MY FIRST NORA EPHRON media column was her last. It appeared in the July 1977 Esquire magazine, which encountered at my dentist. She had been writing about the media for two years at that point, but it had also been two years since my last trip to the dentist.
In that memorable column. Ephron took note of the increasing tendency of journalists to become celebrities, and hypothesized that "the celebrity pool has expanded in order to provide names to fill the increasing number of column inches currently devoted to gossip; this is my own theory, and I use it to explain all sorts of things, one of whom is Halston.
"I an tired of the first person singular pronoun," she added. "I am also tired of my own first person singular pronoun." And then, the bomshell: "I figure that if I stop writing a column for a while, it will reduce the number of first person singular pronouns in circulation by only a hair; still, it seems like the noblest thing I can do this week."
Who could not applaud the sentiments behind Ephron's decision to retire from the hurly-burly of media criticism? Yet the timing, it seemed to me, was deplorable. She was closing up shop just when I had discovered the goodies to be obtained there (goodies like "one of whom is Halston"). So I was pleased to learn, and am pleased to report, that despite Ephron's desire to forget she ever wrote those essays full of the first person singular and elevating many an obsure journalist (i.e. Christine Turpin, ace reporter for the Ontario Apartments newsletter) to celebrity status, her columns have now been collected into a book - presumably against her will. And the considerable promise of that final column is amply borne out by those that precede it.
There is nothing at all amiss with the pieces about such large and important media outlets as The New York Times, the Columbia Broadcasting System, and Daniel Schorr. Where Ephron really shines, however, is on the subject of less imposing institutions like the Palm Beach Social Pictorial and Gourmet magazine.
The Palm Beach Social Pictorial, one of the world's upbeat newspapers by Ephron's account, is published in Palm Beach, Florida, where the rich are different not just from you and me but from the rich everywhere else. Ephron is particularly fond - and who can be blame her? - of a former Pictorial columnist named Maria Durell Stone, who once wrote: "I've done nothing but praise the Poinciana Club since it opened, but being a critic means that every now and then one must speak the truth and I am sorry to say it, but Bavarian Night there was a disaster."
Another non-mass-audience publication whose pages Ephron has opened to wider scrutiny Gourmet magazine. "After the centerfold," says Ephron, "I always turn to a section called 'Sugar and Spice.' This is the letters-to-the editor department, and by all rights it should be called just plain 'Sugar.' I have seen a letter in GOurmet that was remotely spicy . . ."She goes on to quote a letter from Margy Newman of Beverly Hills: "Sirs [writes Newman], recently I found myself with two ripe bananas, an upcoming weekend out of town, and an hour until dinnertime. With one eye on my food processor and the other on some prunes, I proceeded to invent Prune Banana Whip Newman."
As a nongourmet residing outside the greater Palm Beach metropolitan area, it seems to me that Ephron has performed an invaluable service in escorting her readers into these exotic and forbidding periodicals. She has also identified some of the real moral dilemmas faced by those who plod in the journalistic trenches. In "Richard M. Collins and the Spaghetti Recipe," for instance, Ephron recounts the riveting saga of a restaurant critic who managed, through a series of what undoubtedly seemed to him to be reasonable decisions, to land himself in the moral equivalent of the Black Hole of Calcutta.
As I am writing this review, spraying my own first person singular pronoun wantonly across the page, something called "Perfect Gentlemen" has lit up on my television set. It is a made-for-TV movie with Lauren Bacall, Sandy Dennis and Ruth Gordon, and they are speaking words written for them by Nora Ephron. The words are funny. The author is funny. She can use her first person singular pronoun whenever and wherever she likes.