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Arts & Entertainment

Marc Haefele on Nora Ephron: "... all those lines you would never forget ..."

Patt Morrison with Nora Ephron.
Patt Morrison with Nora Ephron.

Nora Ephron died. Well, she was a year older than I, so that should not startle me. But she seemed to be out there shining brightly for so much of my life that I am astounded that she is gone. Years ago, I knew a lot of people who knew her and for a long time, I hoped I’d run into her and get to tell her how l much I loved her writing. I guess I felt that way until I heard she was gone.

She was a young NY Postnik - a ferociously liberal newspaper 50 years ago - while I was in college. I read everything she wrote. She was one of those writers who often made the tabloid  the best read (REED) in town. Langston Hughes was another. And then she took off with her brilliant  magazine work on brilliantly chosen subjects like Bennington College faculty politics and breasts.

The novel “Heartburn” was a terrific instance of  not just surmounting a personal catastrophe, but turning it into a national triumph. Her enviable ability here was to set herself above all her pain and shame and write funny and well. Her first movie script, “Silkwood,” had an almost embarrassing sincerity about it, which is why maybe I like it the most of all her films. It had a passion and took risks; So did the first movie she directed: “This is My Life.” It was about a woman who turns herself into a comic by sheer strain and effort. But it wasn’t funny.

Her most successful films took off into orbit on a Saturn rocket of generous comic shtick laced with sentiment.  I enjoyed “When Harry Met Sally” without ever since wanting to see it again. That’s probably why I never saw “Sleepless in Seattle.” 

Her later essays kept the sincerity simmering, though. Albeit, you could not help but notice that in the later ones, you were encountering no longer the problems of a typical talented, career femme but rather those - New York Co-op ownership,  an inheritance - of a rich grande dame. The kind of person who would happen be at a party of Casino squillionaire Steve Wynn’s the night he accidently punched a hole in one of his modern master paintings. 

I missed her last book,  “I Remember Nothing," about the loss she felt at the death of a close friend. Now I want to read it.  

Nora Ephron wasn’t even a distant acquaintance, but she was a friend in the sense that she was there writing things you wanted to read for most of your life. The person who would with no seeming effort come up with all those lines you would never forget, ever. Like the one about her first husband being so compulsive he did hospital corners on the newspapers at the bottom of his hamster cage. And so many, many more.