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Nora Ephron Dies at 71

Nora Ephron Dies at 71

I’m sitting here reeling from the news that Nora Ephron has died.  No one even knew she was sick and now she is gone.  The loss to movies, and especially to women in movies, cannot be underestimated.  This is a woman who was an Oscar nominated screenwriter three times over for Silkwood, When Harry Met Sally and Sleepless in Seattle.  Not many people can boast one Oscar nomination and she got three.  She was a successful writer who then at 50 became a director.  In a business that prides itself on youth, and precisely speaking, male youth, this woman decided to become a director after a successful career as a journalist and screenwriter.

I loved her debut film This is My Life.  I loved how bold and naive it was.  I love its honesty and its rawness.  I loved that it told a story of a woman’s life.  I met her only once at a recent event where she spoke about the film with Lena Dunham and what I remember most was her pride when talking about Lena.  She was excited to see this young woman blossom.  She was excited to see the next generation of women directors.  She had already seen the whole season of Girls before any of us and she could not stop talking about how good it was. 

Nora Ephron was a woman who directed studio movies.  We can count those women on one hand.  She entered that club when she directed Sleepless in Seattle which she also wrote.  She stayed in that club throughout her whole career all the way to her last film Julie and Julia.  She prided herself in being a writer/director of films that talked about women.   I’m sad that we will never get to to see her direct another film.  She had a Peggy Lee biopic with Reese Witherspoon in the works and also an adaptation of Lost in Austen.

We can’t underestimate how important she was as a role model to women directors.  She got films about women greenlit at the studio level.  Not many women can say that.  The thing about her is that she was unafraid to write about women because that is what she knew.  Her book Heartburn is legendary.  She endeared herself to women when she eviscerated her ex-husband on paper and on screen.  She made many women love her because she made women and women’s experiences matter.   She wrote about and for a generation of women who grew up with feminism with all its pluses and the minuses and she made us women who were younger laugh about what was to come in our futures. 

Most of all she made women count in Hollywood. She was a feminist writer because she cared about writing about women when so few others did. 

One thing to remember is that she actually created some of the most memorable events in movie history.  The orgasm scene in When Harry met Sally.  Unforgettable.  The great radio conversation in Sleepless in Seattle.  She created Meg Ryan’s career — she appeared in four of her films — and Meryl Streep was in three of them playing Nora’s alter ego  in Heartburn and her heroines in Silkwood and Julie and Julia.

It’s going to take a lot more a shocked two hours to put into writing the importance of Nora Ephron to women and to movies.

All I can say is that I am so sad as are most people I have been conversing with this evening.  This is a huge and devastating loss.

Nora Ephron, prolific author and screenwriter, dies at age 71 (Washington Post)

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Lisa Nesselson

Given that we all agree that most of Nora Ephron's creative output was terrific, I "think" you meant to say "We can't OVERestimate…" her contribution rather than: "We can't underestimate how important she was as a role model to women directors."

Carla Zoogman

You put it very well, Melissa – Nora Ephron died? How can that be? I didn't know her, but I feel as though I knew her – partly because of the nature of her work, both in film and in writing. Unlike any other, in her films and books she captured so much about life, life for women, life for women over 50, life in New York, friendship, love, marriage, children, adult children, aging, therapy, food, you name it – and no matter how times you watched her films or read her books, they were still laugh-and-loud funny with those delicious moments of "Yes, that's the way it is."


I thought I knew what we had lost before I read your piece Melissa, now after reading it – I know.


Thank you for this beautiful piece. As a young female screenwriter trying to write romantic-comedies with strong, vulnerable, funny female characters – I'm devastated at the loss of this incredible role model. The best thing we can do to remember her is to continue her work to make women matter in front of and behind the camera. Thanks for helping to make this happen.

Kyna Morgan

Lovely piece, Melissa. I love that you mentioned This is My Life — I saw it as a teenager and have often looked back on it as a small film that made a big point. I think I'll revisit it soon. It's hard to even know how to write this comment, I'm at a loss for words… What an incredible writer, what a great inspiration to the world. Thanks for this post.


A truly wonderful write-up, Melissa. Nora Ephron will be missed…such a great talent, such a great loss.


I understand that you are grieving the loss of this amazing woman and I, too, am sad to hear of her passing. Nevertheless, sadness, shock and "short notice" don't excuse the amount of typos and elementary writing found in your post, Melissa. It takes mere seconds to run a spell check and perhaps 15 minutes to have someone proofread your work. I'm sorry. I know I'm being rude in your time of grief, but I'm tired of seeing careless mistakes proliferating online and in print.


A true role model who forged a hard-fought path for so many of us. Thank you, Nora. You are a true hero to me.


Lovely write-up Melissa. especially for such short notice. thanks. I was shocked to hear of her death as well. You have to admire others wishes if they want to keep private matters private I guess. Rest In Peace Nora <3


A great talent. R.I.P.

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