Obituary: Filmmaker Nora Ephron, 1941-2012

Nora Ephron image

Nora Ephron, 1941-2012

Filmmaker and prolific writer Nora Ephron died on Tuesday, June 26, at the age of 71. The cause of death was pneumonia brought on by myeloid leukemia.

A native New Yorker who launched her career as a reporter for The New York Post, Esquire and New York Magazine, Ephron’s first writing credit for a Hollywood feature film was 1983’s Silkwood. Starring Meryl Streep, the film told the real-life story of whistle-blowing Oklahoma nuclear-plant worker Karen Silkwood and earned Ephron her first of three Best Screenplay Oscar nominations.

Ephron kicked off her directorial career with 1992’s underrated This Is My Life, which starred Julie Kavner (in one of her rare turns as a leading lady) as a housewife-turned-standup comic. She went on to direct seven more films, including 1993’s Sleepless in Seattle (for which her screenplay was also nominated) and the subsequent hits You’ve Got Mail (1998) and Julie & Julia (2009). Ephron wrote or co-wrote seven of her eight films (the exception being 2000’s tepid Lucky Numbers), which is an accomplishment in itself in an industry known for dispensing with writers and their screenplays like so many losing lottery tickets.

It’s Ephron’s screenplays that worked best for me, with her Oscar-nominated script for the Rob Reiner-directed romantic comedy When Harry Met Sally (1989) best defining her bouncy, contemporary and cosmopolitan style. Alongside Harry, Silkwood is a solid piece of work, offering a well-turned mix of thriller and drama elements. And Heartburn, based on her own novel about her failed marriage to Washington journalist Carl Bernstein, hits all the right notes as well.

Both Silkwood and Heartburn are aided greatly by the able direction of Mike Nichols, but it was truly Ms. Ephron’s familiar, knowing voice that provided the narrative juice.

About Laurence

Founder and editor Laurence Lerman saw Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest when he was 13 years old and that’s all it took. He has been writing about film and video for more than a quarter of a century for magazines, anthologies, websites and most recently, Video Business magazine, where he served as the Reviews Editor for 15 years.