Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Mourning Nora Ephron

She was never boring. In movies, novels and essays, Nora Ephron, who died yesterday at 71, had a gift for breathing life and wit into everything she touched.  

We met cute. On the day Lynda Bird Johnson came to work for me at McCalls in 1966, I found Ephron, a reporter for the New York Post, wandering the office corridors and threw her out of the building.

A few years later when she started free-lancing for magazines, I sent her to interview Henry Kissinger who, between war crimes, was dating starlets and bimbos in his "Power is an aphrodisiac" days. Her piece eviscerated him with a scalpel.

A child of screenwriters, Ephron took to heart her mother’s advice to use whatever happened in life, however bad, in writing: "It's all copy." And so she did, from a lead essay about her breasts at puberty in a first collection to mining her marriages in novels and movies.

Husband No. 1, a genial writer, was immortalized as so paranoid he erased entries in his appointment book at the end of each day, but his foibles were only a prelude to those of her next, Carl Bernstein of "Woodward and..."

In a novel Ephron nailed him as someone "who would have sex with a venetian blind." Harper's got hold of and published their divorce agreement, much of it devoted to how Bernstein would be portrayed in the movie version. As a result, he morphed from Dustin Hoffman in "All the President's Men" to Jack Nicholson in "Heartburn."

From there, Ephron went on to her true calling, writing and later directing romantic comedies such as "When Harry Met Sally," "Sleepless in Seattle" and "You've Got Mail," too easily dismissed as "chick flicks" but just as artful as Hollywood classics of the 1930s that inspired many of them.

She peopled those movies with doughty women from Meg Ryan to Meryl Streep, who refused to play second fiddle in the mating dances she brought to life, just as Ephron herself did in the Hollywood world she inhabited.

If there is an afterlife, Nora Ephron will surely be out there looking for ways to find some human absurdity and a few laughs in it.

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