Nora Ephron

Nora Ephron (/ˈɛfrən/ EF-rən;[1] May 19, 1941 – June 26, 2012) was an American journalist, writer, and filmmaker. She is best known for her romantic comedy films and was nominated three times for the Academy Award for Best Writing: for Silkwood (1983), When Harry Met Sally... (1989), and Sleepless in Seattle (1993). She won a BAFTA Award for Best Original Screenplay for When Harry Met Sally.... She sometimes wrote with her sister Delia Ephron. Her last film was Julie & Julia (2009).[2] Her first produced play, Imaginary Friends (2002), was honored as one of the ten best plays of the 2002–03 New York theatre season.[3] She also co-authored the Drama Desk Award–winning theatrical production Love, Loss, and What I Wore.[2][4] In 2013, Ephron received a posthumous Tony Award nomination for Best Play for Lucky Guy.[5]

Nora Ephron
Ephron at the 2010 Tribeca Film Festival
Born(1941-05-19)May 19, 1941
DiedJune 26, 2012(2012-06-26) (aged 71)
New York City, New York, U.S.
ResidenceHollywood Hills, California, U.S.
New York City, New York, U.S.
EducationBeverly Hills High School
Alma materWellesley College
OccupationScreenwriter, producer, director, journalist, playwright, author
Years active1973–2012
Notable work
Silkwood, When Harry Met Sally..., Sleepless in Seattle, Julie & Julia
Parent(s)Henry Ephron
Phoebe Wolkind
  • BAFTA Award (1990)
  • Crystal Award (1994)
  • Ian McLellan Hunter Award (2003)
  • Golden Apple Award (2009)

Personal life

Ephron was born in New York City, to a Jewish family. She was the eldest of four daughters, and grew up in Beverly Hills, California.[6] Her parents, Henry and Phoebe (née Wolkind) Ephron, were both East Coast-born and were noted playwrights and screenwriters. Ephron was named after the protagonist in the play A Doll’s House, written by Henrik Ibsen.[7] Nora's younger sisters, Delia and Amy, are also screenwriters. Her sister Hallie Ephron is a journalist, book reviewer, and novelist who writes crime fiction. Ephron's parents based the ingenue character in the play and film version of Take Her, She's Mine on the 22-year-old Nora and her letters from college.[8] Both her parents became alcoholics during their declining years.[6]

As a high school student, Ephron dreamed of going to New York City to become another Dorothy Parker, an American poet, writer, satirist, and critic.[9] Ephron has cited her high school journalism teacher, Charles Simms, as the inspiration for her pursuit of a career in journalism.[7] She graduated from Beverly Hills High School in 1958, and from Wellesley College in Wellesley, Massachusetts, in 1962 with a degree in political science.[10]

Ephron was married three times. Her first marriage, to writer Dan Greenburg, ended in divorce after nine years.[6] In 1976, she married journalist Carl Bernstein. In 1979, Ephron had a toddler son, Jacob, and was pregnant with her second son Max when she discovered Bernstein's affair with their mutual friend,[11] married British journalist Margaret Jay. Ephron was inspired by this to write the 1983 novel Heartburn,[12] which was then made into a 1986 Mike Nichols film starring Jack Nicholson and Meryl Streep. In the book, Ephron wrote of a husband named Mark, who was "capable of having sex with a Venetian blind."[6] She also wrote that the character Thelma (based on Margaret Jay) looked like a giraffe with "big feet".[6] Bernstein threatened to sue over the book and film but never did.[8]

Ephron was married for more than 20 years to screenwriter Nicholas Pileggi until her death. The couple lived in the Hollywood Hills in Los Angeles, and in New York City.

Ephron's friend Richard Cohen said of her, "She was very Jewish, culturally and emotionally. She identified fully as a Jewish woman."[13] However, Ephron was not religious. "You can never have too much butter – that is my belief. If I have a religion, that's it", she quipped in an NPR interview about her 2009 movie, Julie & Julia.[14]

Her son, Jacob Bernstein, directed an HBO movie on her life called Everything Is Copy.[15]


After graduating from Wellesley College in 1962, Ephron worked briefly as an intern in the White House of President John F. Kennedy.[16] She also applied to be a writer at Newsweek. After she was told they did not hire women writers, she accepted a position as a mail girl.[17]

After eventually quitting Newsweek because she was not allowed to write, Ephron participated in a class action lawsuit against the magazine for sexual discrimination, described in the book The Good Girls Revolt: How the Women of Newsweek Sued Their Bosses and Changed the Workplace by Lynn Povich, and both the lawsuit and Ephron's role were fictionalized in a 2016 Amazon series by the similar main title Good Girls Revolt.[18]

After a satire in Monocle she wrote lampooning the New York Post caught the editor's eye, Ephron accepted a job at the Post, where she worked as a reporter for five years.[8] In 1966, she broke the news in the Post that Bob Dylan had married Sara Lownds in a private ceremony.[19] Upon becoming a successful writer, she wrote a column on women's issues for Esquire.[6] In this position, Ephron made a name for herself by taking on subjects as wide-ranging as Dorothy Schiff, her former boss and owner of the Post; Betty Friedan, whom she chastised for pursuing a feud with Gloria Steinem; and her alma mater Wellesley, which she said had turned out "a generation of docile and unadventurous women."[8] A 1968 send-up of Women's Wear Daily in Cosmopolitan resulted in threats of a lawsuit from WWD.[8]

She rewrote a script for All the President's Men in the mid-1970s, along with her then husband Bernstein. While the script was not used, it was seen by someone who offered Ephron her first screenwriting job, for a television movie,[8] which began her screenwriting career.[20]

In 1983, Ephron coscripted the film Silkwood with Alice Arlen. The film, directed by Mike Nichols, stars Meryl Streep as Karen Silkwood, a whistleblower at the Kerr McGee Cimarron nuclear facility who dies under suspicious circumstances.[21] Ephron and Arlen were nominated for Best Original Screenplay in 1984 for Silkwood.[22]

Ephron's novel, Heartburn, was published in 1982.[7] The novel is a semi-autobiographical account of her marriage with Carl Bernstein.[7] The film adaptation was released in 1986, directed by Mike Nicols starring Meryl Streep and Jack Nicholson. Ephron adapted her own novel into the screenplay for the film.[7] In the film, Ephron's fictionalized portrayal of herself, played by Streep, is a pregnant food writer when she learns about her husband's affair.[23]

Ephron wrote the script for the romantic comedy When Harry Met Sally... in 1986. The film released in 1989, was directed by Rob Reiner, starred Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan. The film depicts the decade-long relationship between Harry (Crystal) and Sally (Ryan) as they navigate their own romantic relationships. Ephron has claimed that she wrote this screenplay with Reiner in mind as the character of Harry, and herself as the character of Sally.[7] The film has become iconic in the romantic comedy genre, most notably for the scene in which Sally pretends to have an orgasm in the middle of Katz's Deli during lunch. Ephron said she wrote the part of Sally having an orgasm into the script per Meg Ryan's suggestions. Additionally, the comment “I’ll have what she’s having,” said by a deli patron (played by Rob Reiner's real life mother, Estelle Reiner) watching the scene unfold nearby, was an idea from Billy Crystal.[24] Ephron's script was nominated for the 1990 Oscar in Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen.[24]

Ephron's directorial debut was the 1992 film This is My Life. Ephron and her sister, Delia Ephron, wrote the script based on Meg Wolizer’s novel, This is Your Life.[7] The film is about a woman who decides to pursue a career in stand up comedy after inheriting a substantial sum of money from a relative.[7]

In 1993, Ephron directed and wrote the script for the romantic comedy Sleepless in Seattle. The film stars Tom Hanks as Sam Baldwin, a recently widowed father whose son calls into a Chicago-based radio talk show in an attempt to find his father a new partner. After hearing this call, New Yorker Annie Reed, played by Meg Ryan, becomes infatuated with Sam, and sets up a rendezvous for the two to meet. The film overtly references the 1957 film, An Affair to Remember, as Annie plans for their meeting at the top of the Empire State Building.[25]

In 1994, she was awarded the Women in Film Crystal Award.[26]

In 1998, Ephron released the film You’ve Got Mail, which she wrote the script for and directed. The story is a loose adaptation of the Ernst Lubitsch film from 1940, The Shop Around the Corner.[7] You’ve Got Mail stars Meg Ryan as Kathleen Kelly, an owner of a small, independent children's bookstore in New York City. Her quiet life is then threatened by Fox Books, a Barnes & Noble-esque book selling chain, which opens near her shop. Fox Books is run by Joe Fox, played by Tom Hanks. Joe and Kathleen navigate a tumultuous business rivalry, whilst unknowingly forming an intimate connection with each other via email.[27]

In 2009, Ephron directed and co-wrote the screenplay for Julie & Julia.[7] The film is based on Julie Powell’s blog and memoir of the same title. The film is about Julia Child, a famous mid-century American cook played by Meryl Streep, and Julie Powell, a New Yorker attempting to cook her way through Child’s cookbook, played by Amy Adams. As Powell blogs her experience, the film flashes back to the story of Child’s first stages of her career as she trains in a French culinary school.[28] The film was a financial and commercial success.[7] Streep was nominated for the 2010 Academy Award for Best Performance by an Actress in A Leading Role.[28]

Ephron's 2002 play Imaginary Friends explores the rivalry between writers Lillian Hellman and Mary McCarthy. She co-authored the play Love, Loss, and What I Wore (based on the book by Ilene Beckerman) with her sister Delia, and it has played to sold out audiences in Canada, New York City and Los Angeles.

Deep Throat

For many years, Ephron was one of the few people who knew the identity of Deep Throat, the anonymous informer for articles written by her ex-husband Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward uncovering the Watergate scandal.[29] Ephron read Bernstein's notes, which referred to Deep Throat as "MF";[29] Bernstein claimed this stood for "My Friend," but Ephron correctly guessed it stood for Mark Felt, the former associate director of the FBI.[29]

After Ephron's marriage with Bernstein ended, Ephron revealed Deep Throat's identity to her son Jacob and anyone else who asked. She once said, "I would give speeches to 500 people and someone would say, 'Do you know who Deep Throat is?' And I would say, 'It's Mark Felt.'"[6] Classmates of Jacob Bernstein at the Dalton School and Vassar College recall Jacob's revealing to numerous people that Felt was Deep Throat. This revelation attracted little media attention during the many years that the identity of Deep Throat was a mystery. Ephron said that "No one, apart from my sons, believed me."[30] Ephron was invited by Arianna Huffington to write about the experience in the Huffington Post, for which she was a regular blogger and part-time editor.[29]


On June 26, 2012, Ephron died from pneumonia, a complication resulting from acute myeloid leukemia,[2] which she was diagnosed with in 2006.[31]

In her final book, I Remember Nothing (published in 2010), Ephron left clues that something was wrong with her or that she was ill, particularly in a list at the end of the book citing "things I won't miss/things I'll miss".[32]

Many people were taken by surprise by the notice of her death as she had kept her illness secret from most people. Those who attended her memorial service at Alice Tully Hall in New York City included: Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks, Billy Crystal, Meg Ryan, Rob Reiner, Barbara Walters, Diane Sawyer, Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, Alan Alda, Steve Martin, Martin Short, Lorne Michaels, Larry David, Joy Behar, Rosie O'Donnell, Annette Bening, Matthew Broderick, Nicole Kidman, Michael Bloomberg, and Ron Howard.[33][34]

At the Karlovy Vary Film Festival of that year, actresses Helen Mirren and Susan Sarandon, who were honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award, paid tribute to her during their speeches.

The Steven Spielberg film The Post is dedicated to her.

Ephron's body was cremated, and her ashes were scattered.

Nora Ephron Prize

The Nora Ephron Prize is a $25,000 award by the Tribeca Film Festival for a female writer or filmmaker "with a distinctive voice".[35] The first Nora Ephron Prize was awarded in 2013 to Meera Menon for her film Farah Goes Bang.[35]


Feature films

As an actress, Nora Ephron appeared in two features both of which were films of her friend Woody Allen. She is credited as being a wedding guest in Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989) and as a Dinner Party Guest in Husbands and Wives (1992).[36]

Year Title Credited as
Director Screenwriter Producer
1983 Silkwood Yes
1986 Heartburn Yes
1989 When Harry Met Sally... Yes Yes
Cookie Yes Yes
1990 My Blue Heaven Yes Yes
1991 The Super (uncredited)[37] Yes
1992 This Is My Life Yes Yes
1993 Sleepless in Seattle Yes Yes
1994 Mixed Nuts Yes Yes
1996 Michael Yes Yes Yes
1998 All I Wanna Do Yes
You've Got Mail Yes Yes Yes
2000 Hanging Up Yes Yes
Lucky Numbers Yes Yes
2005 Bewitched Yes Yes Yes
2009 Julie & Julia Yes Yes Yes


Year Title Notes Theatre
2002 Imaginary Friends Writer Ethel Barrymore Theatre
2008 Love, Loss, and What I Wore Co-writer Westside Theatre
2013 Lucky Guy Writer Broadhurst Theatre

Awards and nominations

Academy Awards

Year Category Nominated work Result
1983 Best Original Screenplay Silkwood[38] Nominated
1989 Best Original Screenplay When Harry Met Sally...[38] Nominated
1993 Best Original Screenplay Sleepless in Seattle[38] Nominated

Tony Awards

Year Category Nominated work Result
2013 Best Play Lucky Guy[39] Nominated

Golden Globe Awards

Year Category Nominated work Result
1989 Best Screenplay When Harry Met Sally...[40] Nominated


Year Category Nominated work Result
1990 Best Original Screenplay When Harry Met Sally...[38] Won
1994 Best Original Screenplay Sleepless in Seattle[38] Nominated

Writers Guild Award

Year Category Nominated work Result
1983 Best Original Screenplay Silkwood[38] Nominated
1989 Best Original Screenplay When Harry Met Sally...[38] Nominated
1993 Best Original Screenplay Sleepless in Seattle[38] Nominated
2003 Ian McLellan Hunter Award Won
2010 Best Adapted Screenplay Julie & Julia Nominated

Other Awards

Year Award Category Nominated work Result
1979 Edgar Allan Poe Awards Best Television Feature or Miniseries Perfect Gentlemen Nominated
1994 Women in Film Crystal Award Crystal Award Won
1999 Satellite Awards Best Motion Picture, Comedy or Musical You've Got Mail Nominated
2003 The Best Plays of 2002–03 Ten Best Plays of the New York season Imaginary Friends Won
2006 Razzie Awards Worst Director Bewitched Nominated
Razzie Awards Worst Screenplay Bewitched
(with Delia Ephron and Adam McKay)
2009 Satellite Awards Best Adapted Screenplay Julie & Julia Nominated
Casting Society of America Golden Apple Award (with Delia Ephron) Won

Essay collections and other works

  • Wallflower at the Orgy (1970)
  • Crazy Salad: Some Things About Women (1975),[41] ISBN 978-0394497358
  • The Boston Photographs (1975)
  • Scribble, Scribble: Notes on the Media (1978), ISBN 978-0394501253
  • Heartburn (1983, a novel)
  • I Feel Bad About My Neck: And Other Thoughts on Being a Woman (2006)
  • I Remember Nothing: And Other Reflections (2010)
  • The Most of Nora Ephron (2013), ISBN 978-0-385-35083-9


  1. "Delia Ephron on the Closeness and Complexity of Sisterhood". Fresh Air. NPR. December 9, 2013. Event occurs at 1:18–1:44. Retrieved December 11, 2013. Interview.
  2. Charles Mcgrath (June 26, 2012). "Writer and Filmmaker With a Genius for Humor". The New York Times. Retrieved June 27, 2012.
  3. The best plays of 2002–2003. Jenkins, Jeffrey Eric. (84th ed.). [New York]: Limelight Editions. 2004. ISBN 0879103035. OCLC 55139647.CS1 maint: others (link)
  4. "Ragtime, The Scottsboro Boys, The Addams Family and Finian's Rainbow Top Nominations for 2010 Drama Desk Awards". In 2013, she received a posthumous Tony Award nomination for Best Play for Lucky Guy, her last play, on May 3, 2010.
  5. Cadenas, Kerensa (May 2, 2013). "Nora Ephron, Cyndi Lauper Among Tony Award Nominees". IndieWire. Retrieved April 18, 2017.
  6. Hawkins, Ed (March 4, 2007). "Get real – ageing's not all Helen Mirren". The Times. London, UK. Archived from the original on September 28, 2011. Retrieved August 16, 2007.
  7. Dance, Liz (2015). Everything is Copy. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, Inc. ISBN 978-0-7864-9674-7.
  8. Brockes, Emma (March 3, 2007). "Everything is copy". The Guardian. London, UK. Retrieved August 16, 2007.
  9. "Ephron, Nora." Current Biography Yearbook 1990. The H.W. Wilson Company. 1990. p. 216.
  10. Bergan, Ronald (June 27, 2012). "Nora Ephron obituary". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved March 22, 2017.
  11. "For the truly vengeful, the pen (or word processor) is mightier than the sword". Cosmopolitan. July 1, 1996. Archived from the original on October 5, 2007. Retrieved August 17, 2007.
  12. "Baroness Jay's political progress". BBC News. July 31, 2001. Retrieved August 16, 2007.
  13. Glassman, Thea (September 12, 2016). "Richard Cohen and Nora Ephron: The Real-Life Harry and Sally". The Forward. The Forward Organization, Inc. Retrieved May 28, 2017.
  14. "Nora Ephron On Julie, Julia And Cooking Like A Child". August 7, 2009.
  15. "Nora Ephron's son to make documentary about her life". 3 News NZ. April 9, 2013.
  16. News, ABC. "Nora Ephron: From D.C. Intern to Hollywood Hit". ABC News. Archived from the original on November 28, 2016. Retrieved November 28, 2016.
  17. Collins, Gail (June 27, 2012). "Nora Ephron, the Best Mailgirl Ever". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved November 26, 2016.
  18. Nguyen, Hanh. "'Good Girls Revolt': The Women Who Fought for Equality in the Newsroom | IndieWire". Retrieved November 26, 2016.
  19. "No Direction Home". Da Capo Press. 1986. Retrieved January 7, 2009.
  20. "Nora Ephron Biography and Interview". American Academy of Achievement.
  21. "AFI|Catalog". Retrieved February 12, 2018.
  22. "Entertainment Industry Magazine Archive". Boxoffice. April 1, 1984.
  23. Nichols, Mike (July 25, 1986), Heartburn, Meryl Streep, Jack Nicholson, Jeff Daniels, retrieved April 20, 2018
  24. Ephron, Nora (2015). The Last Interview and Other Conversations. Brooklyn, New York: Melville House Publishing. ISBN 978-1-61219-524-7.
  25. "Sleepless in Seattle (1993)". IMDB.
  26. "Past Recipients: Crystal Award". Women in Film. Archived from the original on June 30, 2011. Retrieved May 10, 2011.
  27. "You've Got Mail". IMDB. Retrieved April 20, 2018.
  28. "Julie & Julia".
  29. Ephron, Nora (May 31, 2005). "Deep Throat and Me: Now It Can Be Told, and Not for the First Time Either". The Huffington Post. Retrieved December 19, 2008.
  30. "Nora Ephron". The Daily Telegraph. London, UK. June 27, 2012.
  31. Adam Bernstein (June 26, 2012). "Nora Ephron, prolific author and screenwriter, dies at age 71". The Washington Post. Retrieved June 27, 2012.
  32. Friedman, Roger (June 26, 2012). "Nora Ephron Left Clues About Dying in Her Final Book". Retrieved June 27, 2012.
  33. "Celebrities react to the death of Nora Ephron". The Philadelphia Inquirer. Associated Press. Retrieved June 27, 2012.
  34. Matt Donnelly. "Nora Ephron: Celebs, Hollywood react to her death". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved June 27, 2012.
  35. Goodman, Stephanie (April 25, 2013). "Nora Ephron Prize Is Given to Director of Farah Goes Bang". The New York Times.
  36. Nora Ephron on IMDb
  37. Borrelli, Christopher (September 27, 2011). "'Teen Wolf' director's brutally honest commentary". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved April 13, 2015.
  38. Awards for Nora Ephron on IMDb
  39. "Lucky Guy – Broadway Play – Original | IBDB".
  40. "When Harry Met Sally".
  41. Yardley, Jonathan (November 2, 2004). "Nora Ephron's 'Crazy Salad': Still Crisp". The Washington Post.
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