Nora Ephron died yesterday, at the age of 71. It feels weird, to me, to live in a world without Nora Ephron.
I never knew Ms. Ephron, though it sure as heck felt like I did. Before I wanted to live in a world constructed by Aaron Sorkin, I wanted to live in a world constructed by Nora Ephron.
Of course a lot of the celebrations of Ms. Ephron’s life of the past day focus on how Ms. Ephron changed Everything for women (“Be the heroine of your own life.”), and I can’t speak to that. However, growing up as a theatre geek in suburban New Jersey, my drama nerd friends and I obsessively quoted the dialogue of Ms. Ephron’s movies to each other— at least, the dialogue to When Harry Met Sally… and Sleepless In Seattle and You’ve Got Mail. There are still certain longtime friends of mine (especially two old friends, of the yearly jaunt to the North Fork to go wine-tasting and play board games) in which, if you say the line, with the Tom Hanks-head-bob, “It was like coming home…,” they’ll respond, “… Only to no home I’d ever been.”
“Mommy got sick.” “You know how to make juice? Microwave. Three minutes.” “It was like kismet, but not, if you know what I mean…” “Don’t mind him; he’s just a man who’s lost his wife.”
Sleepless In Seattle, which I still remember seeing for the second time sitting on a balcony in the Hamptons, is really the perfect romantic comedy, because it’s completely predicated on loss. After I had tattered the VHS tapes of Lawrence Kasdan’s The Big Chill and Barry Levinson’s Diner on the little TV in my high school bedroom, I would fall asleep to the musical dialogue of Sleepless In Seattle. (“It was like… magic.”) And of course the unbelievable scene with Victor Garber and Rita Wilson and The Magnificent Seven. And Tom Hanks on the dock, at the house, as Joe Crocker sings. “Didn’t you see Fatal Attraction? … Well I saw it, and it scared the shit out of me— it scared the shit out of every man in America!”
And of course, When Harry Met Sally… I can still ring my friend up and sing like Billy Crystal, with the apology telephone call. “Waiter, I’d like some paprika on my paprikash.” “What have you got, a hot date?” I mean, it is the template for a post-Billy Wilder script, isn’t it?
And then You’ve Got Mail, an oddly underrated New York City movie if ever there was one. “A hot dog is singing? You need quiet when a hot dog is singing?” “That caviar is a garnish.” I remember being up on the Island on rainy Labor Day afternoon with dear friends, and we all got sucked into a TBS afternoon showing, even though we’d seen it so many times. “I’m unwrapping funky ornaments and missing my mother.” “If nothing else, it ought to start with being personal.”
Her movies, those three screenplays, were her places to put in little essays, I remember reading once. (The Starbucks theory in Sleepless… And I’ve been to that Starbucks.)
Several years ago my favorite movie-sparring partner passed away, and we would often spar over Ms. Ephron on the Island. Too ‘schmaltzy,’ he would say. I wish he was here to say that about this.
There’s so much I could write about Ms. Ephron: Picking up The Times or The New Yorker, and finding a certain piece penned by her; finding a reprint of Wallflower at the Orgy at my favorite bookstore on the Island one summer; going on The Huffington Post to virtually consult with her about Thanksgiving sides. And her soundtracks: Without Nora Ephron, I wouldn’t know who the hell Harry Nilsson is.
But at it’s core, it’s this certain loss: The literate screenwriter / director. The loving the City, and great food, and The Times— Yes, there’s James L. Brooks and Barry Levinson and Cameron Crowe and of course Mr. Aaron Sorkin. Ms. Nora Ephron is gone, but her dialogue will be with me forever.
I never met her, but maybe we would ‘a been friends. (Of course, men and women can’t be friends.)
Out of all the many things that are floating around on the Internet, the best may be the lists Ms. Ephron left us, in her final book. We’ll let her have the last words:
What I Won’t Miss
Bad dinners like the one we went to last night
Technology in general
Washing my hair
Polls that show that 32 percent of the American people believe in creationism
The collapse of the dollar
The sound of the vacuum cleaner
Emails. I know I already said it, but I want to emphasize it.
Panels on Women in Film
Taking off makeup every night.
What I Will Miss
The concept of waffles
A walk in the park
The idea of a walk in the park
Shakespeare in the Park
Reading in bed
The view out the window
Dinner at home just the two of us
Dinner with friends
Dinner with friends in cities where none of us lives
Next year in Istanbul
Pride and Prejudice
The Christmas tree
One for the table
Taking a bath
Coming over the bridge to Manhattan
How can you not love anyone whose last item will miss fall, bacon, a walk in the Park, twinkle lights, Paris, Thanksgiving dinner, and pie? (“Pecan pie.”) Yes, we would ‘a been friends.
Thank you, Ms. Ephron. We’ll miss you.