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Obituary: Nora Ephron

Nora Ephron

Obituary by Jack Foley

HOLLYOOD screenwriter and director Nora Ephron has died at the age of 71.

Responsible for films such as When Harry Met Sally and Sleepless in Seattle, Ephron was nominated for an Oscar three times but never won the award.

Alfred P Knopf, Ephron’s publisher, confirmed her death in a statement on Tuesday night (June 26, 2012), informing the New York Times that she had passed away in Manhattan following complications arising from acute myeloid leukaemia.

“She brought an awful lot of people a tremendous amount of joy. She will be sorely missed,” the statement added.

Born in New York on May 19, 1941, to a Broadway playwright and a Hollywood screenwriter, she subsequently grew up in California and started her career reporting for the New York Post, having become interested in journalism during her junior year at Beverly Hills High School.

In 1972, after graduating from Wellesley College, she briefly worked as an intern in the White House of President John F. Kennedy but soon moved to New York and became a “mail girl” at Newsweek, a position she held for a year.

She eventually got to the New York Post after catching the eye of publisher, Dorothy Schiff, by teaming up with friends during a strike by the International Typographical Union to put out their own satirical newspaper.

Ephron often observed that one of her greatest pieces of advice came from her mother, who recommended that she “take notes, everything is copy”, and she put this to good effect after being given a free hand to explore her favourite city from top to bottom by the Post.

Indeed, many of her screenplays for her films often contained wry personal observations on relationships that formed the basis for hugely successful romantic comedies.

Ironically, it was on a political drama that she first earned her spurs as a screenwriter, having been asked by second husband Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward to help re-write William Goldman’s script for All The President’s Men, because the two journalists were not happy with it.

Ironically, the Ephron-Bernstein script was not used in the end but was seen by someone who offered Ephron her first screenwriting job for a television movie.

This whet her appetite and she moved into a lucrative career as a screenwriter, with her biggest success coming in 1989 with When Harry Met Sally, a romantic comedy for Rob Reiner, that turned into a huge box office hit for Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal.

Sleepless in Seattle followed in 1993, which was co-written by Nora and her younger sister, Delia, and directed by Nora. The film saw her unite Meg Ryan with Tom Hanks, resulting in another enormous success and thereby establishing Ephron as Hollywood’s foremost creator of romantic comedies.

Further film successes came with John Travolta flick Michael, You’ve Got Mail, which reunited Hanks and Ryan, and – more recently – Julie and Julia, which starred her friend and previous collaborator, Meryl Streep (Silkwood), as Julia Child, the famed food writer.

Away from film, she also dabbled in theatre, writing the 2002 play Imaginary Friends, based on the turbulent rivalry of authors Lillian Hellman and Mary McCarthy, and co-authoring Love, Loss, and What I Wore.

She also found considerable success as an author, with her 2006 collection of essays, I Feel Bad About My Neck: And Other Reflections on Being a Woman, immediately shooting to No.1 on the New York Times best-seller list.

In addition to her books, plays and movies, Ephron also wrote a regular blog for the online news site The Huffington Post, thereby always keeping her hand in the world of journalism.

In 1994, she was awarded the Women in Film Crystal Award.

In her personal life, Ephron was married three times.

Prior to marrying Washington Post reporter Bernstein, her first marriage was to writer Dan Greenburg, which ended in 1976, while her third marriage was to Nicholas Pileggi, who wrote the screenplays for the Martin Scorsese films Goodfellas and Casino. It lasted more than 20 years.

Ephron is survived by her husband and two sons. She was the oldest of four sisters, all of whom became writers.