Nora Ephron


Director, Screenwriter
Nora Ephron

About

Birth Place
New York City, New York, USA
Born
May 19, 1941
Died
June 26, 2012
Cause of Death
Myelodysplasia

Biography

Perhaps one of the most prolific writers to emerge during the latter half of the 20th century, Nora Ephron transitioned from successful journalist and novelist to write and direct what many consider to be among the greatest romantic comedies ever made. Despite being raised by screenwriter parents, Ephron was driven as a young woman to become a journalist, first writing for the New York P...

Family & Companions

Dan Greenburg
Husband
Author. Married on April 9, 1967; divorced.
Carl Bernstein
Husband
Journalist. Born in 1944; married on April 14, 1976; divorced in 1979; Ephron is legally enjoined by the terms of the divorce settlement from using anything about their life together or the children as material in her work.
Nicholas Pileggi
Husband
Author, screenwriter. Married on March 28, 1987.

Bibliography

"The Women Who Write the Movies: From Frances Marion to Nora Ephron"
Marsha McCreadie, Birch Lane Press (1994)
"Nora Ephron Collected"
Avon (1991)
"Crazy Salad Plus Nine"
Nora Ephron (1984)
"Heartburn"
Nora Ephron, Alfred A. Knopf (1983)

Biography

Perhaps one of the most prolific writers to emerge during the latter half of the 20th century, Nora Ephron transitioned from successful journalist and novelist to write and direct what many consider to be among the greatest romantic comedies ever made. Despite being raised by screenwriter parents, Ephron was driven as a young woman to become a journalist, first writing for the New York Post, which she followed by becoming a scathingly witty essayist for the likes of Esquire and New York magazine. Her first collection of essays, Wallflower at the Orgy (1970), was a bestseller, as were all of her subsequent books. After making major news for her divorce from acclaimed journalist Carl Bernstein, which became fodder for her novel, Heartburn, Ephron became an Oscar-nominated screenwriter with her very first effort, "Silkwood" (1983). But it was her script for "When Harry Met Sally " (1989) that set the bar high for all other romantic comedies that would follow. While continuing to write films like "My Blue Heaven" (1990), she also began directing, starting with the beloved "Sleepless in Seattle" (1993), leading to "Mixed Nuts" (1994), "Michael" (1996) and culminating in "You've Got Mail" (1998) and "Julie and Julia" (2009). Ephron remained one of the most revered and respected writer-directors of her day, and fans and colleagues alike were devastated by her death on June 26, 2012.

Born on May 19, 1941 in New York, NY, Ephron was raised by her father, Henry, and mother, Phoebe. Her parents were famous playwright and screenwriting partners known for their work on "Carousel" (1959) and "There's No Business Like Show Business" (1961), as well as their Oscar nomination for "Captain Newman, M.D." (1963). Despite the level of domestic comfort provided by her parents' success, Ephron and her three sisters, Amy, Delia and Hallie, grew up in a dysfunctional home dominated by alcoholism. Intending to avoid following in her parents' footsteps, she chose instead to head East after graduating Beverly Hills High School to attend Wellesley College, where she earned her Bachelor of Arts in journalism in 1962. During her time at Wellesley, Ephron wrote a series of letters to her parents, which they later used as the source material for their play, "Take Her, She's Mine" (1961), a two-act comedy about a precocious and irrepressible young woman who leaves her overprotective father behind to attend college abroad. The play was adapted into a movie in 1963, starring Jimmy Stewart and Sandra Dee, who played the young woman based on Ephron.

Continuing to separate herself from her parents' Hollywood careers, Ephron briefly spent time as a White House intern during the administration of John F. Kennedy before making her way to the Big Apple, where she spent five years as a reporter for the New York Post and was noted for her interview with Bob Dylan after he went electric in 1965. She made her mark at the end of the 1960s and beginning of the 1970s as an essayist and practitioner of the New Journalism that dominated the times. Skewering such pop culture figures as Betty Friedan and Gail Sheehy, Ephron quickly became an in-demand writer, eventually joining the staff of both Esquire and New York magazine. In 1968, a year after she married author Dan Greenburg, Ephron ran afoul of Women's Wear Daily when she wrote a send-up of the fashion magazine for Cosmopolitan, resulting in a lawsuit. Meanwhile, she published her first collection of essays, Wallflower at the Orgy (1970), a droll look at the wild times, pop culture and eccentric personalities of the late 1960s.

Because the idea seemed to be in vogue, Ephron was lured into writing scripts, leading her to contribute to the short-lived sitcom "Adam's Rib" (ABC, 1973). In 1975, she published another best-selling essay collection, Crazy Salad: Some Things About Women. Also that year, she wrote an article for Esquire magazine that eviscerated Dorothy Schiff, publisher of the New York Post, whom she declared was the owner of a "terrible newspaper." A year later, she divorced from Greenburg and chronicled the failed attempt to save her first marriage in the pages of Esquire. Ephron immediately embarked upon a marriage with famed journalist Carl Bernstein, who famously broke the Watergate scandal with Bob Woodward at the Washington Post. For the small screen, she penned the teleplay for "Perfect Gentlemen" (CBS, 1978), a comedy caper about a group of women (Lauren Bacall, Ruth Gordon, Sandy Dennis and Lisa Pelikan) desperately in need of cash who plan a $1 million heist. Meanwhile, Ephron's celebrity marriage ended in divorce after she learned that Bernstein was having an affair with British politician Margaret Jay while she was pregnant with their second son, Max. Ephron later penned Heartburn (1983), a roman a clef that detailed the final two months of her marriage and described Bernstein as someone "capable of having sex with a venetian blind."

While her personal life was in public shambles - her messy divorce was fodder for all the gossip columns during this time - Ephron relented to years of resistance and entered into her parents' profession of choice. Making the segue to the big screen, she came to be known for creating strong central roles for women, as evidenced by the Oscar-nominated script for "Silkwood" (1983), Mike Nichols' biopic of anti-nuclear activist Karen Silkwood (Streep). Ephron joined forces with Nichols for her adaptation of "Heartburn" (1986), which starred Streep as a food critic who embarks on a whirlwind romance with a political columnist (Jack Nicholson), only to have it all fall apart when she learns of his extramarital affair with a socialite (Karen Akers). Thanks to her public heartbreak over Bernstein, Ephron became the face for embittered women spurned by the men who cheated on them, even though she embarked on a long, healthy marriage in 1987 to author and screenwriter, Nicholas Pileggi, best known for adapting his novel Wiseguy into "Goodfellas" (1990). She ventured into the Mafia world herself with the more lighthearted "Cookie" (1989), a gangster comedy about a newly released boss (Peter Faulk) who tries getting to know his illegitimate daughter (Emily Lloyd) by hiring her as his chauffer.

Though she was already a highly successful journalist and screenwriter with an Oscar nomination to her credit, Ephron cemented her place in cinema history with her next screenplay, "When Harry Met Sally " (1989), a romantic comedy that set the bar for all others that followed. Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal played two old friends who find themselves eventually falling in love despite their insistence to remain friends. While the film was chock full of memorable scenes, nothing compared to when Sally (Ryan) faked an orgasm in the middle of Katz' Deli in Manhattan to prove to Harry (Crystal) that men can't tell. The scene was topped by one of the most memorable lines in romantic comedy history, when a nearby customer (the director's real-life mother Estelle Reiner) declared, "I'll have what she's having," after Sally finishes her faux climax. Not only was the movie a huge box office hit, Ephron's script earned her a second Academy Award nomination for Best Original Screenplay. Moving over to the director's chair, Ephron helmed "This Is My Life" (1992), a comedy co-written with sister Delia that starred Julie Kavner as a single mother who struggles to become an established stand-up comic.

Though "This Is My Life" was a critical and box office failure, Ephron bounced back in a big way to write and direct "Sleepless in Seattle" (1993), which she co-wrote with David S. Ward and Jeff Arch. Less about love than about love in motion pictures, the film drew its inspiration from Leo McCarey's tearjerker, "An Affair to Remember" (1957). "Sleepless" starred Tom Hanks as a widower and single dad who calls into a radio talk show to lament about lost love and Meg Ryan as a woman thousands of miles away who falls in love with him after listening to the show. The light romantic comedy helped define both stars' public images, while Ephron score another iconic hit. "Sleepless" also introduced what became a long-standing Ephron trademark of overloading her soundtracks with pop standards designed to easily evoke a particular mood, perhaps cribbed from Reiner's more effective use of Harry Connick, Jr.'s big band interpretations in "When Harry Met Sally..." Meanwhile, she followed up with "Mixed Nuts" (1994), a black comedy about a suicide hot line at Christmas; not surprisingly, it suffered from its holiday release. Despite the presence of Steve Martin and several other comic talents, the ill-timed film was both a commercial and critical bomb.

Ephron bounced back yet again by co-producing, co-writing - with Delia again - and directing John Travolta in the genial "Michael" (1996), a whimsical comedy about a tabloid journalist (William Hurt) investigating the possibility of an angelic visitation, only to discover the Heavenly creature (Travolta) loves cigarettes, food and women while tossing around the occasional miracle. Ephron next rejoined "Sleepless" stars Hanks and Ryan for "You've Got Mail" (1998), which put an Internet spin on Ernst Lubitsch's charming classic "The Shop Around the Corner" (1940) and though it appealed to a huge audience, most critics were less than kind. Ephron and Ryan continued their alliance, though less successfully, this time, with the comedy "Hanging Up" (2000), which matched the actress in a challenging relationship with her aging father (Walter Matthau), and neurotic sisters Lisa Kidrow and Diane Keaton, the latter of whom helmed the film. The movie was adapted from Delia's novel of the same name about a dysfunctional family dealing with the death of a parent. Back in the director's chair, Ephron helmed "Lucky Numbers" (2000), a flat and dismal comedy written by Adam Resnick and starring John Travolta as a small town television weatherman who plans to scam the local lottery. The would-be comedy proved to be one of Ephron's worst efforts to date.

After a lengthy absence from the screen, Ephron directed the feature film version of the classic 1960s sitcom, "Bewitched" (2005), collaborating again with sister Delia on the script. Starring Nicole Kidman, "Bewitched" cast the actress as a reluctant real-life witch trying to give up her reliance on magic, only to find herself cast in the role of Samantha in a Hollywood remake of the television series by a vain washed-up actor (Will Ferrell). The resulting film was generally charming, but ultimately failed to connect with audience, and suffered a savage beating from critics, many of whom despised Ephron's contrived take on the material. Meanwhile, Ephron returned to novels after an even lengthier absence when she published I Feel Bad About My Neck: And Other Thoughts on Being a Woman (2006), a best-selling collection of essays that covered a variety of topics faced by women, including raising children, aging and the death of friends - all with her signature wry wit. She returned to directing with "Julie & Julia" (2009), a winning comedic drama about a frustrated office drone (Amy Adams) who strikes upon the idea to cook all 524 recipes in Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking while chronicling her endeavor on a blog. The film also juxtaposed the struggle the awkward-looking Child (Meryl Streep) faced during her years spent in Paris with her husband (Stanley Tucci). Meanwhile, she published another collection of essays, I Remember Nothing (2010), which poked fun at the aging process. Following two years of Ephron flying under the radar, news broke via friend and newspaper columnist Liz Smith on June 26, 2012 that the writer was gravely ill following a quiet battle with leukemia. The beloved writer-director passed away that same day. She was 71 years old.

Filmography

 

Director (Feature Film)

Julie & Julia (2009)
Director
Bewitched (2005)
Director
Lucky Numbers (2000)
Director
You've Got Mail (1998)
Director
Michael (1996)
Director
Mixed Nuts (1994)
Director
Sleepless In Seattle (1993)
Director
This Is My Life (1992)
Director

Cast (Feature Film)

The Good, The Bad And The Beautiful (1995)
Husbands and Wives (1992)
Crimes And Misdemeanors (1989)

Writer (Feature Film)

Julie & Julia (2009)
Screenplay
Bewitched (2005)
Screenplay
Hanging Up (2000)
Screenplay
You've Got Mail (1998)
Screenplay
Michael (1996)
Screenplay
Mixed Nuts (1994)
Screenplay
Sleepless In Seattle (1993)
Screenplay
This Is My Life (1992)
Screenplay
My Blue Heaven (1990)
Screenplay
When Harry Met Sally... (1989)
Screenplay
Cookie (1989)
Screenplay
Heartburn (1986)
Screenplay
Silkwood (1983)
Screenplay
Perfect Gentlemen (1978)
Screenwriter

Producer (Feature Film)

Julie & Julia (2009)
Producer
Bewitched (2005)
Producer
Hanging Up (2000)
Producer
Lucky Numbers (2000)
Producer
You've Got Mail (1998)
Producer
All I Wanna Do (1998)
Executive Producer
Michael (1996)
Producer
My Blue Heaven (1990)
Executive Producer
Cookie (1989)
Executive Producer
When Harry Met Sally... (1989)
Associate Producer

Music (Feature Film)

Michael (1996)
Song
This Is My Life (1992)
Song

Misc. Crew (Feature Film)

America's Sweethearts (2001)
Other
Heartburn (1986)
Source Material (From Novel)

Director (Special)

The 74th Annual Academy Awards (2002)
Segment Director

Cast (Special)

AFI Life Achievement Award: A Tribute to Meryl Streep (2004)
Intimate Portrait: Rosie O'Donnell (2003)
New York at the Movies (2002)
Lifestory: Rosie O'Donnell (2001)
Interviewee
We All Dream of Oz (2000)
Interviewee
Steve Martin Seriously Funny (2000)
Pride and Prejudice (2000)
Spencer Tracy: Triumph and Turmoil (1999)
Signed, Sealed, Delivered (1998)
Tom Hanks: Hollywood's Golden Boy (1997)

Life Events

1944

Moved with parents to Beverly Hills, CA at age three

1961

Parents Henry and Phoebe Ephron reportedly used her college letters to home as the inspiration for the 1961 Broadway hit "Take Her, She's Mine"

1963

Hired as reporter for the <i>New York Post</i>; also worked as freelance writer, contributing to such publications as <i>The New York Times Magazine</i> and <i>Good Housekeeping</i>

1963

"Take Her, She's Mine" adapted into a feature film starring James Stewart and Sandra Dee

1970

Published first collection of essays <i>Wallflower at the Orgy</i>

1972

Named a columnist and contributing editor at <i>Esquire</i> magazine

1973

Wrote for the short-lived ABC sitcom "Adam's Rib"

1973

Named contributing editor at <i>New York</i> magazine

1974

Promoted to senior editor at <i>Esquire</i>

1975

Published second collection of essays <i>Crazy Salad: Some Things About Women</i>

1978

Wrote the CBS movie "Perfect Gentlemen," starring Lauren Bacall

1983

Co-wrote first screenplay "Silkwood," directed by Mike Nichols and starring Meryl Streep; earned first Academy Award nomination for Best Original Screenplay

1983

Published first novel <i>Heartburn</i>, which was loosely based on the break-up of her second marriage to Carl Bernstein

1986

Penned screenplay adaptation of "Heartburn," directed by Nichols, and starring Streep and Jack Nicholson

1989

Garnered second Academy Award nomination for writing "When Harry Met Sally..."; film directed by Rob Reiner, and co-starring Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan

1989

Made a cameo as a wedding guest in Woody Allen's "Crimes and Misdemeanors"

1992

Made feature directorial debut with "This Is My Life"; also co-wrote with sister Delia Ephron

1992

Played a dinner party guest in Woody Allen's "Husbands and Wives"

1993

Re-teamed with Meg Ryan to direct her and Tom Hanks in the hit romantic comedy "Sleepless in Seattle"; also co-wrote, earning third Best Original Screenplay Academy Award nomination

1994

Directed the critically panned "Mixed Nuts"; re-teamed with sister Delia to write the screenplay

1996

Produced and directed the comedy "Michael," starring John Travolta; also co-wrote with sister Delia

1998

Re-teamed with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan for romantic comedy "You've Got Mail"; co-wrote screenplay with sister Delia

2000

Produced and co-wrote screenplay (with sister Delia) for "Hanging Up"; film directed by Diane Keaton, who also co-starred with Meg Ryan and Lisa Kudrow

2002

Scripted first play "Imaginary Friends," about the relationship between writers Lillian Hellman and Mary McCarthy; first premiered at the Old Globe Theatre in San Diego, CA before moving to Broadway's Ethel Barrymore Theatre

2005

Directed the big screen adaptation of the 1960s classic TV series "Bewitched," starring Nicole Kidman and Will Ferrell; also produced and co-wrote with sister Delia

2006

Wrote the book <i>I Feel Bad About My Neck: And Other Thoughts on Being a Woman</i>

2009

Re-teamed with star Meryl Streep to direct "Julie & Julia"; also produced and penned the screenplay adaptation of Julie Powell's book about cooking 524 recipes from Child's <i>Mastering the Art of French Cooking</i>

2010

Published the collection of essays titled <i>I Remember Nothing: And other Reflections</i>

Videos

Movie Clip

Cookie (1989) - Angelo And Vinnie Brought You? Director Susan Seidelman working on location in star Peter Falk’s home town (Sing Sing prison in Osinning, New York) for his first scene, as mobster Dino explaining to his very estranged daughter (Emily Lloyd, title character) why he sent his lawyers to her misdemeanor trial, Tony LaFortezza as goon Angelo, Thomas Quinn driving, in Cookie, 1989.
Cookie (1989) - Like We're A Normal Family After 15 years hard time mobster Dino (Peter Falk) rejoins his nervous mistress Lenore (Dianne Wiest) and their troublesome daughter (Emily Lloyd, title character), in Cookie, 1989, directed by Susan Seidelman from the original script by Nora Ephron and Alice Arlen.
Sleepless In Seattle (1993) - Not Even When I Was Young Leaving her parents’ Christmas dinner in (Annapolis) Maryland, having just announced their engagement, Walter (Bill Pullman) and Annie (Meg Ryan) head back to Washington D.C. in separate cars, and she hears Jonah (Ross Malinger) call the radio show (Caroline Aaron the host) on behalf of his widowed dad (Tom Hanks), early in Sleepless In Seattle, 1993.
Sleepless In Seattle (1993) - A Million Tiny Little Things Christmas Eve after dark, hesitant bride-to-be Annie (Meg Ryan) stops by a Baltimore diner where the staff (Linda Walem, LaTanya Richardson) are listening to the same radio show she heard in the car, Caroline Aaron the host, Tom Hanks the reluctant widowed dad Sam, in Sleepless In Seattle, 1993.
Sleepless In Seattle (1993) - Men Never Get This Movie! Writer-director Nora Ephron, Meg Ryan as Annie (engaged to “Walter”) and Rosie O’Donnell as pal Becky dig into director Leo McCarey’s An Affair To Remember, 1957, with Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr, while Meg considers a letter to the widowed father (Tom Hanks) she heard on the radio, in Sleepless In Seattle, 1993.
Sleepless In Seattle (1993) - All I Could Say Was Hello (Significant SPOILER!) Meg Ryan as (otherwise) engaged Annie is benevolently stalking Tom Hanks, as single-dad Sam, (with Ross Malinger as his son and Rita Wilson, Tom’s real-life wife, as his sister, though Meg assumes she’s a girlfriend), then explaining to Becky (Rosie O’Donnell) back in Baltimore, leading to a second reference to Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr, in An Affair To Remember, 1957, in Sleepless In Seattle, 1993.
Daddy Long Legs (1955) - Jervis Pendleton III Part of the first scene for playboy-businessman Jervis Pendleton (Fred Astaire, at his drum set) with aide Griggs (Fred Clark), the tune Drum Solo by Skip Martin, in Daddy Long Legs, 1955.
Carousel (1956) - If I Loved You On the evening of their first meeting, having just lost their jobs for excessive flirting, carnival barker Billy (Gordon MacRae) and mill worker Julie (Shirley Jones) in their first duet, from the 20th Century Fox production of Rodgers and Hammerstein's Carousel, 1956.

Trailer

Family

Henry Ephron
Father
Playwright, screenwriter. Born on May 26, 1912; died on September 6, 1992.
Phoebe Ephron
Mother
Playwright, screenwriter. Born on January 26, 1914; died in October 1971 of cirrhosis of the liver.
June Gale
Step-Mother
Delia Ephron
Sister
Novelist, screenwriter. Born on July 12, 1944 1944; co-wrote screenplay for "This Is My Life" (1991) with Nora Ephron.
Hallie Ephron
Sister
Computer company manager, author. Born on March 9, 1948.
Amy Ephron
Sister
Novelist, screenwriter. Born on October 21, 1952.
Jacob Bernstein
Son
Born c. 1978; father, Carl Bernstein.
Max Bernstein
Son
Born in December 1979; father, Carl Bernstein.

Companions

Dan Greenburg
Husband
Author. Married on April 9, 1967; divorced.
Carl Bernstein
Husband
Journalist. Born in 1944; married on April 14, 1976; divorced in 1979; Ephron is legally enjoined by the terms of the divorce settlement from using anything about their life together or the children as material in her work.
Nicholas Pileggi
Husband
Author, screenwriter. Married on March 28, 1987.

Bibliography

"The Women Who Write the Movies: From Frances Marion to Nora Ephron"
Marsha McCreadie, Birch Lane Press (1994)
"Nora Ephron Collected"
Avon (1991)
"Crazy Salad Plus Nine"
Nora Ephron (1984)
"Heartburn"
Nora Ephron, Alfred A. Knopf (1983)
"Scribble, Scribble: Notes on the Media"
Nora Ephron, Alfred A. Knopf (1979)
"Crazy Salad: Some Things About Women"
Nora Ephron, Alfred A. Knopf (1975)
"Wallflower at the Orgy"
Nora Ephron, Viking (1970)