- Published on Wednesday, June 27 2012
- Written by Katie Marzullo
Let’s face it – without Nora Ephron, the modern-day rom-com would not exist. Oh, romantic comedies were around way before she was, but back in those days, they were called “screwball comedies” and usually revolved around the leading man’s ability to break down a strong, independent woman until she realized she couldn’t live without a Knight in Shining Armor. Then Ms. Ephron came on the scene and proposed that a woman can fall in love and be vulnerable AND still maintain her strength and independence. What a concept!
Of course, this was a reflection on Nora herself. Hollywood was still very much a Boys Club when she arrived and insisted on getting in on some of that sweet writer/director action. Of course, she had a pretty good head start, her parents both being respected screenwriters and all. But make no mistake, Nora was a smart cookie and was not afraid to roll up her sleeves and get her hands dirty. Wellesley-educated, Nora was a lowly White House intern before starting at, literally, the bottom as a mail room clerk for Newsweek in New York. It was Nora’s own ingenuity as a writer and co-founder of a satirical newspaper that first got her noticed and sent her off on a career in journalism; heck, she was even married to Carl Bernstein for four years! It was during that time that she got her first taste of script writing, having been asked to help re-write All the President’s Men, the 1976 movie based on her husband’s involvement with breaking the Watergate scandal. Although that script was not eventually used, it got her foot in the door, and her journalism career quickly gave way to one of the most prolific screenwriting tenures in Hollywood.
When Harry Met Sally… Sleepless in Seattle… You’ve Got Mail… If it had Tom Hanks and/or Meg Ryan in it, it was likely the work of Nora Ephron. She was the queen of the breezy but poignant romantic comedy, but sometimes she could get straight-up hysterical – My Blue Heaven and Julie & Julia, for example. But she was perfectly capable of getting serious and even a little philosophical; in 1983, she penned Silkwood, a drama based on the real-life mystery of nuclear factory worker Karen Silkwood (played by Meryl Streep), who disappeared under strange circumstances after blowing the whistle on her factory’s safety measures. In 1996, Nora wrote and directed Michael, where she ruminated on the existence of angels.
Oh yeah, did I mention that Nora was also a director and producer? Yep, a triple threat in an industry where that sort of output is extremely rare among women. But it’s easy to do when you possess the sort of quick wit and understanding of the human spirit as Nora did. Don’t even get me started on her accolades – a 3-time Oscar nominee, a BAFTA recipient, Golden Globe-nominated, etc… No, her mantle wasn’t exactly riddled with hardware, but what she lacked in little gold statues she made up for in an enviable career and the respect and admiration of her peers.
There will never be another like her, and her death yesterday (June 26) at age 71 was a shock to the industry. We tend to think of strong, independent, humorous women like Nora to be invincible, that nothing can ever bring them down, including age or disease – just like her characters. But her spirit lives on through those characters, and every time we watch Meg Ryan fake an orgasm at a deli, or follow Tom Hanks up the observation deck of the Empire State Building, or watch John Travolta boogie to “Chain of Fools” with his angel wings hanging out, we’ll be reminded of that twinkle in the eye of the woman who created these classic moments.
RIP Nora Ephron, you will be missed!
- Katie Marzullo, YH Staff Editor
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