Daughter of Henry and Phoebe Wolkind Ephron; married Dan Greenburg, 1967 (divorced); Carl Bernstein, 1976 (divorced 1979); Nicholas Pileggi, 1987; children: Jacob, Max
Nora Ephron's career has been a diverse one. She has worked as a journalist, novelist, and screenwriter, as well as a film director and producer. In doing so she has brought humor, romance, and her own personal story to her audiences.
Born the first of four daughters to stage-and screenwriters Phoebe and Henry Ephron of Carousel, Desk Set, and Take Her, She's Mine fame, she grew up with the understanding that "everything is copy." Her childhood was spent in Beverly Hills. After graduating from Wellesley College in 1962, Ephron worked as a journalist, writing for the New York Post, Esquire, New York magazine, and Good Housekeeping, as well as numerous other national publications. She wrote freelance articles and became a contributing editor for New York and a senior editor for Esquire in the 1970s.
Her work as a journalist led her to publish several books of essays. In 1970 she published Wallflower at the Orgy, which explores her clever interpretation of topics relating to the "popular culture" of the times. In 1975 she compiled 25 pieces on the women's movement. This work, Crazy Salad: Some Things About Women, irreverently approaches the feminist movement from the perspective of the everyday frustrations of women in their quest for freedom. The year 1978 brought yet another set of witty words in her Scribble, Scribble: Notes on the Media, in which she presents lively profiles, parodies, anecdotes, and interviews on the written and broadcast media and how it ought to work.
In 1983 Ephron published her first novel, Heartburn. This poignant and humorous story of a well-known cookbook author, who is seven months pregnant with her second child and discovers her journalist husband is having an affair, was met with critical controversy and acclaim when it was released. Material for the story came directly from Ephron's own divorce from Washington Post investigative reporter Carl Bernstein of Watergate fame. Although it was a bestseller, critics questioned Ephron's choice of mixing fiction with reality.
At the time of her divorce from Bernstein in 1979, Ephron realized she needed to get a job that would support her and her two young sons. She chose screenwriting, which was not entirely unfamiliar to her. In 1978 she had written a CBS television movie called Perfect Gentlemen about four women hotel thieves. She had also written an episode of the ABC series Adam's Rib in 1973. Her first film writing assignment came when she cowrote Silkwood with Alice Arlen, about real-life union activist Karen Silkwood. The film's conclusion, about Silkwood's controversial death in an automobile accident, became the focus for much discussion when it was released in 1983. It also won Ephron and Arlen an Academy Award nomination.
Ephron's screenwriting took many forms. In 1986 Mike Nichols directed Ephron's screenplay of Heartburn, which starred Meryl Streep and Jack Nicholson in the well-received but not highly acclaimed movie version of her book. In 1989 she wrote the lighthearted romance about friendships between males and females, When Harry Met Sally, which again earned her an Oscar nomination and began her reputation as a writer of romantic comedies. Her second collaboration with Arlen, Cookie (1989), and her 1990 My Blue Heaven (both critical failures) are funny gangster films that taught her the importance of directing one's own script. She and her sister Delia then wrote her first directorial effort, the under-attended This Is My Life (1992), the comic story of a single mother juggling her show business career with bringing up two girls. In 1993 she cowrote (with David S. Ward and Jeffrey Arch) and directed the highly acclaimed comic love story Sleepless In Seattle (starring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan), which won her a third Oscar nomination for screenwriting.
Ephron's next project was a script (again written with her sister Delia) called Mixed Nuts (1994), a black comedy about volunteers at a suicide hot line. This was followed by the box office hit Michael (1997), written with Delia, Peter Dexter, and Jim Quinlan and starred John Travolta as an imperfect angel traveling with three tabloid reporters. Ephron's latest highly acclaimed work, You've Got Mail, is another romantic comedy based on the Ernst Lubitsch comedy The Shop Around the Corner. The film (the result of another cooperative script produced with Delia) reunites Sleepless in Seattle stars Hanks and Ryan, who now portray warring bookstore owners in an e-mail love affair.
Ephron's writing career has led her where few women have tread. In journalism and fiction she was frank, witty, and unafraid to say what she thought; in film she took control of her writing and became one of the few women directors in Hollywood. It is difficult to say where her writing will lead her next, but it is pretty certain it will be a place touched by her brand of humor and "copy" from her life.
ANR 39 (1992). CBY (1990). Contemporary Theatre, Film and Television 15 (1996).
Maclean's (9 Mar. 1992). New Republic (3 Mar. 1997). NYT (13 Dec. 1998, 18 Dec. 1998). Rolling Stone (8 July 1993). Time (27 Jan. 1992, 21 Dec. 1998).
—PAULA C. MURPHY