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Author and screenwriter Nora Ephron died Tuesday in New York. She was 71. (Getty Images)

Ephron: From 'Silkwood' To 'Sally,' A Singular Voice

Jun 27, 2012 (Morning Edition)

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Author and screenwriter Nora Ephron, pictured above in 1976, died Tuesday in New York. She was 71.

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Nora Ephron brought us two of the most indelible scenes in contemporary cinema — and they're startlingly different.

There's the infamous "Silkwood shower," from the 1983 movie, with Meryl Streep as a terrified worker at a nuclear power plant, being frantically scrubbed after exposure to radiation.

Then there's the scene in which Meg Ryan drives home a point to Billy Crystal at Katz's Deli, in 1989's When Harry Met Sally. You know — the one that ends with "I'll have what she's having."

Ephron, who died Tuesday at age 71 of complications from leukemia, took romantic comedies to a new level. The heroines of When Harry Met Sally and Sleepless in Seattle were dreamers and strivers. They were women other women recognized. In 1998, Ephron talked with NPR on the set of her film You've Got Mail about being one of the few women in Hollywood to write, produce and direct.

"One of the things I'm completely fascinated by," she said, in her characteristically wry way, "is the determination of many film directors — mostly men — to believe it's like fighting a war.

"If you have a caterer along," she said, bringing the joke home, "it is not quite a war. I think we have to remember this."

Ephron's parents were screenwriters, but she started off in newspapers. She wrote such a dead-on parody of the New York Post that she was hired there soon after graduating from Wellesley.

Her second marriage was to Washington Post reporter Carl Bernstein, of Watergate fame; when it crumbled after an affair, she used it for fodder for her best-selling novel Heartburn, which became a movie starring Meryl Streep.

In real life, Ephron remarried happily, to writer Nicholas Pileggi. She based her script for the movie My Blue Heaven on stories she heard from him when he was writing the book that became the movie Goodfellas. And the marriage in one of her last movies, Julie and Julia — also starring Streep — is a radiantly happy one.

When she wasn't writing or helming Oscar-nominated movies, Ephron was writing essays — about food, which she loved, about her home in New York City, and about growing old.

"I think it's like a lot of things about getting older — you have absolutely no imagination that this is actually going to happen to you," she told NPR's Neal Conan several years ago. "You think for quite a while you're going to be the only person who doesn't need reading glasses, or the only person who doesn't go through menopause ... and in the end, the only person who isn't going to die. And then you suddenly are faced with whichever of those things it is, and you can't believe how unimaginative you have been about what it actually consists of."

But Ephron's life was defined by imagination — by freewheeling wit, and by her ability to write her way into the worlds she wanted to live in and make them more welcoming places.

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Nora Ephron at her home in New York in 2010. (Reuters /Landov)

Nora Ephron, Filmmaker, Author, Dies

by Krishnadev Calamur
Jun 26, 2012

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Author and screenwriter Nora Ephron, pictured above in 1976, died Tuesday in New York. She was 71.

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Nora Ephron, the celebrated author and filmmaker behind such hits as Sleepless in Seattle and When Harry Met Sally has died. She was 71.

The cause was pneumonia brought on by acute myeloid leukemia, her son Jacob Bernstein told The New York Times on Tuesday.

Update at 10:44 p.m. ATC Audio Is Now Up

Here's NPR's Bob Mondello discussing Ephron's work with Melissa Block, host of All Things Considered.

Update at 10 p.m. Survived by Husband, Sons

Ephron is survived by her husband Nicholas Pileggi, the author and screenwriter. She was married twice previously: to writer Dan Greenberg, and reporter Carl Bernstein.

The New York Times said she's also survived by her sons, Jacob Bernstein and Max Bernstein, and her sisters, Delia Ephron, Amy Ephron and Hallie Ephron.

Update at 9:29 p.m. NPR's Bob Mondello on All Things Considered

Here's what our film critic Bob Mondello told NPR's Melissa Block on tonight's show:

"Romantic comedy was always a treacly form and she came into it. She's a woman writing in a male-dominated industry and she wasn't willing to put up with that. So her movies became a little more strong."

We'll have audio of that interview as soon as it's available.

Update at 8:46 p.m. NPR Confirms Ephron's Death

Ephron's death was confirmed to NPR by her friend Richard Cohen of The Washington Post who was at the hospital Tuesday when she died.

NPR's Mandalit del Barco is reporting on the death for our Newscast unit.

Here's what she says:

"Nora Ephron was born in New York and raised in Beverly Hills, the daughter of screenwriters. She became a journalist at the New York Post, Esquire and The New York Times Magazine. Her second of three husbands was a reporter, too: Carl Bernstein, of Watergate fame.

In Hollywood, Ephron wrote the hit romantic comedy When Harry Met Sally. That earned her a best original screenplay Oscar nomination. So did her film Silkwood, and Sleepless in Seattle, which she directed. She also reunited Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan for her movie You've Got Mail. Ephron wrote about relationships, aging and even butter. Her last film, Julie & Julia, was about chef Julia Child."

Update at 8:38 p.m. Washington Post Confirms Death

Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen confirmed Ephron's death to the newspaper.

Here's what the Post says about her in its appreciation:

"As a woman in the male-dominated movie business, Ms. Ephron was a rare 'triple-hyphenate' as writer, director and producer. But making movies for and about women was a battle, at times. She observed how, to male studio moguls, 'a movie about a woman's cure for cancer is less interesting than a movie about a man with a hangnail.'"

Ephron also spoke to NPR's Talk of the Nation in 2006 following the release of I Feel Bad About My Neck, her book of essays.

And here's the rest of our original post:

In an interview with NPR's Renee Montagne in November 2010, Ephron was wistful about the implications of aging.

"You do get to a certain point in life where you have to realistically, I think, understand that the days are getting shorter, and you can't put things off thinking you'll get to them someday," she said. "If you really want to do them, you better do them. There are simply too many people getting sick, and sooner or later you will. So I'm very much a believer in knowing what it is that you love doing so you can do a great deal of it."

News of Ephron's illness became public on Tuesday when her friend Liz Smith, the celebrity columnist, published what looked like a memorial for her on the website Women on the Web. She told The Associated Press Ephron's son Jacob had told her the filmmaker was dying.

"I was confused because I was told to come to the funeral on Thursday," Smith told the AP. "It's bad enough."

Ephron, one of the most influential women in Hollydwood, is also known for the book Crazy Salad and for the movie Julie & Julia.

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New In Paperback: Oct. 31 - Nov. 6

Nov 3, 2011

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Nonfiction releases from Nora Ephron, Simon Winchester, Brian Greene, Jay-Z and Russell Simmons.

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Sex, Drugs And 'Life' — The Year's Best Guilty Reads

Dec 8, 2010 (All Things Considered)

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Chelsea Chelsea Bang Bang Love, Lust, and Faking It Late, Late at Night Life

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Recently, I stayed up for two days with Keith Richards. I took a bath with Chelsea Handler, snuggled with Jenny McCarthy, and sipped tea with Nora Ephron. Just last week, I slept with Rick Springfield.

I've been indulging my guiltiest pleasure: celebrity tell-alls. What can I say? I generally read hard-hitting nonfiction. But sometimes — when the year is coming to an end and I'm mentally going on vacation — I just want to read about famous people's bad plastic surgery, failing memories and drug habits. So sue me.

This year I indulged in a confession-fest: Five books by celebrities occupying different ranks in the pop-culture pantheon. 2010 has seen more than its share of memoirs and dish, but I found myself most attracted to books by 1) rock stars who've slept with or ingested everything; and 2) sexy, drunken, smart-mouthed women.

Their books bare their souls to one degree or another — but at a price. Are any of these guilty pleasures worth the sheckles? Well, yeah, actually.

Chelsea Chelsea Bang Bang

By Chelsea Handler; hardcover, 256 pages; Grand Central, list price, $25.99

I began with that fabulous, Wicked Wit of the East, comedian Chelsea Handler. I love Handler's sense of the absurd and her rapid-fire monologues on cable. Her latest book, Chelsea Chelsea Bang Bang, relates her madcap antics during third grade, vacations and family pow-wows. It's chock-full of sexual awakenings, bickering e-mails and obscene language: What's not to love?

Some of Chelsea Chelsea Bang Bang is gutsy and perversely funny: When she fabricates a comedy based on the Challenger disaster starring herself and Meryl Streep, I chortled out loud. Other times? Well, her book is like stand-up: Your enjoyment depends a lot upon your mood, your willingness to be charmed — and, at least in my case, how many martinis you've consumed.

I Remember Nothing

By Nora Ephron; hardcover, 160 pages; Knopf, list price: $22.95

A second guilty pleasure of mine is to pass judgment on things I know nothing about. As such, I picked up Nora Ephron's latest, I Remember Nothing, predisposed not to like it. Why? I have absolutely no idea, except that she's so popular in my hometown of New York and so good at everything she does (including writing about what she supposedly doesn't do well) that it brings out the begrudgery in me.

And yet, within the first three pages, I was giggling out loud. Though I'm more of Handler's generation, I laughed in recognition at Ephron's tales — perhaps because, while I've never proposed a comedy based on the space shuttle disaster, I have, like Ephron, "attended many legendary rock concerts and spent them wondering when they would end and where we would eat afterward." No topic is too abstract or trivial: She serves up poignant musings on divorce, failure and aging, as well as first-rate comedic kvetching over stuff like Teflon, e-mail, and dessert spoons.

I Remember Nothing has a likable, every-person sensibility and a fierce, consoling wit. I enjoyed it so much, in fact, that I happily paid for it instead of indulging in my third (and worst) guilty pleasure — reading entire books in the store while hiding behind a shelf.

Love, Lust And Faking It

By Jenny McCarthy; hardcover, 256 pages; Harper, list price: $24.99

And now for something completely different: Over the years, Jenny McCarthy has managed to establish herself as both a Playboy Playmate and an autism activist — no easy feat, I'd say. She's made a career of the knowing comic wink. Or, in her case, the burp that explodes the facade of her bombshell looks.

Her new book, titled Love, Lust and Faking It, is like spending an afternoon with your best friend, a copy of Cosmo and a low-fat milkshake. McCarthy confides personal stories of heartbreak and humiliation that are truly affecting. Yet these are padded with Twitter surveys, pop psychology and bedroom horoscopes. The result: total junk food. Yummy but substance-less. In the end, I wanted more McCarthy, less artificial additives. Her book is the publishing equivalent of Doritos. Still, who doesn't love Doritos? I polished off the book in a single sitting. I felt like an idiot; but whose fault was that?

Late, Late At Night

By Rick Springfield; hardcover, 336 pages; Touchstone, list price: $26

Which brings me to Rick Springfield: pop singer, soap star, '80s heartthrob. His memoir, Late, Late at Night, is like binge drinking. You know it's a terrible idea, but it's escapist and addictive; you can't put it down.

His book has everything deliciously tawdry you want from a pop-star memoir. It attempts naked honesty about his roller-coaster career, marriage, depression and sex addiction. If that's not enough, there are plenty of beefcake photos. Springfield is 61 and looks 38. Sadly, he writes like he's 19. Late, Late at Night groans with overwrought confessions, cocky asides and adolescent soul-searching. There's loads of bad behavior and contrition, but little real wisdom.

Which is a shame, because there's powerful material here. At 17, Springfield attempted suicide. In 1968, he saw action in Vietnam — as an Australian entertaining the troops. This should be riveting, but his swagger makes it glib.

Still, if you ever adored Rick Springfield, you'll probably do as I did: Take him to bed, enjoy him more than you want to admit and hate yourself in the morning. Late, Late at Night is, like its author, unsatisfying but embarrassingly seductive.

But what did I expect, really?


By Keith Richards with James Fox; hardcover, 576 pages; Little, Brown and Company, list price: $29.99

Well, enter Keith Richards and his memoir, Life. To be fair, I'm a huge Rolling Stones fan. Richards could cough up a hairball and I'd think it was musical genius. Still, his book is surprising.

While it opens with a drug bust, ultimately it isn't about partying like a rock star but working like one. We get pages and pages about his craft — how he listened repeatedly to blues albums, figuring out how his musical idols played particular riffs, then removed a string from his guitar to get the Stones' raunchy, signature sound. The musical obsessions that have compelled him to keep playing for over 50 years seem to get more ink, in the end, than his dish about lovers, heroin or his complicated relationship with Mick Jagger.

Relentless, impassioned and oddly humble, Richards isn't unconscious in the least — though at times, he's awesomely unreflective. His homes and hotel rooms seem to catch fire with alarming frequency. He sleeps with a loaded gun under his pillow and brings his 7-year-old son on tour as his handler: All of this is mentioned without comment.

But Richards tells his epic, rock 'n' roll life like it is — with salt and candor, and no apologies. The result is a pleasure to read. And there's nothing guilty about it.

My Guilty Pleasure is edited and produced by Ellen Silva.

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I Remember Nothing ()

'I Remember Nothing': Nora Ephron's Senior Moment

Nov 11, 2010

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Four years after publishing I Feel Bad About My Neck, which included the memorable line, "You have to cut a redwood tree open to see how old it is, but you wouldn't have to if it had a neck," Nora Ephron, approaching 70, is more concerned than ever about aging. In her new book, I Remember Nothing, she rues cleavage that "looks like a peach pit" and taking "so many pills in the morning you don't have room for breakfast." In the title essay, she flags life events of which she has retained nada — including meeting Eleanor Roosevelt in 1961 and seeing the Beatles live on Ed Sullivan in 1964. She quips, "I was not at Woodstock, but I might as well have been because I wouldn't remember it anyway." She concludes, "On some level my life has been wasted on me. After all, if I can't remember it, who can?"

Since the early 1970s, when she wrote a column about women for Esquire magazine, Ephron has demonstrated a delightful ability to share her mundane woes — from small breasts to a growing wattle — and connect with her audience as if they were her new best friends. Like other engaging personal essayists, including Anne Lamott, David Sedaris, Sloane Crosley and the late Wendy Wasserstein, she has the common touch. Unlike them, she has also channeled her snappy repartee into hit movies, including When Harry Met Sally and You've Got Mail.

Ephron is obviously still sharp enough to joke about her memory hiccups. She writes, "You can't retrieve your life (unless you're on Wikipedia, in which case you can retrieve an inaccurate version of it)," but reassures us that all is not lost because we're "living in the Google years. ... The Senior Moment has become the Google moment, and it has a much nicer, hipper, younger, more contemporary sound, doesn't it?"

Notice, in the passage above, how she slips in a little jab at Wikipedia? That's classic Ephron: gloriously opinionated — and on target. In fact, several essays in I Remember Nothing originated as op-eds for The New York Times. These express outrage over miserable moviegoing experiences at multiplexes, and peeves about intrusive waiters who constantly interrupt conversations to offer you freshly ground pepper.

Self-deprecation and bold, sweeping statements are key to Ephron's humor. She loves coining phrases: the bare patch at the back of her head, another sign of aging, is an "aruba," after the windswept resort it resembles. She delineates six stages of e-mail (infatuation, disenchantment, etc.) and five of inherited wealth (glee, sloth ...). Several of the 23 essays are, in fact, nothing more than lists — including what she'll miss (her kids, Central Park, pie) and what she won't (dry skin, critics, panels on Women in Film). Facile? Slight? Occasionally. But even her lists are hilarious and eloquent.

Of course, Ephron is capable of burrowing deeper than wrinkles, as she reminds us in three heartfelt pieces that look back: on her work ("Journalism: A Love Story"); her mother, a successful screenwriter who raised four daughters and seemed to have it all before succumbing to alcoholism ("The Legend"); and her short-lived infatuation with Lillian Hellman ("Pentimento"). While she may not have reached what she calls "the nadir of old age, the Land of Anecdote," Ephron sure does know how to tell a story and entertain.

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I Remember Nothing: And Other Reflections
By Nora Ephron
Hardcover, 141 pages
List price: $22.95
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