Category Archives: writer

Nora Ephron: Our Jane Austen and Our Sister

Nora Ephron just left us at the age of 71. She is a famous person who lived a real life, a quiet life, with family and friends and work and all of the choices that her financial success gave her. In a way she could have been our sister. She was a child of World War II, born in New York City just before the attack on Pearl Harbor (May 19, 1941).

Although Nora seems down-to-earth, she did not grow up like the rest of us. She grew up in Beverly Hills, California with two screenwriter parents, Henry and Phoebe Ephron, who wrote scripts for movies I watched in theaters when I was a tween. Nora has three sisters; Delia and Amy, both screenwriters; and Hallie, a journalist. She had a life like the ones we read about in our Hollywood magazines, although her parents apparently liked their cocktails a bit too much and this sometimes made life less than idyllic.
She was married three times so, apparently, she lived through emotional ups and downs like all of us do. She had two boys by her second husband, who was also famous. He was Carl Bernstein, Watergate journalist. Her boys are Jacob, 21 and Max, 20. Her first husband was Dan Greenburg and her current husband is Nicholas Pileggi, who is also famous because he wrote Wiseguys which later became Goodfellas.
Nora Ephron is perhaps our 21st century Jane Austen. Jane had only one sister, Cassandra, and of course did not grow up in any British equivalent of Beverly Hills because there wasn’t one. But both wrote what may seem at first glance to be fluffy romances, but which, as we live with these creations, become windows on the culture of an age.
Jane Austen wrote books, which perhaps gave her more scope for her talent with language. She could be detailed and witty and she gives us great insight into the lives of “well-born” women in England at the time. She writes what she knows and she makes no attempt to give us a comprehensive glimpse of all women in Britain, because she was never in a position to know anything about women outside her social class. She lived a live that was protected by convention and by family and could have been frustratingly lacking in scope, but she gave us her wonderful books.
Well Nora, also lived a life that was circumscribed by her upbringing. She grew up in a family of writers. How many of us do that? One sister described dinners at the family house as unfolding like a session at the Algonquin Round Table of Dorothy Parker fame. At my family table there was lots of laughter, some “fork” attacks, but very little that would pass as wit. She went to Wellsley College. She had a early, very desireable and successful career in journalism in New York City.  She wrote about us, about men and women in the second half of the 20th century. She wrote about romance and she wrote about our culture. We are as at home in her creations as Jane Austen’s readers probably were in hers.
Yes, her movies are slick and beautiful and seemed a bit “fluffy” the first time we saw them, but they touch us somewhere we don’t need to examine with our intellect. They may be guilty pleasures, but they hold up. We can watch them over and over again, especially, Sleepless in Seattle and You’ve Got Mail. Three other successful films are Silkwood, Julie and Julia, and When Harry Met Sally. Most of her films are probably chick flicks, but I’m betting that Jane Austen’s books are mainly late 18th –  early 19th  century chick lit.
Nora died back in NYC where her life began. She lived on the West Side. Some said that her movie You’ve Got Mail(which was a rewrite of The Shop Around the Corner)  was a kind of love letter to the neighborhood and a warning about what it was becoming.
Well Nora, I, for one, will miss you and I will remember you and I know that many more people would say exactly that same thing. The brave way you left us is duly noted also. Rest in peace.