Sad news this evening, as writer, screenwriter, and director Nora Ephron has passed away at the age of 71.
It’s hard to imagine the modern romantic comedy without the influence of Ephron, whose perceptive and humorous take on how the sexes interact set a template for a generation. It was Ephron’s sense of humor that first got her noticed, pairing with (now celebrated writer) Calvin Trillin for a satirical newspaper that caught the eye of New York Post publisher Dorothy Schiff, who offered her a job. This began Ephron’s journalism career that saw her write for a variety of publications including New York, Esquire, and The New York Times Magazine. In 1976, Ephron married Carl Bernstein of Watergate fame, and even did a draft of the screenplay for “All The President’s Men” that ultimately wasn’t used, but again, someone saw her talent and gave her a shot.
Following a gig writing a TV movie (“Perfect Gentlemen” starring Lauren Bacall and Ruth Gordon), Ephron made her first major wave penning “Silkwood” starring Meryl Streep, earning her and the film’s stars Oscar nominations. “Heartburn” (based on her memoir following her divorce from Bernstein) and “Cookie” followed, but it was 1989’s “When Harry Met Sally…” where she would arguably leave one the works for which she will long be remembered. Based on an idea director Rob Reiner had, Ephron spent years working on the script, and interviewed both Reiner and producer Andy Scheinman about their lives to help build the character of Harry. And this technique continued throughout the process of writing, with Ephron interviewing people who worked for the production company, with this material inspiring the interludes that later appeared in the film. There is the now infamous deli sequence that began with Ephron suggesting Harry and Sally talk about fake orgasms, and was developed into the beloved scene we know today.
Ephron’s sharp writing found fans in two frequent leading ladies—Meg Ryan, who appeared in “When Harry Met Sally,” “Sleepless In Seattle” and “You’ve Got Mail” (the latter pair Ephron directed and both starred Tom Hanks)—and Streep, who reteamed with the writer/director for “Julie & Julia” in 2009, which became a box office hit and landed the actress yet another Oscar nomination.
Sharp, smart, and imbued with genuine warmth, Ephron allowed the leads in her films to be flawed, which made them all the more endearing to the audiences who fell in love with her films. While not all her efforts met with success (“Michael,” “Mixed Nuts“) the films that do stand out are already landmarks of the genre, displaying some of the best writing and directing romantic comedies have ever seen. Particularly in the wake of the massive success of “Bridesmaids” and “Girls,” the women behind those shows, undoubtedly owe a small token of thanks to Ephron who helped push open the door, particularly at a time when women were even more marginalized within Hollywood.
Even as she battled leukemia, which sadly took her life, Ephron continued to write essays, blog, and, as Scott Rudin shared with the New York Times, it was only two weeks ago she was working on a potential TV pilot. Survived by her sons Jacob and Max Bernstein, her husband Nicholas Pileggi and her sisters Delia Ephron, Amy Ephron and Hallie Ephron, Nora Ephron’s voice is one that will truly be missed.