Three years ago, one of the few women who wrote and directed studio films passed away. The great Nora Ephron, who wrote and directed a string of romantic comedies that studios and filmmakers everywhere wish to emulate but can never live up to.
But Ephron was much more than a rom com guru. She was a journalist and later, an essayist. She was a sister, a wife, and a mother. She was a feminist, a cook, and a filmmaker. And if you’ve read any of her writing, you know she’s hilarious.
Since her death, a play she was working on has been produced and run on Broadway. Lucky Guy, which starred Tom Hanks, about a tough and gritty journalist. (You can read my thoughts on it here.)
Two new collections of her essays have been published, The Most of Nora Ephron and Crazy Salad and Scribble Scribble: Some Things About Women and Notes on Media. And Carrie Brownstein (of Portlandia and Sleater Kinney fame) has been tapped to finish Ephron’s Lost in Austen screenplay, based on the British miniseries.
Her epic commencement speech to Wellesley College in 1996 is still relevant today, and the line that gets most quoted from it is one for all our girlfriends, sisters, and daughters to know: “Above all, be the heroine of your own life, not the victim.”
Three years ago on this day, I was living in New York and wrote the following ode to Nora.
Formative People (Or How I Fell In Love with New York)
After saying I didn’t want to read a bunch of remembrances of Nora Ephron, I went and wrote one of my own.
The odd thing for me about Nora Ephron’s passing was the timing. I’d just read her essay collection, I Remember Nothing last week, where a frequent topic of discussion is old age and death. While I was reading, I thought, “Oh, Nora, you’re going to live to a very old age.” She was one of those women I could imagine working until she was ninety.
After admiring Nora and her work for most of my lifespan, I’d finally gotten the opportunity to see her in person at the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s screening of This Is My Life, the first movie she wrote AND directed (at fifty). I remember being so overwhelmed at seeing her in person. It was a reaction unlike any I’ve had to other famous people I’ve seen or met in person. I think some of it was nostalgia bubbling up, because her movies were such an integral part of my formative years, but mostly, it was the realization of how important her work was to me, and how much she inspired me, perhaps moreso than any other person other than my family. [Nora and Lena Dunham discussing what it meant to be a “women in Hollywood” when Nora first started out.]
I am not an overly emotional person, I don’t usually get upset about things, but I cry at the drop of a hat when it comes to TV and movies. When I was twelve, I remember renting You’ve Got Mail (on VHS) and watching it with my mom. I cried at the end. There’s a happy ending and I was crying. I think it’s because it was the first time I remember wanting something so much. I wanted to live in that world. I wanted to live in New York, in a little apartment on the Upper West Side, and work in a bookstore or write children’s books.
I have now watched Sleepless in Seattle, You’ve Got Mail, and When Harry Met Sally too many times to count. When I went to see Julie & Julia at the AMC theater near Lincoln Center, nearly two weeks after it came out, the theater was packed. There was no where to sit. So I sat on the floor. It was worth it. Throughout the film, I laughed and cried and recognized pieces of myself in the characters.
I don’t remember when I found out that Nora Ephron was a journalist, but it doesn’t really matter, because it was just another way this wonderful woman mirrored what I wanted out of life. I started out wanting to be a journalist. “A gymnast.” “A journalist.” “Right, that’s what I said.”
When I was twenty-four, I moved to New York and I adore it. Sometimes it’s hard to find the magic of Nora Ephron’s New York when you live in the day-to-day grind of the city, but it’s there. She always found it, wrote about it, and captured it on film. When the city is giving me a hard time, I like to take walks to clear my head, and usually there will be a moment, often more than one, that makes me smile and remember why I love this city so much. Or as I have found myself doing lately, I read her words about the city and remember the possibility. New York has so much possibility. You never know what’s going to happen.
Last night, I came home, had a very indulgent dinner—I think Nora would have appreciated it—and watched When Harry Met Sally. It made me realize how many places in New York I still want to visit. Yesterday was a very overcast, breezy New York day, but last night, as I sat in my living room, the windows were open and I let the sounds from the street travel into the apartment.
I’m devastated we will never have another new Nora Ephron film or book to cherish, but I am happy to still have her words and movies to discover. I’m ashamed to admit I have never seen Heartburn and I know I will read and re-read her books and essays for years to come.
Mostly, I will think of her in those moments when New York is magical.
Her essays from The New Yorker.