Off the Shelf: Ephron’s wit lives on

The world lost a talented writer recently with the death of Nora Ephron, a journalist, humorist, screenwriter and director.

The world lost a talented writer recently with the death of Nora Ephron, a journalist, humorist, screenwriter and director.

She was a gifted wit, with several bestsellers to her credit, but is best known for her film-related work on films such as When Harry Met Sally, Sleepless in Seattle, You’ve Got Mail and Julie & Julia.

Ephron was the eldest daughter of Henry and Phoebe Ephron, both screenwriters, and she and her three sisters grew up in Beverly Hills.

Nora’s sisters, Delia and Amy, are also screenwriters, and her sister Hallie is a journalist, book reviewer, and novelist who writes crime fiction.

Ephron’s parents based Sandra Dee’s character in the play and the Jimmy Stewart film Take Her, She’s Mine on their 22-year-old daughter Nora and her letters to them from college.

After graduating from Wellesley College in 1962, Ephron worked briefly as an intern in the White House of President John F. Kennedy. After a satire she wrote lampooning The New York Post caught the editor’s eye, Ephron landed a job at the Post, where she stayed as a reporter for five years.

Her talent for humorous writing was becoming increasingly popular, so it was not surprising that her first published collections of essays, Wallflower at the Orgy (1970) and Crazy Salad (1975), were well received.

Ephron’s career started to take off in 1983, with the publication of Heartburn, her autobiographic novel about the breakup of her marriage to investigative reporter Carl Bernstein (of Watergate fame).

The thinly disguised events that led to the writing of Ephron’s first novel were her husband’s affair with Margaret Jay, now Baroness Jay of Paddington and a former leader of the House of Lords, then the wife of Peter Jay, the British Ambassador to the U.S. from 1976 to 1979.

Ephron was seven months pregnant with her second child when she discovered Bernstein’s ongoing affair with Jay.

Heartburn was a bestseller, and Ephron went on to write a screen adaptation released in 1986 that starred Jack Nicholson and Meryl Streep. She had already experienced success as a screenwriter, with her first Oscar nomination for Silkwood in 1983.

While that film received much praise, Ephron hit box office gold in 1989 with her screenplay for When Harry Met Sally, which led to another Academy Award nomination.

In 1992, Ephron directed her first film, This is My Life, which was generally well-received, but it was her work writing and directing such hit movies as Sleepless in Seattle (for which she received her third Oscar nomination for screenwriting), You’ve Got Mail, and most recently, Julie and Julia that brought her the most acclaim.

In typical Ephron fashion, she was once quoted as saying,  “One of the best things about directing movies, as opposed to merely writing them, is that there’s no confusion about who’s to blame: you are.”

In 2006, Ephron returned to her essayist roots with I Feel Bad about My Neck: And Other Thoughts on Being a Woman, offering her readers a comic look at aging and other issues.

Another hilarious collection of essays, I Remember Nothing and Other Reflections, followed in 2010.

Ephron died from pneumonia, caused by acute myeloid leukemia, on June 26, 2012, at the age of 71. She is survived by her husband of nearly 25 years, screenwriter Nicholas Pileggi, and her two sons, Jacob and Max Bernstein.

–– Maureen Curry is the chief librarian with the Vernon branch of the Okanagan Regional Library.