Authors: Nora Ephron

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

American screenwriter and essayist

Author Works

Screenplays:

Silkwood, 1983 (with Alice Arlen)

Heartburn, 1986 (adaptation of her novel)

When Harry Met Sally . . . , 1989

Cookie, 1989 (with Arlen)

My Blue Heaven, 1990

This Is My Life, 1992 (with Delia Ephron)

Mixed Nuts, 1993

Sleepless in Seattle, 1993 (with Jeff Arch)

Michael, 1996 (with others)

You’ve Got Mail, 1998 (with Delia Ephron)

Hanging Up, 2000 (with Delia Ephron)

Long Fiction:

Heartburn, 1983

Drama:

Imaginary Friends, pr. 2002 (music by Marvin Hamlisch, lyrics by Craig Carnelia)

Nonfiction:

And Now Here’s Johnnie, 1968

Wallflower at the Orgy, 1970

Crazy Salad: Some Things About Women, 1975

Scribble, Scribble: Notes on the Media, 1978

Crazy Salad Plus Nine, 1984

Miscellaneous:

Nora Ephron Collected, 1991

Biography

Nora Ephron (EHF-ron) was born into a literary family: Her father, Henry, and her mother, Phoebe (née Wolkind), both wrote stage plays and screenplays. Two of her three younger sisters, Delia and Amy, are also writers; only the third Ephron daughter, Hallie, has not followed in the family tradition. Ephron’s parents wrote a hit play, Three’s a Family, based on life with Nora when she was two years old, and later a successful play, Take Her, She’s Mine, based on her letters from college. Ephron has said that her mother also encouraged her to write from a personal perspective, telling her “Take notes. Everything is copy.”{$I[AN]9810001937}{$I[A]Ephron, Nora}{$I[geo]WOMEN;Ephron, Nora}{$I[geo]UNITED STATES;Ephron, Nora}{$I[tim]1941;Ephron, Nora}

When Ephron was three years old, the family moved from New York to Beverly Hills. An intelligent, skinny teenager, Ephron felt unattractive in the glamorous California community where young women were rewarded more for beauty than for brains. As soon as she graduated from high school, she returned to the East Coast. After obtaining her B.A. at Wellesley College in 1962, she worked for several years as a reporter for the New York Post, then freelanced until 1972, when she became a columnist and contributing editor at Esquire. In 1973 she moved to New York in the same capacities. At both magazines her writing concentrated on women and the feminist movement. Witty, ironic, and perceptive, Ephron covered topics ranging from college reunions and cooking contests to the impact of breast size, and she profiled newsworthy women ranging from Julie Nixon Eisenhower to pornographic movie star Linda Lovelace. Many of these essays were collected in her book Crazy Salad: Some Things About Women. Returning to Esquire in 1974 as senior editor and columnist, she turned her attention to the media, the subject of her third book of essays.

Ephron’s first marriage, to humorist Dan Greenburg, ended in divorce in 1967. In 1976 she married journalist Carl Bernstein, renowned for his role in exposing the Watergate political scandal. Ephron and Bernstein were a popular, high-profile couple in East Coast literary and social circles. The marriage collapsed in scandal in 1979, however, after Bernstein announced to Ephron, seven months pregnant with their second child, that he was in love with the wife of the British ambassador, with whom he had already begun an affair. The shock to Ephron caused the premature birth of their child. Emotionally devastated and financially insecure, Ephron followed her mother’s earlier advice with a vengeance, openly basing Heartburn, her successful roman à clef, on the breakup.

Heartburn is a humorous but acerbic novel and is highly unflattering to Bernstein. After its publication Bernstein went to court to try to stop Ephron from making it into a motion picture, but the film was produced in 1986. Heartburn effectively marked the end of the journalistic phase of Ephron’s career; enjoined by the terms of her divorce settlement from using other material about her marriage to Bernstein or facts about their children in her work, she turned her talents to screenplays and, later, directing.

Ephron’s first produced screenplay, Silkwood, coauthored with Alice Arlen, is atypical of Ephron’s work. Silkwood, a stark, political drama, is based on the true story of Karen Silkwood, a plutonium-rod factory worker who starts to expose the evidence of dangerous manufacturing practices and dies in a mysterious car crash shortly thereafter. The film was nominated for the Academy Award for best original screenplay in 1984.

Ephron’s next motion picture success came with When Harry Met Sally . . . . This light, charming romantic comedy showed that her talent for capturing people and relationships in urban society was not confined to acerbically witty jabs. She was again nominated by the Motion Picture Academy for best original screenplay for this work.

Ephron made her directorial debut with This Is My Life, a screenplay she wrote with her sister Delia, with whom she has collaborated on other projects. Ephron is known as a take-charge person, and many have commented that it is not surprising that she would want to direct films rather than merely writing screenplays over which she had no control in the production phase. The motion picture, based on a novel by Meg Wolitzer, is about a single mother who sells cosmetics in a department store while she tries to develop a career as a stand-up comic. Of This Is My Life Ephron has said, “I was . . . the logical person to make it. I grew up with a mother who worked. It’s a movie about sisters, and about using your life as part of your work, and what the effect is on your family when you do that. On every single level it was my movie.”

Ephron’s next successful film was Sleepless in Seattle. Unlike When Harry Met Sally . . . , which was clearly grounded in the Woody Allen tradition of contemporary films about urban relationship angst, Sleepless in Seattle paid tribute to an earlier generation of unabashedly romantic motion pictures, in particular An Affair to Remember (1957), which affected Ephron when she saw it as a teenager. Sleepless in Seattle, according to Ephron, has as its subtext the issue of how the motion pictures that people see animate their ideas of love.

In the mid-1990’s, Ephron lived in a Manhattan apartment with her third husband, writer Nicholas Peleggi, and her two sons from her marriage to Bernstein. In 2002, her first stage play, Imaginary Friends, was produced. The play focuses on the biting relationship of two intelligent and witty female literary giants, Lillian Hellman and Mary McCarthy, and opened to wide acclaim.

BibliographyAbramowitz, Rachel. Is That a Gun in Your Pocket? Women’s Experience of Power in Hollywood. New York: Random House, 2000. Ephron is among the Hollywood women interviewed and assessed in this sweeping work.Bennetts, Leslie. “Nora’s Arc.” Vanity Fair 55, no. 2 (February, 1992): 76. Discusses Ephron’s directorial debut.Ephron, Henry. We Thought We Could Do Anything: The Life of Screenwriters Phoebe and Henry Ephron. New York: W. W. Norton, 1977. Ephron’s father relates the story of his and his wife’s lives and careers, including material on Nora’s childhood and social life. The book contains Henry Ephron’s occasional comments on Nora’s adult sense of herself, as well as an epilogue by Nora Ephron in which she discusses her mother as a role model.Ephron, Nora. “Ephron.” Interview by Peter Biskind. Premiere, 1996, 106. Ephron discusses her career in motion pictures and her relationship to Hollywood.Ephron, Nora. “Nora Ephron: The Us Interview.” Interview by Nancy Collins. Us 253 (February, 1999): 60. A detailed interview conducted after the release of You’ve Got Mail, includes discussions of Ephron’s childhood, relationships, other biographical information, and photographs.Ephron, Nora. “This Is Their Lives.” Interview by Wendy Wasserstein. Harper’s Bazaar 126, no. 3378 (June, 1993): 50. An interview with Ephron by the noted feminist playwright.Palmer, William J. The Films of the Eighties: A Social History. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1993. With chapters such as “The Yuppie Texts” and “Neoconservative Feminist Texts,” this social and political analysis covers films of the time period. Admiring Silkwood for its working-class and anti-corporate perspective and its accuracy, the author sees Heartburn as a yuppie film in which having a good job makes up for personal failings.Walker, Nancy. “Ironic Autobiography: From The Waterfall to The Handmaid’s Tale.” Women’s Studies 15, nos. 1-3 (1988): 203-220. Walker analyzes Ephron’s novel Heartburn, comparing it to novels by authors Margaret Atwood, Fay Weldon, and Margaret Drabble. Walker sees these novels as employing an ironic autobiographical approach in which a narrator presents a split self who comments on her own embeddedness in a feminine cultural system. The humor generated by this comedic irony undermines the authority of male-dominant definitions and becomes a means for the female characters to control their stories and ultimately their lives.
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