(Photo credit: Nikki Kahn/The Washington Post/Getty Images)
Nora Ephron, author and filmmaker, died yesterday “of complications from the blood disorder myelodysplasia, which was diagnosed six years ago,” as reported by The Washington Post. She was 71.
Ephron is perhaps best known as the creator of bittersweet romantic comedies such as When Harry Met Sally…, which featured Meg Ryan’s famed ‘fake orgasm in a deli’ scene, capped by the classic line, “I’ll have what she’s having.” Ephron, who acknowledged that Billy Crystal actually came up with the line, nonetheless earned her the second of three Academy Award nominations for her screenplay.
Soon thereafter, Ephron began directing films herself, first with the darkly humorous and original This is My Life, which captured the dynamic of a stand-up comic whose rising fame affects her two daughters. She achieved popular success with the cheerfully romantic and playful Sleepless in Seattle and You’ve Got Mail, both of which teamed Meg Ryan with Tom Hanks.
Ephron endured failures as well in an up-and-down filmmaking career that included the far less-successful Mixed Nuts, Michael, Lucky Numbers, and the woeful big-screen version of Bewitched. She bounced back with the entertaining and popular Julie & Julia in 2009, a successful souffle of her cutting wit and nuanced performances by Meryl Streep and Amy Adams.
At her core, however, Ephron was a writer. She began as a newspaper reporter in the 1960s before becoming a freelance magazine journalist in 1968. She did some writing for TV in the 1970s, and eventually co-wrote Silkwood, starring Meryl Streep and directed by Mike Nichols. The movie, based on a true story about a whistle-blower at a nuclear plant, was released in 1983, and the script earned Ephron and co-writer Alice Arlen Academy Award nominations.
That same year, her book Heartburn was published. Based on her troubled marriage to philandering Watergate reporter Carl Bernstein, Ephron also co-wrote the film adaptation, which was again directed by Mike Nichols and starred Meryl Streep. Ephron’s career in Hollywood was set.
As it happens, eight years ago I happened to be in the audience when Meryl Streep was honored with the AFI Life Achievement Award, and I’ll always remember the loving tribute that Nora Ephron paid to her friend, which also serves as a kind of gracious epitaph for Ephron herself.