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Nora Ephron

1941 – 2012

by Tobin Belzer

Nora Ephron has used her refreshing wit, biting sarcasm, and ability to make the mundane entertaining to write her way into the lives of millions. Heeding her mother’s advice that “everything is copy,” Ephron draws upon her own experiences—childhood dreams, anxieties about her flat chest, and her two divorces—in her articles, books, and screenplays.

Born in New York City on May 19, 1941, to the playwriting and screenwriting team of Henry and Phoebe Ephron, Nora was the eldest of four sisters, three of whom have become writers. Her education as a writer began early. The Ephrons relocated to Los Angeles when Nora was three years old, and she grew up immersed in the liberal Hollywood writing community. After graduating from Beverly Hills High School, Ephron left Los Angeles to attend Wellesley College, accompanied by her mother’s advice to avoid sororities and organized religion. Upon receiving her bachelor’s degree in 1962, Ephron moved to New York City to pursue a career in journalism. She began working as a reporter at the New York Post, and then made a name for herself as a contributing editor and columnist at Esquire magazine, later working as senior editor and columnist until 1978. Ephron was also a contributing editor at New York magazine from 1973 to 1974.

Nora Ephron became famous for her sharp tongue and for fearlessly asserting herself in her reporting. She wrote funny, personal, and sardonic pieces on feminist concerns and pop culture phenomena. Her first collection of essays, Wallflower at the Orgy, appeared in 1970, followed by Crazy Salad: Some Things About Women in 1975. Ephron then took on the press in her 1978 collection Scribble Scribble: Notes on the Media. The 1991 Nora Ephron Collected is a compendium of her most famous essays.

While Ephron professes to be bad at making things up, she is not bad at creating irony and comedy from her own life experiences. She wrote of her first marriage to comedy writer Dan Greenburg and of the end of her second marriage to Washington Post reporter Carl Bernstein in the 1983 best-selling novel Heartburn, which was adapted into a movie of the same name in 1986. In her largely autobiographical fiction, Ephron draws upon her cultural Jewish identity, as she often writes about Jewish characters.

Turning to screenwriting in 1983, Ephron received an Academy Award nomination for the film Silkwood, which she wrote with Alice Arlen. She collaborated with Arlen again to write Cookie in 1989. That same year, the screenplay for When Harry Met Sally was nominated for both an Academy Award and the British Academy of Film and Television Arts award for best screenplay. Ephron’s fourth screenplay was My Blue Heaven in 1990. Ephron collaborated with her sister Delia on the 1992 screenplay This Is My Life, the film on which Nora Ephron made her directorial debut. Ephron received her third Academy Award nomination for the screenplay of the 1993 film Sleepless in Seattle, which she both cowrote and directed. In 1994 Nora and Delia again collaborated on the screenplay for Mixed Nuts, which she also directed. Nora Ephron directed the comedy Michael in 1996. Fans of “Sleepless” flocked to see its stars again in Ephron’s next romantic comedy, You’ve Got Mail, in 1998. Her film Bewitched was released in 2005.Nora Ephron is a member of the Writers Guild of America, the Authors Guild, the Directors Guild of America, and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Ephron’s two sons from her marriage to Bernstein, Jacob and Max, now live with her and her husband, writer Nicholas Pileggi, in New York City.

To see video clips of an interview with Nora Ephron from the MAKERS project, click here.

SELECTED WRITINGS BY NORA EPHRON

BOOKS

Crazy Salad: Some Things about Women (1975); Heartburn (1983); Nora Ephron Collected (1991); Scribble, Scribble: Notes on the Media (1978); Wallflower at the Orgy (1970).

SCREENPLAYS

Cookie, with Alice Arlen (1989); Hanging Up (2000); Mixed Nuts (1994); My Blue Heaven (1990); Silkwood, with Alice Arlen (1983); Sleepless in Seattle (1993); This Is My Life, with Delia Ephron (1992); When Harry Met Sally (1989); You’ve Got Mail (1998).

Bibliography

Bennetts, Leslie. “Nora’s Arc.” Vanity 55 (February 1992); Gross, Amy. “Some Things About Nora Ephron.” Vogue 173 (May 1983): 287; Kornbluth, Jesse. “Scenes from a Marriage.” New York 16 (March 1983): 40–43; Marquis Who’s Who (1994); Martin, Judith. “Heartburn: A Diagnosis.” Vogue 173 (May 1983): 286; Nonkin, Lesley Jane. “Take One.” Vogue 182 (January 1992): 144–147; Thompson, Anne. “The Ten Most Powerful Women in Showbiz.” Glamour 93 (January 1995): 114–115.

Updates
Nora Ephron passed away on June 26, 2012.

How to cite this page

Belzer, Tobin. "Nora Ephron." Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia. 1 March 2009. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on July 25, 2014) <http://jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/ephron-nora>.

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