.”
I Feel Bad About My Neck

“I don't want to be someone that you're settling for. I don't want to be someone that anyone settles for. Marriage is hard enough without bringing such low expectations into it, isn't it?”
—Walter from Sleepless in Seattle

“One of the only movies about marriage. Of course it's also about drinking."
—On The Thin Man, The Daily Beast

“Insane people are always sure that they are fine. It is only the sane people who are willing to admit that they are crazy.”


Stars Remember Nora Ephron

Mike Nichols, Nicole Kidman, Tom Hanks, and other stars and friends remember writer, filmmaker, and humorist Nora Ephron, who died at 71.

“What kind of a place is this? I feel like someone reached in and grabbed my compass from around my neck and threw it from a moving train. How will I navigate? I think a lot of friends and readers will feel like that. Nora was so funny and interesting that we didn’t notice that she was necessary. She is absolutely irreplaceable.”
—Mike Nichols


Nora Ephron during TechCrunch Disrupt New York May 2011 at Pier 94 in New York City, May 23, 2011. (Joe Corrigan / Getty Images)

“I am very sad to learn of Nora’s passing. She was a brilliant writer and humorist. Being her Harry to Meg’s Sally will always have a special place in my heart. I was very lucky to get to say her words.”
—Billy Crystal

“Nora was a joy to be around; she was so smart, warm, and funny. I am so grateful that she was my friend and we had the opportunity to work together. My thoughts and love are with her family at this time. I will never forget the dinners, games, and laughter we all shared.”
—Nicole Kidman

“It feels impossible to me that a force as indomitable and funny and vibrant and alive and stubborn as Nora could be gone. She was the one you went to when you needed to be propped up. She was the one who told you what to do and how to do it—what to wear, what to eat, how to respond to any situation. We were business friends, we did Sleepless in Seattle together. Nora wrote a perfect script, and it seemed obvious that she was the perfect person to direct it. But, believe me, there were guys in suits that didn’t see it that way. They never quite came out and said it, but the attitude was, ‘You can’t be thinking of giving a woman the money and authority to direct a movie.’ But we [the senior group at Tristar] supported her in that effort. And Nora’s Sleepless was perfect. It was one of the only movies where you could say, ‘I’ll see you at the premiere.’ No notes, no changes. We just had to wait for the little maps that tracked Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks’s whereabouts to be created and dropped into the film. That was it. I’ll miss her wit, her humor, her precision in knowing the right thing to do or say at the right moment.
—Stacey Snider, co-chairman and CEO of DreamWorks

“I wish I'd known Nora well. I suspect that anyone who came within her sphere, however briefly, felt the same way. For me, there was the occasional brief encounter with her in Manhattan or the Hamptons, and the annual, much anticipated chat at the Taleses’ on Christmas Eve. And once, for one splendid day, I was privileged to say her words under her direction on my set with Will Ferrell in a scene she'd created for and about us in Bewitched. When we'd played her scene the requisite number of times, she asked us to improvise the interview I was ostensibly conducting, turning us loose for two hours as she lurked behind the camera, her mouth stuffed with tissues to prevent the sound of her laughter at Will's antics from ruining the takes. In the edit, Nora the director retained some of our dialogue alongside her handiwork. A singular honor. That was about the extent of our acquaintance. So there are expressions about the unthinkable loss of her from legions more qualified than I to offer an opinion. And yet, when The Beast invited me to contribute to its tribute page, I summoned the presumption to offer at least this thought. In the decidedly unromantic era in which Nora plied her trade, she plunged in and swam against the tide with several of the most exquisitely wrought romantic meditations since Romance's Hollywood heyday of the thirties and forties. If Casablanca is the paradigm of romantic drama, what is When Harry Met Sally? Surely, it’s the standard against which any romantic comedy must be measured. For the foreseeable future, only she might have matched it. And now she won't. And neither, I think, will anyone else.”
—James Lipton

“I suppose you could say Nora was my ideal. In a world where we’re told that you can’t have it all, Nora consistently proved that adage wrong. A writer, director, wife, mother, chef, wit—there didn’t seem to be anything she couldn’t do. And not just do it, but excel at it, revolutionize it, set the bar for every other screenwriter, novelist, director. She was inspiring, intimidating, and insightful. She was so, so alive. It makes no sense to me that she isn’t anymore. My heart goes out to her family and the many others who treasured her.”
—Carrie Fisher

“I did not know Nora Ephron well, and I sometimes suspect she thought me something of a whiny sad-sack, or would have if she'd known me better. Obviously, I have her to thank for making such a beautiful movie inspired in part by a book I wrote and experience I had. Even more obviously, her accomplishments as a writer, journalist, screenwriter, and director, and the fact that she built these careers steadily, with ever-increasing verve and brilliance, is an inspiration to any woman or, well, anyone, struggling to find a voice and the confidence to speak with it, clearly and without reservation. I first read Heartburn in college, and can honestly say that the following lines did as much to shape who I want to be as a writer—and as a person, really—as anything else I've read. I repeat this to myself, sometimes, when I am feeling cowed by life: "If I throw this pie at him, he will never love me. But he doesn't love me anyway. So I can throw the pie if I want to." There are lots worse ways to define an artist.”
—Julie Powell, author, Julie & Julia


Our Dorothy Parker

Nora Ephron was our Dorothy Parker but so much more, writes screenwriter and friend Stephen Schiff. He salutes her wonderful films, impeccable taste, and versatile strength to the end.

Nora Ephron was our Dorothy Parker—except Nora did more, and with less strife. Her whip-snapping wit, like Parker’s, came from an insistence on the truth, and on making the digging for that truth fun. Her humor combined the giddy high of recognition with the delight one obtains from hearing a perfect thought perfectly stated. Nora could arm and disarm within a sentence, could wield a barb and its curative salve within a phrase. But unlike Parker, she consumed life’s pleasures avidly without being consumed by them. Nora knew how to sting without being bitter. Even when she was writing about the woes of a cracking marriage or the trials of aging, her humor always floated angst-free.

People Nora Ephron

Nora Ephron poses for a photo at her home in New York, Wednesday, Nov. 3, 2010. (Charles Sykes / AP Photo)

Nora was both hedgehog and fox. She knew a great deal about a great many things, and she delighted in sharing what she knew. A number of years ago, I was taking a trip to Rome, and she generously availed me of her guide to its enchantments, a small pamphlet she’d composed that included a thumbnail sketch of every terrific restaurant, of every amusing thing to do, of the right place to get a haircut or a manicure, all springily written and completely true. Nora prided herself in knowing how to do things, where to get them, what was good and in what way it was good. Think of the moments in her essays, her novels, and her movies when she addresses the fact of food. No one has ever written about food with more pleasure or more pleasurably—or more infectiously. You wanted to eat the thing she was kvelling about, right then and there, even before the next sentence.

Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks meet atop the Empire State Building in Norah Ephron's "Sleepless in Seattle".

She grew up in Hollywood—well, Beverly Hills—and to Hollywood always returned. She famously did time in Washington as well, not just during her tempestuous marriage to the journalist Carl Bernstein, but also, briefly, as an intern in the Kennedy White House. But wherever she was, Nora was New York. She was born in New York, lived in New York for most of her life, married a great New York character—the writer, screenwriter, and irreplaceable journalistic resource Nick Pileggi—and has long seemed so essential a component of New York life that it is very hard on this, the very hard night of her passing, to imagine our town soldiering on without her.

Her humor was New York humor, layered and tangy with irony; chewy and Jewish and deadpan and literate. She could write movies that jerked a tear in the baldest Hollywood tradition, but they were written in a way that no one who hadn’t walked on our mean streets and taxied in our mean taxis could have conceived. When Nora wrote about women, she deeply understood both their toughness and their girlishness, their need for men and their complete independence from them, and the combination of bliss and rue that went with that gnarly interweave. And yet some of her most poignantly imagined characters were men—think of Sam Baldwin, the character Tom Hanks played in Sleepless in Seattle, or Harry Burns, played by Billy Crystal in When Harry Met Sally. And think of Stanley Tucci’s Paul Child, the husband of Julia, in Nora’s lilting last film, Julie & Julia, a tribute to uxoriousness, and hence to Nick, with whom Nora shared a 20-year marriage that no onlooker could fail to envy.

As Julie & Julia proved, along with her last two collections, I Feel Bad About My Neck and I Remember Nothing, Nora left us while she was still at the height of her game. It was one of the most sustained careers in recent letters, and one of the most varied—journalist, essayist, novelist, screenwriter, director, playwright, nonpareil hostess, and dinner-party companion. There were ups and downs. I remember being on a panel of screenwriters with her at The New Yorker festival, when my screenwriting career was green and hers was not at the happy point where it had been and to which it would return. In response to an audience question, I naively gushed that in screenwriting “even the problems are kind of fun.” I heard then a sigh next to me that had an undertone not unlike a snarl. “I want to say,” said Nora, “that not all of us agree with Stephen.” Robert Towne, sitting next to her, nodded gravely.

Of course she was right. And yet whatever the bumps in a career that will now pass into legend, Nora knew how to survive. She survived the illness that finally felled her for six years after a doctor told her she had only a few weeks to live. And when the going got tough in Hollywood, she made a career as a playwright, returned to the essay form at which she was a past master, and finally came back as a writer-director with Julie & Julia, a sunny, elegant, effortless-seeming movie that was as good as anything she’d ever done, with a sweetness at its core and a regard for life’s deliciousness that may have derived from her awareness of how little she had left. As every chef knows, soufflés are a difficult thing to pull off. Nora Ephron spent a lifetime making them look easy.

Watch This!

Nora Ephron’s Movie Hits

Legendary screenwriter and director Nora Ephron died Tuesday. From the iconic orgasm in ‘When Harry Met Sally’ to the romantic Empire State rendezvous in ‘Sleepless in Seattle,’ a look back at Ephron’s stellar career.


They say write what you know—and Ephron did just that in her novel turned movie. The 1986 flick, starring Meryl Streep and Jack Nicholson, was inspired by the dissolution of Ephron’s own marriage and scored by Carly Simon. It turns out airing the personal material on the big screen wasn’t only a fearless move but a canny one: the movie opened at No. 2 at the box office, right behind Aliens.

‘When Harry Met Sally…’

Never before has a deli sandwich been so scandalous. Ephron penned the 1989 hit that followed eventual married couple Harry and Sally’s dalliances through the years. The film, starring Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal, earned Ephron an Oscar nomination for her hilarious consideration of whether men and women can be friends—after sleeping with each other, of course. The answer might be inconclusive, but the line “I’ll have what she’s having” will forever live on in infamy. Watch Sally’s hilarious fake orgasm.

‘Sleepless in Seattle’

Ephron directed and co-wrote this romantic comedy starring Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks as strangers who cross the country to meet each other—with a heartwarming rendezvous that earned her a third Oscar nomination. Annie, played by Ryan, becomes smitten with Sam, played by Hanks, after he calls into a radio show in the wake of his wife’s death. And, if that’s not enough to convince rom-com naysayers everywhere, the 1993 flick drew on An Affair to Remember, with a Cary Grant–worthy meeting atop the Empire State Building.

‘You’ve Got Mail’

Call it the first romantic comedy fit for the digital age. Ephron again directed Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks as rival bookstore owners who fall in love virtually, thanks to a courtship over AOL. In the 1998 flick, Kathleen Kelly, Ryan’s character, meets Joe Fox, Hanks’s character, via email, and their courtship unfolds as his store puts hers out of business. “Shopgirl” and “NY152” could teach online dating a lesson or two.