Sunday, November 21, 2010

A Most Memorable Woman

Nora Ephron and I met cute. On the first 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 corridors and threw her out of the building.

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.

That's why it's sad now to see Nora Ephron's new book at age 69 being reviewed as leftovers from a great career as a satirist, screenwriter and movie director. Even the title, "I Remember Nothing," is elegiac.

Throughout her working life, Ephron remembered everything, a legacy from a mother who cautioned her to use whatever happened to her, however bad, in her writing: "It's all copy."

And so she did. The daughter of a screenwriting team, Nora went from a lead essay on her breasts at puberty in a first collection to mining her marriages for "copy."

Husband No. 1, a genial writer, was immortalized as so paranoid he erased entries in his appointment book at the end of each of day. But that was only a prelude to her second marriage to Carl Bernstein of "Woodward and..."

She wrote a novel about that splitup, describing him as someone "who would have sex with a venetian blind." Harper's managed to get hold of and publish 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 the Hollywood classics of the 1930s.

Now that I have a teenage granddaughter who is showing an Ephronish flair, I'm going to give her a copy of Nora's "Crazy Salad." As a budding writer, she couldn't have a better role model.

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