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Nora Ephron was diagnosed with myelodysplastic syndrome, a pre-leukemic condition, a few years back. She told almost no one. Instead, she forged ahead, socialized, worked on projects and remained relentlessly upbeat. The question is why. Why, when she could have seen the outpouring of support with her own eyes that came following her death yesterday, did she keep it such a closely guarded secret? A case could be made that she didn’t want our sympathy or our pity or our frowns at her expense, but I choose to believe it was for a different reason. I choose to believe, rather than wasting her final years answering questions about death, she wanted to spend them actually living.
Nora Ephron’s legacy will undoubtedly start with her brilliant romantic comedies, but during her career, those gems were far from the only thing she accomplished. In fact, she got up to more crazy shit than almost anyone I’ve ever read about. She wrote, blogged, interned, managed, directed, befriended, married, gave birth, quipped and fussed over her wardrobe like a woman possessed. She half-assed nothing and by the end, accomplished everything.
When you remember Nora Ephron, think about her romantic comedies. Think about all the moments of joy her witty, careful dialogue offered, but when you’re done doing that, try to remember the woman in her totality. Ponder the other brilliant elements of her character, her career and her outlook. She was a true and determined original, and she will be missed. In her honor, here are the ten coolest things she got up to during her life…
She Knew Deep Throat's Identity
For the last seven years of Ephron’s life, this juicy tidbit was decidedly less cool because Mark W. Felt outed himself in 2005, but prior to that, only a select group of people knew Deep Throat’s identity, and as journalist Carl Bernstein’s wife for a four year chunk in the late 70s, the director was one of them. A case could be made that for the three plus decades between Nixon’s resignation and the official unmasking, there was no more speculated about secret than this gem, and by going through her husband’s notes and doing a little research, Ephron pieced the entire thing together. The marriage eventually crumbled thanks to his cheating, but there was no unlearning of the secret in the divorce settlement.
She Wrote and Directed You've Got Mail
You’ve Got Mail is one of the most watchable movies I’ve ever seen. It’s like vanilla ice cream or a showerhead with good flow. With a few smiles, a few laughs and a decidedly happy ending, it’s the perfect film to accompany chores. That might sound like an insult, but it actually isn’t. How many movies do you own that you’d gladly watch during almost any occasion? If you say more than ten and you don’t have a DVD/Blu-Ray collection of over two hundred movies, you’re not accurately thinking about this question. It takes a certain pace and a certain tone to be eternally pleasing, and Ephron’s gem exists entirely in that sweet spot. I’ve probably watched You’ve Got Mail thirty times in my life, and apart from the grating AOL noise, not a single moment has ever left me disappointed or wanting more.
She Worked In JFK's White House
During the summer of 1961, Ephron landed a summer internship at the White House during her break from Wellesley. While there, she reportedly helped free the Speaker of the House from a bathroom he got locked inside and somehow avoided being hit on by President Kennedy. It’s unclear which of those feats she was more proud of, but each has a certain charm and brag-ability about it. Besides, even if nothing had happened the entire summer, it’s not like the rest of us can claim to have shared the same space as JFK. In an alternate universe, she probably could have become a hell of a speechwriter, but all things considered, I think she probably made the right call avoiding politics.
She Married The Guy Who Wrote Goodfellas
I’m not sure whether marrying the guy who broke Watergate or the guy who wrote Goodfellas is a bigger brag post, but considering her marriage with Bernstein was a failure and her marriage to Nicholas Pileggi was a rousing success, I think it’s probably best to touch on the latter. The two walked down the aisle and said their I-dos in 1987, and by all accounts, lived happily ever after. As a noted screenwriter and author, he had a unique insight into her profession, and as a fellow Academy Award-nominee, she certainly respected his professional accomplishments. Relationships are about balance. They require give-and-take, and with both having a wide range of interests, the two found plenty of time to bond outside of Hollywood. Like her beloved characters, Ephron found the man she was meant to be with, and she never let go.
She Never Stopped Loving New York City
Nora Ephron grew up in Beverly Hills, but she spent the warm nights dreaming about moving to New York. She was born in the fast-paced city, but her parents, who both worked in the industry, moved her out to California when she was five. When she was able to chart her own course and plan her own living arrangements, she returned to the city and found a job working for the New York Post. For the rest of her life, she celebrated New York every chance she could through movies, essays and plays. Many of her most iconic scenes were filmed on location in the Big Apple, and she lived out the last few years of her life on the Upper East Side, insisting there was no better place on Earth.
She Made Sleepless In Seattle
People often remember Ephron's career as a meteoric rise to stardom, but she actually had more than a few rough patches. Her first attempt at screenwriting, an adaptation of All The President’s Men, was rejected by the studio, and her first directing credit, This Is My Life, made less than three million dollars at the box office. After the latter’s failure in 1992, it was a real question as to whether she’d ever succeed as a director. Luckily for her and her legion of fans, Sleepless In Seattle crushed with moviegoers. To this day, the film remains a beloved romantic comedy and surely the greatest extended commercial for the Empire State Building ever filmed. It's not remembered as the funniest thing Ephron ever wrote, but look at the scene of Tom Hanks and Victor Garber crying over The Dirty Dozen and try and say the woman can't write a funny scene.
She Was Nominated For 3 Oscars
How Nora Ephron never won an Academy Award is one of the great mysteries of our time, but her three nominations are a good indication of how much she was respected by her peers. Plus, considering she only wrote thirteen movies during her life, being nominated three times is actually an incredible success rate. We all know audiences loved Nora Ephron, but her influence within the industry was also legendary. When she talked, people listened, soaking up her advice and little tidbits of information with the gusto most reserve for only those they admire the most. In 2003, she was honored by the Writer’s Guild with the Ian McLellan Hunter Award for her outstanding body of work. I would be shocked if more posthumous awards don’t quickly follow.
She Had 2 Sons
All the accolades in the world mean nothing if you don’t have a loving family to celebrate them with. Ephron understood that, and throughout her life, she worked hard to spend time with those she cared about most. In addition to her husband, her universe revolved around her two lovely sons Jacob and Max Bernstein. The first followed in his mother’s footsteps and became a journalist. He frequently writes in the Style section of The New York Times. The second veered away from the family business and became a working rock musician. Their lives are reflections of their mother’s openness and willingness to push for excellence and originality, and all they accomplish will have at least a hint of her influence.
She Was A Bestselling Author
Most writers who make a name for themselves do so in one medium. Ephron never stopped reinventing herself and looking for new challenges. She started her career writing parodies and quickly transitioned from there into journalism. By the end of her life, she’d written movies, miniseries, plays, blogs, essays and memoirs, all with incredible success. Her most recent works I Feel Bad About My Neck and I Remember Nothing both became immediate bestsellers and further endeared her to scores of readers who loved reading her observations and thoughts about both the grandiose and the mundane. Had she decided to write fortune cookies, I’m sure she would have been great at that too.
She Wrote When Harry Met Sally...
The knock on When Harry Met Sally… after it first came out was that the banter and the writing was a little too clever for its own good. There were too many brilliant one-liners and too many hilarious moments to feel like real life. Maybe that’s true. In fact, it is kind of true. When Harry Met Sally… isn’t real life, but that cleverness and that hilarity are what make fans continually return to it. The film wasn’t the best-reviewed of 1989 or even the most attended, though it did well on both fronts, but over the years, it has turned into one of those movies everyone can use as a frame of reference. Harry and Sally have become the only acceptable way to describe two friends who inexplicably don’t get together, and “I’ll have what she’s having” has become one of the most quoted lines of dialogue in the history of film. Nora Ephron accomplished a ton of wonderful, brilliant, intoxicating things during her lifetime, but nothing approaches the coolness and warmth of When Harry Met Sally…. People will be talking about this movie one hundred years from now, and that, in and of itself, is a sign of a life well lived.
We’ll miss you, Nora—for all the reasons outlined above and dozens more.
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