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Perhaps one of the most prolific writers to emerge during the latter half of the 20th century, Nora Ephron transitioned from successful journalist and novelist to write and direct what many consider to be among the greatest romantic comedies ever made. Despite being raised by screenwriter parents, Ephron was driven as a young woman to become a journalist, first writing for the New York Post, which she followed by becoming a scathingly witty essayist for the likes of Esquire and New York magazine. Her first collection of essays, Wallflower at the Orgy (1970), was a bestseller, as were all of her subsequent books. After making major news for her divorce from acclaimed journalist Carl Bernstein, which became fodder for her novel, Heartburn, Ephron became an Oscar-nominated screenwriter with her very first effort, "Silkwood" (1983). But it was her script for "When Harry Met Sally " (1989) that set the bar high for all other romantic comedies that would follow. While continuing to write films like "My Blue Heaven" (1990), she also began directing, starting with the beloved "Sleepless in Seattle" (1993), leading to "Mixed Nuts" (1994), "Michael" (1996) and culminating in "You've Got Mail" (1998) and "Julie...
Perhaps one of the most prolific writers to emerge during the latter half of the 20th century, Nora Ephron transitioned from successful journalist and novelist to write and direct what many consider to be among the greatest romantic comedies ever made. Despite being raised by screenwriter parents, Ephron was driven as a young woman to become a journalist, first writing for the New York Post, which she followed by becoming a scathingly witty essayist for the likes of Esquire and New York magazine. Her first collection of essays, Wallflower at the Orgy (1970), was a bestseller, as were all of her subsequent books. After making major news for her divorce from acclaimed journalist Carl Bernstein, which became fodder for her novel, Heartburn, Ephron became an Oscar-nominated screenwriter with her very first effort, "Silkwood" (1983). But it was her script for "When Harry Met Sally " (1989) that set the bar high for all other romantic comedies that would follow. While continuing to write films like "My Blue Heaven" (1990), she also began directing, starting with the beloved "Sleepless in Seattle" (1993), leading to "Mixed Nuts" (1994), "Michael" (1996) and culminating in "You've Got Mail" (1998) and "Julie and Julia" (2009). Ephron remained one of the most revered and respected writer-directors of her day, and fans and colleagues alike were devastated by her death on June 26, 2012.
Born on May 19, 1941 in New York, NY, Ephron was raised by her father, Henry, and mother, Phoebe. Her parents were famous playwright and screenwriting partners known for their work on "Carousel" (1959) and "There's No Business Like Show Business" (1961), as well as their Oscar nomination for "Captain Newman, M.D." (1963). Despite the level of domestic comfort provided by her parents' success, Ephron and her three sisters, Amy, Delia and Hallie, grew up in a dysfunctional home dominated by alcoholism. Intending to avoid following in her parents' footsteps, she chose instead to head East after graduating Beverly Hills High School to attend Wellesley College, where she earned her Bachelor of Arts in journalism in 1962. During her time at Wellesley, Ephron wrote a series of letters to her parents, which they later used as the source material for their play, "Take Her, She's Mine" (1961), a two-act comedy about a precocious and irrepressible young woman who leaves her overprotective father behind to attend college abroad. The play was adapted into a movie in 1963, starring Jimmy Stewart and Sandra Dee, who played the young woman based on Ephron.
Continuing to separate herself from her parents' Hollywood careers, Ephron briefly spent time as a White House intern during the administration of John F. Kennedy before making her way to the Big Apple, where she spent five years as a reporter for the New York Post and was noted for her interview with Bob Dylan after he went electric in 1965. She made her mark at the end of the 1960s and beginning of the 1970s as an essayist and practitioner of the New Journalism that dominated the times. Skewering such pop culture figures as Betty Friedan and Gail Sheehy, Ephron quickly became an in-demand writer, eventually joining the staff of both Esquire and New York magazine. In 1968, a year after she married author Dan Greenburg, Ephron ran afoul of Women's Wear Daily when she wrote a send-up of the fashion magazine for Cosmopolitan, resulting in a lawsuit. Meanwhile, she published her first collection of essays, Wallflower at the Orgy (1970), a droll look at the wild times, pop culture and eccentric personalities of the late 1960s.
Because the idea seemed to be in vogue, Ephron was lured into writing scripts, leading her to contribute to the short-lived sitcom "Adam's Rib" (ABC, 1973). In 1975, she published another best-selling essay collection, Crazy Salad: Some Things About Women. Also that year, she wrote an article for Esquire magazine that eviscerated Dorothy Schiff, publisher of the New York Post, whom she declared was the owner of a "terrible newspaper." A year later, she divorced from Greenburg and chronicled the failed attempt to save her first marriage in the pages of Esquire. Ephron immediately embarked upon a marriage with famed journalist Carl Bernstein, who famously broke the Watergate scandal with Bob Woodward at the Washington Post. For the small screen, she penned the teleplay for "Perfect Gentlemen" (CBS, 1978), a comedy caper about a group of women (Lauren Bacall, Ruth Gordon, Sandy Dennis and Lisa Pelikan) desperately in need of cash who plan a $1 million heist. Meanwhile, Ephron's celebrity marriage ended in divorce after she learned that Bernstein was having an affair with British politician Margaret Jay while she was pregnant with their second son, Max. Ephron later penned Heartburn (1983), a roman a clef that detailed the final two months of her marriage and described Bernstein as someone "capable of having sex with a venetian blind."
While her personal life was in public shambles - her messy divorce was fodder for all the gossip columns during this time - Ephron relented to years of resistance and entered into her parents' profession of choice. Making the segue to the big screen, she came to be known for creating strong central roles for women, as evidenced by the Oscar-nominated script for "Silkwood" (1983), Mike Nichols' biopic of anti-nuclear activist Karen Silkwood (Streep). Ephron joined forces with Nichols for her adaptation of "Heartburn" (1986), which starred Streep as a food critic who embarks on a whirlwind romance with a political columnist (Jack Nicholson), only to have it all fall apart when she learns of his extramarital affair with a socialite (Karen Akers). Thanks to her public heartbreak over Bernstein, Ephron became the face for embittered women spurned by the men who cheated on them, even though she embarked on a long, healthy marriage in 1987 to author and screenwriter, Nicholas Pileggi, best known for adapting his novel Wiseguy into "Goodfellas" (1990). She ventured into the Mafia world herself with the more lighthearted "Cookie" (1989), a gangster comedy about a newly released boss (Peter Faulk) who tries getting to know his illegitimate daughter (Emily Lloyd) by hiring her as his chauffer.
Though she was already a highly successful journalist and screenwriter with an Oscar nomination to her credit, Ephron cemented her place in cinema history with her next screenplay, "When Harry Met Sally " (1989), a romantic comedy that set the bar for all others that followed. Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal played two old friends who find themselves eventually falling in love despite their insistence to remain friends. While the film was chock full of memorable scenes, nothing compared to when Sally (Ryan) faked an orgasm in the middle of Katz' Deli in Manhattan to prove to Harry (Crystal) that men can't tell. The scene was topped by one of the most memorable lines in romantic comedy history, when a nearby customer (the director's real-life mother Estelle Reiner) declared, "I'll have what she's having," after Sally finishes her faux climax. Not only was the movie a huge box office hit, Ephron's script earned her a second Academy Award nomination for Best Original Screenplay. Moving over to the director's chair, Ephron helmed "This Is My Life" (1992), a comedy co-written with sister Delia that starred Julie Kavner as a single mother who struggles to become an established stand-up comic.
Though "This Is My Life" was a critical and box office failure, Ephron bounced back in a big way to write and direct "Sleepless in Seattle" (1993), which she co-wrote with David S. Ward and Jeff Arch. Less about love than about love in motion pictures, the film drew its inspiration from Leo McCarey's tearjerker, "An Affair to Remember" (1957). "Sleepless" starred Tom Hanks as a widower and single dad who calls into a radio talk show to lament about lost love and Meg Ryan as a woman thousands of miles away who falls in love with him after listening to the show. The light romantic comedy helped define both stars' public images, while Ephron score another iconic hit. "Sleepless" also introduced what became a long-standing Ephron trademark of overloading her soundtracks with pop standards designed to easily evoke a particular mood, perhaps cribbed from Reiner's more effective use of Harry Connick, Jr.'s big band interpretations in "When Harry Met Sally..." Meanwhile, she followed up with "Mixed Nuts" (1994), a black comedy about a suicide hot line at Christmas; not surprisingly, it suffered from its holiday release. Despite the presence of Steve Martin and several other comic talents, the ill-timed film was both a commercial and critical bomb.
Ephron bounced back yet again by co-producing, co-writing - with Delia again - and directing John Travolta in the genial "Michael" (1996), a whimsical comedy about a tabloid journalist (William Hurt) investigating the possibility of an angelic visitation, only to discover the Heavenly creature (Travolta) loves cigarettes, food and women while tossing around the occasional miracle. Ephron next rejoined "Sleepless" stars Hanks and Ryan for "You've Got Mail" (1998), which put an Internet spin on Ernst Lubitsch's charming classic "The Shop Around the Corner" (1940) and though it appealed to a huge audience, most critics were less than kind. Ephron and Ryan continued their alliance, though less successfully, this time, with the comedy "Hanging Up" (2000), which matched the actress in a challenging relationship with her aging father (Walter Matthau), and neurotic sisters Lisa Kidrow and Diane Keaton, the latter of whom helmed the film. The movie was adapted from Delia's novel of the same name about a dysfunctional family dealing with the death of a parent. Back in the director's chair, Ephron helmed "Lucky Numbers" (2000), a flat and dismal comedy written by Adam Resnick and starring John Travolta as a small town television weatherman who plans to scam the local lottery. The would-be comedy proved to be one of Ephron's worst efforts to date.
After a lengthy absence from the screen, Ephron directed the feature film version of the classic 1960s sitcom, "Bewitched" (2005), collaborating again with sister Delia on the script. Starring Nicole Kidman, "Bewitched" cast the actress as a reluctant real-life witch trying to give up her reliance on magic, only to find herself cast in the role of Samantha in a Hollywood remake of the television series by a vain washed-up actor (Will Ferrell). The resulting film was generally charming, but ultimately failed to connect with audience, and suffered a savage beating from critics, many of whom despised Ephron's contrived take on the material. Meanwhile, Ephron returned to novels after an even lengthier absence when she published I Feel Bad About My Neck: And Other Thoughts on Being a Woman (2006), a best-selling collection of essays that covered a variety of topics faced by women, including raising children, aging and the death of friends - all with her signature wry wit. She returned to directing with "Julie & Julia" (2009), a winning comedic drama about a frustrated office drone (Amy Adams) who strikes upon the idea to cook all 524 recipes in Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking while chronicling her endeavor on a blog. The film also juxtaposed the struggle the awkward-looking Child (Meryl Streep) faced during her years spent in Paris with her husband (Stanley Tucci). Meanwhile, she published another collection of essays, I Remember Nothing (2010), which poked fun at the aging process. Following two years of Ephron flying under the radar, news broke via friend and newspaper columnist Liz Smith on June 26, 2012 that the writer was gravely ill following a quiet battle with leukemia. The beloved writer-director passed away that same day. She was 71 years old.
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