“Nora Ephron, an essayist and humorist in the Dorothy Parker mold (only smarter and funnier, some said) who became one of her era’s most successful screenwriters and filmmakers, making romantic comedy hits like Sleepless in Seattle and When Harry Met Sally, died Tuesday night in Manhattan,” reports Charles McGrath in the New York Times. Ephron was 71. “She was a journalist, a blogger, an essayist, a novelist, a playwright, an Oscar-nominated screenwriter and a movie director—a rarity in a film industry whose directorial ranks were and continue to be dominated by men. Her later box-office success included You’ve Got Mail and Julie & Julia. By the end of her life, though remaining remarkably youthful looking, she had even become something of a philosopher about age and its indignities.”
In the Los Angeles Times, John Horn and Rebecca Keegan mention Ephron’s three Oscar nominations (for writing Sleepless in Seattle, When Harry Met Sally, and Silkwood) and her many books, including Heartburn, “a roman à clef about her marriage to Watergate journalist Carl Bernstein. The 1983 novel was so withering in its depiction of her former husband (the loosely fictionalized book character was ‘capable of having sex with a Venetian blind’) that Bernstein threatened legal action. Even though she wrote strong female characters and said male filmmakers had little interest in women besides ‘girlfriends or wives,’ Ephron’s brand of feminism was winking rather than strident. At a Hollywood awards event several years ago, she looked about the room and said, ‘When they write the history of the feminist struggle in America, I always wonder how this lunch will exactly fit in. We are definitely the best-dressed oppressed group.'”
Back in 2009, Roger Moore (no, not that one) wrote an impassioned defense of Ephron and Nancy Meyers (Something’s Gotta Give, It’s Complicated): “What Hollywood does to women, in front of and behind the camera, is an ugly given. But why light into people who are working the system and succeeding? I would argue that Ephron and Meyers, whatever their visual virtues (or lack thereof) are true auteurs, women whose films reflect a personal aesthetic, a biographical, psychological subtext that is the very definition of an artist—’Someone who pounds the same nail, over and over again.’ Ephron’s had the more varied career, and Julie & Julia was certainly more entertaining than high-minded and Oscar polished. But her depiction of a conventionally unconventional life-long love affair (Julia and Paul Child) was very much in a piece with her body of work.” Ephron “makes movies about love affairs under stress, love that goes wrong… and the women left behind.”
Updates: The AP collects tributes from Meryl Streep, Billy Crystal, Tom Hanks, Carrie Fisher, Bette Midler, and more. More from Phil Dyess-Nugent (AV Club), Linda Holmes (NPR), Ariel Levy (New Yorker), Noreen Malone (New York), Janet Maslin (NYT), Rebecca Traister‘s 2006 profile for Salon, and Neda Ulaby (NPR).
Updates, 6/29: “I devoured her prose, her other film offerings, and became a fangirl right along with my mother, aunt, grandmother, and every other intelligent woman in the tristate area,” writes Lena Dunham in an appreciation the New Yorker‘s running that manages to both express her personal admiration for Ephron as well as pass along many of the lessons she learned from her. And then there’s this, via Ray Pride:
“It was her journalist’s curiosity that made Nora the directing talent she was,” writes Tom Hanks for Time. “Her writing was always voice and detail. I once sent her a piece I was trying to write, and her response was three words: ‘Voice! Voice! Voice!'”
Rob Reiner for the Daily Beast: “We put a line in [When Harry Met Sally] where Billy says about Meg, ‘She orders things in a way where even the chef didn’t realize how good it could be.’ And she was like that.”
More from Monika Bartyzel (Movies.com), Ronald Bergan (Guardian), Kathryn Borel (Believer), Peter Bradshaw (Guardian), Emma Brockes (Guardian), Ty Burr (Boston Globe), Jen Doll (Atlantic Wire), Hadley Freeman (Guardian), Ryan Gilbey (New Statesman), Hendrik Hertzberg (New Yorker), David Kamp (Vanity Fair), Oliver Lyttelton (Playlist), Peter Martin (Movies.com), Marsha McCreadie (Movieline), Mary McNamara (LAT), David Ng (LAT), Andrew O’Hehir (Salon), Michael Phillips (Chicago Tribune), Mary Pols (Time), Nathaniel Rogers, Lisa Schwarzbaum (Entertainment Weekly), Jane Shilling (Telegraph), Matt Weinstock (Paris Review), John Williams (NYT), and James Wolcott (Vanity Fair). And the Leonard Lopate Show has posted four interviews conducted over the years.
Update, 7/2: New Yorker editor David Remnick looks back to Ephron’s professional beginnings, back to the early 60’s: “What Ephron wanted for herself in those days was to embody the legend of Dorothy Parker: ‘The funny lady. The only lady at the table. The woman who made her living by her wit.’… As Ephron entered her thirties, she realized that, in fact, she didn’t really want to be the ‘only woman at the table.’ Even as she took her whacks at the rhetorical excesses of the women’s movement of the seventies, she wanted to be surrounded by sharp minds and wits, and she went out of her way to be a mentor, to encourage younger writers, women in particular. And because one of her many gifts was the gift of constant invitation, of being the friend who shows up, who never fails to come through, she was, inexhaustibly, an influence greater than she knew.”