Nora Ephron – A True Wit

Words by Naomi Jeffreys

Yesterday, Nora Ephron, writer, director and a film maker who has warmed many peoples hearts, passed away of leukemia, aged seventy one. I felt it would be appropriate to show what a fantastic and illustrious career she had, making the careers of Tom Hanks, Meg Ryan, Billy Crystal and Rosie O’Donnell.

Nora Ephron was born on May 19 1941, in the Manhattan borough of New York City. Her parents were both screenwriters. She graduated from Beverly Hills High School in 1958 and became interested in journalism, she majored in political science and wrote for the weekly newspaper at Wellesly College from which she graduated in 1962.

Ephron remained interested in journalism for a number of years, she and a group of friends started a satirical newspaper, her parodies of the New York Post secured her a position on the actual newspaper. While married to Carl Bernstein, in the 1970s, she was asked to re-write William Goldman’s script for All the President’s Men, although the script was not used, it is seen as Eprhon’s first screenwriting job, for a television film.

Ephron’s first writing success was When Harry Met Sally (1989, pictured below) a romantic comedy directed by Rob Reiner and starring Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan. This is one of those films which warms the heart, is funny, but has a grounded central story. The famous line: “Men and women can never be friends because the sex part always gets in the way.” Is something which both sexes can relate to, and is one of those films which just has to be seen, a true Hollywood classic.

Unfortunately, Ephron’s first directorial debut, This is My Life (1992) about the struggles of a single mother working as a stand up comic was a box office dissapointment. But, this blip in her soon to be fruitful career seemed to make Ephron more determined that her next project was going to ‘make or break’ her in Hollywood.

And, make her it did. Her next film was the wonderful Sleepless in Seattle (1993, pictured above), was co written by Nora Ephron and her younger sister, Delia. As director, Ephron cast Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks. The lyrical language which is woven throughout the film is perhaps what makes the film so pleasing for audiences; “At one point I looked down, at our hands, and I couldn’t tell which fingers were mine and which were his.” “It’s like…magic”. Through Sleepless, which was an enormous success, for everyone involved and had now established Ephron was one of the foremost creator of romantic comedies.

Her next film, Mixed Nuts (1994) was a commercial disappoinment, but Michael ( 1996), which starred John Travolta as an angel enjoyed a solid success at the box office.

In You’ve Got Mail (1998, pictured above) she teamed up with her favourite stars, Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan in a contemporary variation on the classic comedy, The Shop Around the Corner (1940). Ephron’s style is cemented in this film, proving her as a true Auteur. The light comedy, the snappy dialogue and the emotional centre is at the heart of Mail and is a film which warms the audience’s hearts, like all of Ephron’s films. And, again, the film proved to be another box office smash.

In the following years, Ephron pursued a number of projects, writing for the stage in Imaginary Friends, based on the turbulant rivalry between writers Lillian Hellman and Mary McCarthy. Her next offbeat film adaptation of the 1960s telvesion series Bewitchedwhich starred Will Ferrell and Nicole Kidman.

Her last film was Julie and Julia (2009), which told the parallel stories of prominent food writer Julia Child and Julie Powell, a contemporary woman, who is stuck in an employment rut, and intends to cook her way through Julia Child’s classic Mastering the Art of French Cooking. The film starred Ephron’s friend and previous collaborator, Meryl Streep, as Julia Child and Amy Adams as Julie Powell. Again, Ephron was able to tap in to the audience’s emotional core, and her love of food, New York City and her love of love is shown once again, in her final film.

Following the news of her death, her friends, colleagues and admirers in Hollywood have all sung praise of this wonderful film maker, who will always be able to remind us of the things which truly matter, love, food and life:

“Nora Ephron was a journalist/artist who knew what was important to know; how things really worked, what was worthwhile, who was fascinating and why. At a dinner table and on a film set she lifted us all with wisdom and wit mixed with love for us and love for life. Rita and I are so very sad to lose our friend who brought so much joy to all who were lucky enough to know her…” – Tom Hanks.

“Nora was an era. We pictured ourselves inside her dreams and they became ours. All wisdom, wit and sparkle lights, what a treat she was, what a blessing. I marvel again and again, what a life… To have created a simple happiness in people, to have added to the sum of delight in the world.” – Meg Ryan

“I am very sad to learn of Nora’s passing. She was a brilliant writer and humorist. Being her Harry to Meg’s Sally will always have a special place in my heart. I was very lucky to get to say her words.” – Billy Crystal

“I am devastated. Nora was a close friend and will be missed terribly.” – Rosie O’Donnell.

Much like the ending of You’ve Got Mail, Ephron is probably ‘Somewhere over the rainbow, way up high’

‘And the dreams that you dare to dream really do come true’.

You taught us that our dreams could come true. So thank you, Nora Ephron, you will be missed.


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