She was a fabulous writer – best known in the UK, I think, for her screenplays such as When Harry Met Sally and Sleepless in Seattle – and even after she began her long fight with illness in 2006, she continued to write in her signature, witty style.
In 2010 Nora Ephron created and launched the Divorce section of the Huffington Post, writing its brilliant strapline: “Marriages come and go, but divorce is forever”.
With those eight words, the traditional view that “marriage is forever” was turned upon its head. She wrote them from experience, and she wrote what she and millions of others knew to be the hard truth.
Nora Ephron experienced two kinds of divorce. The first was relatively easy. Her first marriage, to the author Dan Greenburg, ended in divorce in the early 1970s. Crucially, they didn’t have children. The separation was amicable and it appears that there wasn’t much about which to argue. The two of them remained on civilised terms thereafter.
I imagine that if this couple had started out now, in 2012, the divorce would never have taken place – because there wouldn’t have been a marriage either. Today, many young couples choose to cohabit instead of marry. If the relationship doesn’t work, they simply split. There are no legal proceedings, just a physical separation and the chore of sorting out each other’s belongings. Life goes on.
However the second divorce Nora Ephron experienced was much, much more painful. She fell madly in love and married the reporter Carl Bernstein who was then at the height of his own celebrity. He was, of course, one of the two reporters who exposed the Watergate scandal that led to the downfall of President Nixon.
By all accounts, life was good. The talented pair became the sought after, glamorous couple about town, and the “must have” guests at trendy dinner parties. They had one child together. Then, when Nora Ephron was seven months pregnant with their second child, she learned about her husband’s affair with Margaret Jay. A family friend, Jay was the wife of the British Ambassador to Washington and daughter of the former British Prime Minister, James Callaghan. (She is now Baroness Jay of Paddington, and a former Leader of the House of Lords.)
Nora Ephron divorced her second husband. With two young children and a traumatic marriage breakdown to contend with, she could easily have descended into self-pity. Instead, her battle cry and simple advice to other women in similar situations was to “Get over it!” – and she certainly did. She fought back.
Her novel Heartburn, a thinly disguised account of the marriage, became a bestseller and a film starring Jack Nicholson and Meryl Streep. She forged a hugely successful career in Hollywood and also ventured into a third, successful marriage, which lasted more than 20 years until her death.
When there were obstacles in her way, she overcame them with tenacity. When situations were tough, she confronted them with a no-nonsense attitude. She stopped looking to the past, and she moved on.
What a role model Nora Ephon proved to be for anybody going through hard times. She practised what she preached and she never gave up on love, romance and happiness. Life deals bad hands to all of us sometimes, but she proved they can be faced and, with a positive attitude, can be overcome.
Best of all, she did it with a sense of humour. She wrote about her internship at the White House (aka Camelot) when President Kennedy was in office. The one and only time the starstruck youngster got to see him close up, she was standing outside in the Rose Garden, watching as a helicopter was readied to fly him off to the Kennedy family compound at Hyannisport for the weekend. The President smiled and spoke to her as he hurried past, but the noise was too loud. The answer she gave JFK on the sole occasion he ever spoke to her?
As Nora Ephron got older she kept writing articles and posts that will have any maturing woman, like me, smiling broadly as I did. “If anyone young is reading this, right this minute put on a bikini and dont take it off until you’re 34”.
She wrote a bestselling collection of essays: I Feel Bad About My Neck: And Other Thoughts on Being a Woman. She felt sufficiently bad about her neck to wear turtleneck sweaters – but then won a best dressed fashion award for her signature style!
Nora Ephron’s essay “Who are you?”, published in the New York Times in 2007, certainly hits the spot and is well worth a quick read. The incidents described have all happened to me. Meeting one former school friend after thirty years, we air kissed, gushed to each other that neither one of us had changed, but afterwards I too went rushing to the mirror for reassurance that my friend was indeed much, much, older than me….
Nora Ephron took the news of her own terminal illness straight on the chin. She didn’t speak directly about it publicly, but indirectly she counselled the wisdom of doing things sooner rather than later, or not at all. Not wasting precious time. As for food, which she loved, she said: “Don’t believe that eating six almonds a day will stop you from dying. It won’t.”
As my own tribute to this straightforward, brave, warm and witty woman, I have compiled some of my favourite Nora Ephron quotes. As she said: “Reading makes me feel I’ve learned something, become a better person. Reading makes me smarter.”
I hope you enjoy them. I hope you read as much as you can of her work and, if you are going through dark hard times, that some of these words may help you. Nora Ephron accepted what couldn’t be changed, relinquished the pain, moved on and up – and, I believe, became a better, smarter, person for it.
Favourite Nora Ephron Quotes
“When your children are teenagers, it’s important to have a dog so that someone in the house is happy to see you.”
“Never marry a man you wouldn’t want to be divorced from.”
“For a long time the fact that I was divorced was the most important thing about me. Now its not.”
“The Wonderbra is not a step forward for women. Nothing that hurts that much is a step forward for women.”
“In my sex fantasy nobody ever loves me for my mind.”
“My mother wanted us to understand that the tragedies of your life one day have the potential to be a comedy series the next.”
“You have to cut open a redwood tree to see how old it is. You wouldn’t if it had a neck.”
“In fact looking back it seems I was clueless until I was 50 years of age.”
“The reason why forty fifty sixty don’t look the way they used to is not because of feminism or better living through exercise. It’s hair dye.”
“Eat delicious things while you can still eat them. Go to wonderful places while you still can…and not have evenings where you say to yourself, ‘What am I doing here? Why am I here? I’m bored witless!'”
Nora Ephron: 1941-2012.