On what would’ve been her 76th birthday, we remember the humor and wisdom of Nora Ephron, writer/director of Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks’ ‘Sleepless in Seattle’ and Amy Adams and Meryl Streep’s ‘Julie & Julia.’
“She pulled a fast one on us… I guess sometimes you have to wait for someone to leave the room to say how great they are,” Meryl Streep said at Nora Ephron’s memorial service in New York City in 2012. The beloved renaissance woman passed away at the age of 71 after a battle with leukemia that she’d kept hidden from everyone except a few close friends and family members.
Ephron left us far too soon, but her legacy lives on through her films, her writing and her words of wisdom that are just as relevant in 2017 as they were when she bestowed them upon us decades ago.
As we approach what would have been her 76th birthday on May 19, we still miss Nora Ephron as much as ever. Few people wear quite as many hats throughout a lifetime as she did. Ephron was a journalist, playwright, novelist, essayist, screenwriter, director and producer. She was also a trailblazer who refused to be knocked down, and she encouraged other women to do the same and be the “heroines” in their own lives.
Why do we still miss Nora Ephron so much? Let us count the ways.
After graduating from Wellesley College in 1962, Nora Ephron took a job at Newsweek where she was quickly promoted from the mail room to the role of researcher. Her time at the publication was short-lived because she chose not to stick around when it became clear that women were never promoted to the role of reporter.
Fans of Amazon’s series Good Girls Revolt will remember the scene when Ephron (portrayed by Grace Gummer) declared that if Newsweek wouldn’t let her write, she’d go somewhere that would — and that’s exactly what Ephron did in real life.
Ephron headed to The New York Post where she had a successful stint as a journalist before shifting her focus to screenwriting. Her big break came when she penned the screenplay for the Oscar-nominated film Silkwood (1983), the true story of a chemical technician and nuclear whistleblower who died under suspicious circumstances. It marked the beginning of an incredible film career that continued for the rest of her life.
Meg Ryan as Kathleen Kelly in ‘You’ve Got Mail’ (1998) / Warner Bros.
Nora Ephron’s name is nearly synonymous with romantic comedies, like When Harry Met Sally…, Sleepless in Seattle and You’ve Got Mail. Even if romantic comedies aren’t your go-to genre of choice, you’ve gotta admit these are classics.
“I try to write parts for women that are as complicated and interesting as women actually are,” Ephron once said. She wrote women who were complex and multifaceted because (surprise!) that’s how women really are. All rom-coms require a certain suspension of disbelief — but the ones written by Ephron included realistic, relatable women like Sally and (my personal favorite) struggling bookseller Kathleen Kelly of You’ve Got Mail.
Her Empowering Words
Nora Ephron’s empowering words can be found in the pages of her books and in the transcripts of her speeches and interviews.
In her 1996 Wellesley commencement address, Ephron urged the graduating class to, “above all, be the heroine of your life, not the victim.” In doing so, she provided the seniors (and the rest of us) with the ultimate words to live by.
We all need this reminder from time to time. It’s no secret that life gets tough and it’s far easier to play the victim than to seize the opportunity to become a heroine. We can either let the world knock us down and then blame it when we fail to get back up, or we can take ownership of our lives and shape their narratives. Ephron chose the latter option and she set an amazing example for the rest of us.
Her Love of Food
Meryl Streep as Julia Child in ‘Julie & Julia’ (2009) / Columbia Pictures
You know that friend or coworker who’s constantly extolling the virtues of crash-dieting? It’s safe to assume Nora Ephron would put them in their place by reminding them that no day is worth living if you’re not thinking about what you’re going to eat next at all times.
It’s surely no coincidence that her final film was Julie & Julia (2009), the charming tale of a young blogger (Amy Adams) who sets out to cook all the recipes in Julia Child’s (Meryl Streep) first cookbook. Upon the film’s release, Epicurious asked if there’s a “signature Nora Ephron dish.” Her response? “If there is a Nora Ephron signature anything, it is that there’s slightly too much food. I have a friend whose mantra is: You must choose. And I believe the exact opposite: I think you should always have at least four desserts that are kind of fighting with each other.”
Why choose one dessert when you can have four? A woman after our own hearts.
Her Reminder to Make a Little Trouble out There
Nora Ephron wasn’t afraid to make a little trouble out there, and neither should we be. In an oft-quoted excerpt from her Wellesley commencement address, she challenged the graduating class to break the rules rather than fall into line:
“Whatever you choose, however many roads you travel, I hope that you choose not to be a lady. I hope you will find some way to break the rules and make a little trouble out there. And I also hope that you will choose to make some of that trouble on behalf of women,” she urged the young women.
In 2017, these words are more relevant than ever. So, to celebrate Nora Ephron’s birthday, let’s honor her by getting out there and making some trouble on behalf of women.
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