DIRECTOR | PRODUCER | WRITER
3 OSCAR NOMINATIONS
1941 – 2012
“FOR MANY OF US, A GREAT DEAL OF WHAT WE FEEL ABOUT LOVE HAS BEEN SHAPED COMPLETELY BY MOVIES.”
An Oscar nominee who pulled from her own life to write celebrated movies about romance? Obviously, that must be … Phoebe Ephron?
If you’ve seen or read any of her daughters’ work, you probably know more about Phoebe than you think. Delia, Hallie, and Amy all grew up to become writers who drew on their screenwriter mother’s maxim: “Everything is copy.”
But it was first-born Nora who took that lesson most famously to heart.
After a nonstarter job at Newsweek (they weren’t hiring women writers), she moved on to become one of the defining forces of New Journalism. Her funny, first-person pieces for publications like New York and Esquire served as the basis for bestselling books that began with 1970’s Wallflower at the Orgy.
In 1975, she and her future husband, Carl Bernstein, collaborated on the movie adaptation of All the President’s Men. Their draft wasn’t used, but it did spark her film career. And — because everything is copy — she later documented their divorce in the scandalous biographical novel Heartburn, which she and Mike Nichols turned into a movie starring Meryl Streep. She, Streep, and Nichols also worked together on the biopic Silkwood, which earned Ephron her first Oscar nod.
In 1990, her crystalline script for When Harry Met Sally … snared her another Oscar nomination and made romantic comedies de rigueur. Among the most beloved were her own Sleepless in Seattle and You’ve Got Mail; the latter paid heartfelt homage to Desk Set, a lovely Katharine Hepburn – Spencer Tracy romance written by Nora’s parents, Phoebe and Henry.
In the last years of her life, Ephron wrote a Broadway play, two books, and the film Julie & Julia, all while concealing her battle with leukemia. These projects were a final tribute to many of her loves: food, work, and her native New York; sisterhood, motherhood, and partnership. (She was married to writer Nicholas Pileggi for twenty-five years.) Yet no matter how intimate the voice, the perspective remained omniscient. She praised her passions, and understood ours.
And that is why her movies — like her essays — endure. They don’t merely offer an escape from real life. They pinpoint the foundation of our desires with rare perception, simultaneously creating, refracting, and reflecting them back on us.
Learn more about Renegade Women in Film and TV and purchase it here.
Reprinted from Renegade Women in Film and TV. Copyright © 2019 by Elizabeth Weitzman. Illustrations by Austen Claire Clements. Published by Clarkson Potter/Publishers, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC.
Elizabeth Weitzman is a journalist, film critic, and the author of more than two dozen books for children and young adults. She currently covers movies for The Wrap, and was a critic for the New York Daily News for 15 years. In 2015, she was named one of the top critics in New York by the Hollywood Reporter.