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Personal Reflections on Nora Ephron

Personal Reflections on Nora Ephron

When I heard that Nora Ephron passed away I sent an email out to a bunch of people in the business asking them to send me their thoughts.  Some knew her, most didn’t, but still loved her.

Here they are (some are edited for length and clarity- some were printed other places first.  The order is random, the affiliations are mine)

I am so sad to have to write this, but in the wake of the awful news that director/screenwriter/journalist and all-around genius Nora Ephron has just died, I want to pay tribute. Nora was my pal from our college days, and we worked on the Wellesley College News together, making trouble and creating journalism and learning what we needed to make our way in the wide, wide world. In New York City she gave me a room in her apartment for a time while I searched for my own; and over the years we also coordinated on various stories, dates and gossip. Nora’s friendship and brilliance were surpassed only by her generosity. When I told her I was working on SWIM and asked whether the wonderful play she and her sister Delia had written (“Love, Loss and What I Wore”) included anything about bathing suits, she said they’d considered it, but passed. And then supplied one of the great lines for women everywhere: “I think the day that you go to buy a bathing suit is the day that even women who like to shop feel like committing suicide.” It’s on page 132.

Thank you, Nora, for a lifetime of wit, wisdom and friendship. A lifetime that should have lasted way, way longer.

Lynn Sherr, writer

On behalf of Women In Film, our members and friends, we are deeply saddened by Nora’s early passing. Although Nora, like many of us, was frustrated by the continuing need to fight for equality for women at a time when we should beyond this obstacle, her writing and directing effortlessly showed us a world in which men and women are equally interesting, smart, funny and provocative – which is the way the world really is and how it should be illuminated in the stories we tell. Her leadership will be missed.”

Cathy Schulman, President, Women In Film

Like so many of us, I was completely blindsided, shaken and deeply sad to hear that Nora Ephron has died. She was a true original, the ultimate New Yorker, and a great writer.

To read anything written by Nora Ephron was to suddenly find oneself in the company of an instantly irreplaceable new best friend– one who spoke in the most entertaining, refreshing manner about the most incredibly interesting things, the things you’d always longed to discuss with someone but never dared bring up. Nora Ephron dared to bring it all up, and always with total honesty and daring, thrilling humor. She had both wisdom and smarts, a virtually unheard of combination. She had a remarkable gift of speaking the truth, and for expressing joy. 

There’s a moment in HEARTBURN where Meryl Streep and Jack Nicholson are in bed, discussing the nightmarishly challenging renovation they’re embroiled in. Then they have sex. Then pretty much as soon as it’s over, Meryl Streep goes back to discussing their contractor.

It’s supremely funny, also sad; it captures something so hard to capture about what it’s really like to be married– it’s something no one else would write. It’s pure Nora Ephron. 

May her soul find the joy and comfort she gave so generously to all of us.

Winnie Holzman, writer

I had the honor of working with Nora on her very first writing/directing debut: This Is My Life.  I was struck by her focus, her determination and her generous decision to let us all improvise almost all of our scenes before shooting. She encouraged and supported and guided us.

I felt that same creative/collaborative force working with her on the workshops of Love Loss and What I Wore a couple summers ago in the Hamptons. Nora’s vision, humor, genius writing and directing, support and friendship will be missed.

She paved the way for many other talented women of vision.

Kathy Najimy, actress

The great thing about Nora was that she could make even the truth funny. Her fierceness and her wit will be much missed.

Erica Jong, writer

I first met Nora in 1987 when we worked together on a film called COOKIE based on a screenplay she had written with Alice Arlen. Nora had not yet directed a movie, but her reputation as a sharp wit was already widely known.  I remember being nervous before our first script meeting.  Worried I would be intimidated by her.  Worried she would make me feel dumb. Worried she would be a tough “broad”.  She was nothing like I expected.  Yes she was smart, yes she was funny, yes she was opinionated — but she was also earthy, collaborative, respectful and generous. 

I learned a few things from Nora. 

That you could be a serious writer (and director) and walk into a creative meeting wearing a fur coat, a little black dress with perfectly coiffed hair and manicured nails and be taken very seriously.

That you can age with style and grace and still be respected in an industry that worships youth. 

That you could be a hardworking filmmaker and still have the time and energy to be a devoted wife and mother.  I knew very few women in the film industry who were juggling work with a busy family life, so I paid particular attention to the way Nora did it.  I remember script meetings at her apartment at the Apthorp where her young sons wandered in and out of the room casually and even joined in whatever conversation we were having without it being a big deal.  This blending of work and family seemed natural and unpretentious. 

I remember script meetings where Nora cooked pasta and discussed story points, effortlessly doing both things well and simultaneously. (I think it was spaghetti carbonara —  she liked bacon.) 

And to this day I remember her practical advice about ordering white wine at a restaurant  — don’t go for the best, go for the coldest.

There are very few female directors who have been able to blend a family life with their professional and creative life with such ease. (BTW, she would have hated being referred to as a “female” director.  She never liked that qualifier.)  But I remember thinking at that time (25 years ago) that this seemingly effortless blending of one’s personal and professional life is something I aspired to.  I don’t have the same skill, wit and panache as Nora — but it’s wonderful to know that this is possible. 

I respected her greatly.

Susan Seidelman, director

I will always think of something Nora said this winter when she accepted an award at the DGA, “I became a director because it was so fucking hard to get a director.”   When I last saw her I told her how meaningful that line was to me and she said “But isn’t it TRUE!?”  Her ability to tell the truth while entertaining was what separated her from the pack. What an incredible inspiration she will be for women forever.

Rachael Horovitz, producer

I’m very shocked and sad. I would have loved to have known her. I love many of her movies and her books as well. Damn.  What is there to say?

Nicole Holofcener, director

Nora was a proper pioneer in the jungle of mainstream Hollywood, her following quote always made me laugh…so true.  “One of the best things about directing movies, as opposed to merely writing them,” she said, “is that there’s no confusion about who’s to blame: you are.”

Lynne Ramsey, director

Julie and Julia is a masterpiece so is Silkwood. Harry Met Sally, all her romantic comedies were glorious. 

I do regret that she said that thing about not wanting to help other women mostly because the press keeps printing it.  I wish they would leave that bit out because I don’t think she meant for it to be just trumpeted around like that, as she was such a lover of women’s stories. I don’t for one second think she was saying women don’t deserve a place at the table.  Her life is a full-blown testament to the vitality and universality of women’s stories.

Theresa Rebeck, writer

Nora was an extraordinary force. Her intelligence made her stories and her films so singular. She didn’t only write about women, she wrote about the differences between men and women, and she did this with a remarkable sense of truth. She inspires all of us to do our best by telling stories that, in the most entertaining ways possible, reflect real people and reflect real life.

Celine Rattray, producer

Words were something I never ran out of when I was with Nora Ephron and yet now, I have none to describe the loss I feel at her passing.

Jessica Capshaw, actress

I am saddened by the passing of Nora Ephron, who as a writer and director always reflected the complexity of our culture, especially women in our modern world. It was a privilege to say her words on stage in LOVE, LOSS AND WHAT I WORE.

That play’s signature self-deprecating and tender tone took me a bit by surprise because the Nora I met 15 years earlier at a casual business dinner was the embodiment of confidence. Or at least that is how I translated her elegant black knit jacket, perfectly layered hair style, her pointed political views, assessment of the chef’s skill and declaration that the key to her marriage was living in separate quarters. Although sly and witty, she was as serious about this as she was about her commitment to good bread

And having not yet married, I could only imagine that the advocacy for this arrangement was based on her previous “heart burn”. But now as a wife, I really understand the wisdom of a room of one’s own. 

And after living with her words in the form of that play, the essays and films, I recognize now that what inspired me was actually more than her self- confidence, it was her confidence in us as women, to be more honest and accepting, to embrace whom and what makes us happy, to prize sisterhood for the gift it is and to maintain our appetite for life and good stories.

As my friend said the only thing that can soothe the sting of her loss is the legacy she left and the tributes being paid in her honor.

Sharon Lawrence, actress

My mother died a month ago, and this has somehow really made it all the more hard for me – as Ephron was a type of wonderful, brilliant funny, inspiring universal Mother and artistic mentor to me – someone I never met – but someone who pushed me forward and gave me hope that a woman’s individual voice could soar. I read HEARTBURN when I was 20 and it spoke to me. Not just the subject, but her breaking form and creating her own way of telling a personal tale. It feels like not only a woman and artist has died, but a zeitgeist. Its not that she will not “live on” in other women’s and men’s work, but it will never be her again.

Erin Cressida Wilson, writer

Vale Nora Ephron.

How sad to lose such a wonderful writer and director (and of course wife, mother,sister..)

Nora was an inspiration to so many young women film makers and writers. Nothing is more powerful than commercial success in the movie business!  And she was a mainstream success, but a success with films that were so insightful about the human condition, stories that could make you laugh and cry. They were hits that were funny and clever, romantic and humane. She demonstrated her own adage: Be the heroine, not the victim.  A friend at a script workshop recently told me they were all asked to think of three movies that you would stay up late watching even if you had a desperately important early appointment the next day.  When Harry Met Sally would definitely be one of mine.  I know because I have done just that more than once. Started watching it and had to watch again till the end.  Those funny, annoying,truthful characters and that story that Nora created will live forever.

So sad there won’t be more.

Gillian Armstrong, director

I met her only once, in an elevator. Her hair was perfect and she knew how to wear a coat — which always impresses those of us who live in Southern California.   She had heard of me, which made me feel like such hot shit. She even called me by my first name, like we were old friends, and said something I can’t recall, wearily and ironic, with my name at the end of it, as if I were included in this feeling she was having.  That was Ephron’s gift as a voice: she made you feel like your name was at the end of each of her observations…you were included.  “Right Allison?”  “Yes, that is exactly right, Nora”.

In addition to all the wonderful writing and some films of hers which I cherish, I recently discovered some sharp, groovy pieces she wrote for Eye Magazine in the 1960s, my favorite magazine ever published.

And I don’t know if it’s true, but I heard she had a Wedgewood sink in her kitchen…to me, that alone set her apart from all other poets.

Allison Anders, director

As a producer of women’s films, I longed to have a Nora Ephron project…. but then, who didn’t!  I had to settle for being a huge fan of her work…but then, who wasn’t!  I found a brand new appreciation for Nora when I listened to her reading her book “I FEEL BAD ABOUT MY NECK” and howled with laughter.  What a great talent!  I plan to have my students study her work in my ‘women’s studies’ class at USC this fall…. and am positive they will learn so much for this incredible role model. 

Bonnie Bruckheimer, producer

I was incredibly saddened by Nora Ephron’s death. I loved her bold voice and her ability to use humor to make statements about the culture and the time she lived in. She used her gifts wisely and produced a wealth of material for us.  She made me laugh–over and over again.

Bobbie Birleffi, director

We’ve lost a pioneer and a gigantic talent.  So very sorry to hear this, but her work lives on.

Kasi Lemmons, director

Nora Ephron inspired me, in ways both big and small. Just knowing she was there, breaking down barriers, fearlessly sharing her humor and her humanity – made me happy. She set the bar high and higher for all of us.
I miss her already.

Beverly Kopf, director

Any woman who makes movies in the Hollywood studio system is a powerful and inspiring trailblazer. A woman like Nora who also did it with grace and humour is nothing short of amazing.

Patricia Rozema, director

When I think of Nora Ephron, I think of two achievements that bracketed her professional life as a woman in film, though neither is one that would immediately spring to mind when her name is mentioned. First, very few people remember that she co-wrote “Silkwood” (with the formidable Alice Arlen), a movie that absolutely stands the test of time for its polemical force, fierce humanity, and dashes of sly humor.

Second, last year she participated in an extraordinary interview with Lena Dunham for the Criterion release of “Tiny Furniture.” It’s so inspiring to see a woman of 70 talking with a woman in her mid-20s with absolute respect, verve and parity. The decades collapse as both these female filmmakers explore common terrain and appreciate the unique voice and spirit of the other. These are less well-known sides of a woman who might not readily call herself apioneer, but absolutely was one.

Katherine Dieckman, director

Yesterday I cried hearing Nora Ephron had died.  Such a talent that gave us smart adult humor, human relationships, and romance that is slowly disappearing on the movie screen.  And she was successful at the box office that proved again and again that there is a intelligent audience that wants to be entertained without frat jokes and nonsense.  Her story lines remind me of the old grand comedies, especially with Tracy and Hepburn.  We will miss her movies that inspired us all to be funny and romantic in our works.  Two human traits we don’t have enough of on the screen.

Aviva Kempner, director

I am in Washington DC visiting my mother and when she saw Nora Ephron’s picture on the cover of the style section of the Washington Post she said “oh god she must have written another book” only to then look close and find out she died.  My mother is heartbroken she didn’t know her personally, but she loved everything she said in interviews and in print.  My mother is 84 and has lost many of her girlfriends.  Today she found out she lost another. We are both sad.

Arleen Sorkin, actress

The Adrienne Shelly Foundation’s mission is to support women filmmakers. And few personify that mission more than Nora Ephron. She was simply one of the best ever, male or female, and will be terribly missed.

Andy Ostroy, Adrienne Shelly Foundation

I first saw Nora Ephron on the Dick Cavett show when I was a teenager. She was smart and witty and self-deprecating, sharing things that women didn’t normally say on television, like imagining your husband is dead so you can fantasize an affair with someone sexier without feeling guilty. She seemed to be the exact opposite of the movie directors who were interviewed, those swaggering confident males who ordered actresses to take off their tops. When she became a director it changed my whole idea of what a director was, redefining a job that had seemed essentially masculine, especially as the very qualities she showed as a young journalist, capturing the small things that define what it is to be human, were what made her work resonate with us all.  Instead of transforming herself to become a director, she transformed the profession.

Joan Carr-Wiggin, director

Whenever I have frustrating days I think of Nora Ephron, a prolific filmmaker who accomplished so much professionally while also raising two children. It is because of her that I know I can pull off this happy juggling act successfully.

Emily Abt, director

I was at a New York Women in Film & Television (NYWIFT) shorts program that was just wrapping up when an audience member walked up to our Executive Director Terry Lawler and shared the news that Nora Ephron had passed.  It was so unbelievably hard to hear–especially after celebrating the fact that these incredible women featured tonight had brought an audience of people together with their work.  This was the kind of news where we were really happy one minute, and the next minute just really stunned and sad. Nora Ephron, our sister, was gone.  She was an incredible gift to NYWIFT.  I will never forget what a thrill it was for me to be present three years ago at NYWIFT’s “A Conversation with Nora Ephron.”  Nora didn’t want a moderator. She stood alone in front of us, and like the good girlfriend she was, just let it all hang out.  So much advice was given. The best was that even if your film gets financed and you’re working on set, the studios still don’t want to make your movie.  She was true grit and New York wit. A New York woman in film whose characters–and character–I will never forget.

Nicole Franklin, director

Nora Ephron was a highly-sensitive (and highly amusing) cultural barometer who could with great accuracy measure the subtlest changes in the atmosphere.

Carrie Rickey, writer

Late last year, the MAKERS project was elated to speak with Ms. Ephron, and capture the magnificent story of a woman with such a lasting legacy.  In moments like these, the mission of the MAKERS project feels even more relevant – to capture the lives of luminary women, providing a platform for their stories to be told.

Nora Ephron spoke about her legacy with MAKERS:

“I look at my life, and I basically made a shift about every ten years or so. Something different: newspaper journalism, freelance writing, screenwriting, directing, doing plays. Women are often able to make changes – to jump to slightly different things – in ways that men often don’t. Women are willing to re-invent themselves, and I think that is one of the secret ways that women are luckier than men.”

We will always remember Nora Ephron, and we are so grateful that she decided to share her ebullient life with us that beautiful day.

Dyllan McGee, director

Two years ago, I sat next to Nora at dinner and we talked about the difficulty of women making films. I had to pinch myself. I was sitting next to the woman who had defined for me the idea that women who didn’t use beauty or sex to define value, could, in spite of so much evidence to the contrary, be successful. Smart. Funny. Funny trumped it all, because to me, if it wasn’t smart, it wasn’t ever going to be funny. Still, that night she shared some hard truths including the insight that being Queen of the Hill was not all it was cracked up to be. There was a film she’d always wanted to do, she explained, but she could not raise financing. She’d tried for years. Decades. Wrap your head around this: Nora Ephron couldn’t make the movie she longed to make. The excuse she was given over and over again was that women’s projects didn’t sell well internationally to the mostly male audiences who consumed action films. She was frustrated. And I thought as I sat there, bowled over by her clear, candid talk from the top of the mountain, Well, you’re Nora Ephron. You’ve got connections and power. You’ve got time on your side. I’ll wait. You’ll figure it out. I didn’t know that she didn’t have time.

Diane Meier, writer

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