Nora Ephron, who gained a devoted following for her perceptive, deeply personal essays and parlayed that renown into a screenwriting career of wistful romantic comedies such as “When Harry Met Sally” and “You’ve Got Mail,” the marital exposé“Heartburn” and the whistleblower drama “Silkwood,” died June 26 at a hospital in New York. She was 71.
The death was confirmed by her friend Richard Cohen, a Washington Post columnist. She died of complications from the blood disorder myelodysplasia, which was diagnosed six years ago.
As a young woman, Ms. Ephron modeled her self-deprecating and deadpan writing style on Dorothy Parker, part of the Algonquin Round Table of sophisticated New York writers and humorists that also included Robert Benchley and S.J. Perelman. Of the philandering husband in her 1983 novel “Heartburn” — modeled on her marriage to former Washington Post journalist Carl Bernstein — Ms. Ephron wrote he was “capable of having sex with a Venetian blind.”
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.
In “Silkwood” (1983), a biographical drama directed by Nichols and starring Streep as a plutonium plant employee and union activist, Ms. Ephron tapped into the era’s fear of nuclear meltdowns and corporate coverups. Her novel and 1986 screenplay for “Heartburn” — which starred Streep and Jack Nicholson — reflected what countless other women were experiencing through their disappointing marriages and efforts to balance career ambitions with homemaking obligations.