Jun 27 2012 | 8 Comments
SHE WAS NORA EPHRON AND I’M NOT
Yesterday’s shocking news that writer Nora Ephron died took everyone by surprise. I know some of her best friends who had no idea she was that sick.
Everyone I spoke to was totally floored. And the odd thing is people do die. They die more suddenly, more gruesomely and often times younger. While she was not so old, she was seventy-one, not the most astonishing of ages for someone to pass away.
But it was Nora Ephron and she somehow seemed beyond death, if that is possible. In the same way she tackled so much of life for so long and usually came up winning; one thought death would be something she could side step.
In my adult life I do not remember a world where Nora was not a towering figure. I call her Nora, as I did know her. We were not friends, though we ended up friendly acquaintances. We had the kind of relationship that when we ran into each other we said we should all get together for dinner, but never did.
The last time I saw her was on Madison Avenue when my book was about to come out. We stopped and chatted. By then she knew I wrote movies and she asked me how and what I was doing. We talked about her about to newest book, which I knew would out sell mine by hundreds of thousands of copies. Though I got up the courage to tell her I had one coming out too. I then took a galley out of my bag and asked her if she would like to read it, cheeky of me. She said she would love to but she didn’t blurb. I wasn’t asking her to blurb, though I would not have minded. She said she was thrilled to read it. It looked like her kind of book. Funny thing since I modeled much of my career on hers. I was thrilled she said she was thrilled whether she read it or not. I often wonder if she did and got to the sex chapter where in a fantasy masturbation scene (hey if I can sell a few books why not, Nora would do the same) I say, “I’m fifty. I’ll never be Nora Ephron. That ship has totally sailed.”
In that sentence is the real truth for myself and for many writers of a certain generation. She was the pinnacle. In that world nobody could touch her. Nancy Meyer’s movies made more money. But Nora was Nora. There was a time she could make whatever she wanted. She was top choice for all female driven romantic comedies.
At one time I was on a list with ten other writers that was the list they went to if they could not get Nora. That was considered a really good place to be. Tenth banana is not the worst job on the block in Hollywood, especially if it was to Nora Ephron.
She wrote books that were best sellers. She continued to do articles, which is where she started. She wrote plays that went on for years. She cooked like a pro. She looked good and made pretty houses. She was married three times, the last one happily for over twenty-five years to the author Nick Pileggi.
She was the girl with something extra and then some. And one always thought if she could do it why not me? Except in those days there was only one Nora and yesterday when she died at seventy-one there still was.
She published her last book when she was almost seventy. Nominated for her last Oscar at sixty-eight, for a funny woman she broke all the records and all the rules.
She was a force, not loved by all, but you can’t accomplish what she did and make friends wherever you go, it’s not possible. She made enough for her needs.
I met her for the first time in 1985 when Mike Nichols cast me in a small part in Heartburn, the film made from the book about her breakup from Carl Bernstein. I don’t think Nora wanted me in the film. I was up for the bigger part of the hairdresser, but got the friend of the hairdresser instead. She felt I was only there because I was a friend of Mike’s; which was totally true. Now why she had a problem with Mike helping me I don’t know. She got helping hands from many over the years.
Then I made the grievous mistake of showing up on set in DC not knowing my lines. I don’t know what I was thinking. It was only in a scene with Meryl Streep!
And when my turn came and I blew all my lines Nora chewed me out on the set in front of everyone. I was humiliated and she was right. I was an idiot. From that point forth she scared me to death. She also taught me a great lesson, don’t screw up when you are given a break.
And then of course when I started writing on my own she was this Titanic figure that towered above us all.
I was in awe of her, scared of her, envied her and tried to emulate her. The first script I ever wrote, I took my Heartburn script and used it as a template. She taught me how to write films. She made me want to write films. She made me want to be the best I could be, by wanting to be like her.
And then decades later, Meryl Streep didn’t remember me from the girl who screwed up on the set, but she wanted to do a film of mine and we had a reading. And I thought back to that day in DC and felt like I was getting closer. But the film was never made and Nora still always held all the cards.
Nora didn’t just set the bar for a certain generation of women comedy writers, she was the bar. And nobody cleared her, ever not in that genre. The genre may be gone now. It was on its way out, but with her passing it doesn’t have a chance to come back. Nora’s funny, urbane, biting dialogue, and wonderful characters have been replaced by the gross, cartoonish Bridesmaids and their clones. It makes me sad.
When the first reviews of my book came out I was compared to her a lot. I was beyond pleased. If I couldn’t have her career, at least I was being compared to her. But then Facebook somehow took these notices and put them on her Fan Page. I was horrified. I thought she might think I was doing it. I sent her an email and said, “Nora, my reviews are going up on your Facebook Page and I promise I have nothing to do with it.”
I never heard back. Why would she care? She was Nora Ephron and I’m not. She owned the space and she knew it. I was flattering myself thinking it would matter to her.
Now that she’s gone I keep thinking who will be my yardstick for comparison? What bar is there to attempt to clear? Who will I feel I’m not doing as well as? I always shoot for the top whether I make it or not and Nora was it. And even if she’s not around in person her influence will live on with many of us forever.