Nora Ephron died Tuesday night at the age of 71. She was the writer and director who made the iconic film about our city, “Sleepless in Seattle.”
It’s not my favorite movie written by Ephron. That title belongs to “When Harry Met Sally,” a movie I saw for the first time on VHS with my parents many years after it was released in theaters. We all squirmed uncomfortably and tried not to laugh when Meg Ryan faked an orgasm at a deli. Afterward, my dad said, “Next time, rent movies with less sex.” Ephron would have loved that line.
She began her journalism career working in the mail room at Newsweek, where she was the only woman, then became a reporter at the New York Post and later moved to magazines. She was a Peggy Olson for journalism in the 1960s. (Aside: Why can’t there be a Nora character on “Mad Men”? The only female journalist we see the dour photographer working for Life magazine.)
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It’s a testament to belief in self that Ephron stayed funny and built a career writing about relationships and women when no one in a male-dominated world of journalism would have considered it serious writing. At one point she was married to the most serious of journalists, the revered Carl Bernstein, one of the Washington Post reporters who broke the story on Watergate. He cheated on her while she was pregnant with their second child, she said. She later remarried, happily I think.
While cinephiles say “When Harry Met Sally” is a lesser “Annie Hall,” I disagree. “When Harry Met Sally” has set the standard for romantic comedies since its release. When you grow up in the ’80s, the models of romance were “Sixteen Candles” and “Pretty Woman,” Disney fairy tales dressed up in Jessica McClintock prom dresses.
“When Harry Met Sally” was a Shakespearean rom-com. It became my aspiration of true romance, one fueled by love, friendship and laughter. It’s probably one of the reasons I picked the funny guy to marry. He and I are still quoting, “Pepper. Pepper. Pepper.”
She wrote and directed “Julie & Julia,” wrote “Silkwood.” She was journalism’s Meryl Streep. She is the answer to the question we debated here last week: Can women “have it all”? She did.
And I’ll have what she’s having.