In time, Ms. Ephron became a social confederate of New York playwrights, filmmakers and wits, including Mike Nichols, Woody Allen and Calvin Trillin; Washington journalists including former Post executive editor Benjamin Bradlee and his journalist wife, Sally Quinn; and a Hollywood coterie that included Rob Reiner, Tom Hanks, Steve Martin and Steven Spielberg.
As a woman in the male-dominated movie business, Ms. Ephron was a rare “triple-hyphenate” as writer, director and producer. But making movies for and about women was a battle, at times. She observed how, to male studio moguls, “a movie about a woman’s cure for cancer is less interesting than a movie about a man with a hangnail.”
From her early years as a journalist for Esquire and New York magazines, Ms. Ephron was regarded as a keen cultural barometer. She repeatedly channeled her interest in the zeitgeist to the screen. Her last film, “Julie & Julia” (2009), starring Meryl Streep as the French-cooking apostle Julia Child and Amy Adams as a modern disciple, explored the trendy fascination with blogging and gourmet cooking.
Ephron was often ahead of the cultural dialogue. After the announcement of her death, a poignant commencement speech she gave in 1996 began circling the Internet on the debate about women “having it all,” which had flamed again in recent days, says Katherine Boyle of Style Blog:
In it, the prolific writer weighs in on the question of the moment, proving that her best assets — irony and comedic timing — will continue to live on in her work.
“Maybe young women don’t wonder whether they can have it all any longer, but in case any of you are wondering, of course you can have it all. What are you going to do? Everything, is my guess. It will be a little messy, but embrace the mess. It will be complicated, but rejoice in the complications. It will not be anything like what you think it will be like, but surprises are good for you. And don’t be frightened: You can always change your mind. I know: I’ve had four careers and three husbands.”
Her films have often been hailed as some of the best in the genre of romantic comedies. Jen Chaney of Celebritology says its hard for new releases to stack up to the much-loved flick, “When Harry Met Sally,”:
Every time we plunk down $10 to $14 and walk into a stadium-seating auditorium to watch one of those rom-coms, we hope that this time, someone succeeded. But 9.89 times out of 10, they don’t. That’s partly because Hollywood executives seem to think that what we want from contemporary love stories is predictable, insulting pablum that stars interchangeably recognizable female stars as the gorgeous yet shockingly clumsy protagonist d’jour.
But most of these movies also can’t meet or exceed the “Harry Met Sally...” bar for another reason: because Ephron’s screenplay is basically perfect.
Obviously Rob Reiner’s direction and contributions to the script also were key to the film’s effortless charms, as were its performances, particularly by leads Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan. I never in a million years would have pictured those two as a couple if this film did not exist. But now, despite Ryan’s previous relationships and Crystal’s long, happy marriage to his wife Janice, I will forever hang on to the image of Crystal and Ryan — Harry and Sally — together, in love, with their frizzy, late ‘80s hair and their mutual agreement that the chocolate sauce for their wedding cake needed to be served on the side.
“On the side” is a very big thing in this movie. So is high-maintenance. Did anyone use the term high-maintenance on a regular basis until this movie came out? No, no one did. Then everyone started to categorize everyone else using that as a metric — “An L.M. Definitely.” — so that by the time the early ‘90s rolled around, you pretty much knew where you stood on the Nora Ephron maintenance divide.
Colleagues and fans have shown an outpouring of emotion and memories of her career. Friends, like Sally Quinn, remembered her originality and talents:
Soon after, she began writing her books — “Wallflower at the Orgy” and “Scribble Scribble,” collections of her columns that took New York by storm. She became an editor and writer at Esquire, writing talked-about essays, among them a well-known piece about her breasts. Watergate brought us closer. She and Greenburg had divorced, and she and Carl Bernstein had gotten together about the same time my husband, Ben Bradlee, and I did. (She later would become godmother to our son, Quinn.) Nora moved to Washington, but she was a New York girl all the way; the minute she and Carl split up, she moved back to New York.
Divorced with two babies, she wrote the best-selling book “Heartburn” about the end of her second marriage, then turned it into a script. The movie, directed by Mike Nichols and starring Meryl Streep, put Nora on the map as a screenwriter, and she went on to write many more films, including “When Harry Met Sally,” “Silkwood” and “Julie and Julia.” Nora was not openly sentimental, except in her movies. If you want to know what she was really like, just look at the fairy-tale happy endings in her romantic comedies. Yes, she was sharp and clever and witty and brilliant. But that was a total cover for the hopelessly sentimental person she was.
More on Nora Ephron:
Sally Quinn shares memories of her friendship with Nora Ephron
Nora Ephron, prolific author and screenwriter, dies at age 71
Nora Ephron: A Writer's Writer
A tribute to ‘When Harry Met Sally...,’ the Nora Ephron rom-com all other rom-coms try to match
Nora Ephron’s thoughts on ‘having it all’