I doubt Nora Ephron would want me to write about her. Not a big enough player, perhaps. But our paths crossed many times and after I learned she’d died, cruelly prematurely, I stayed up all night, unable to do anything but flash footage of totally memorable times with her. The woman was talented. She was also a forceful charismatic presence. She got more out of every moment than anyone. A world without her feels bleak. The horizon flatter.
I must add that Nora Ephron also understood and practiced the manly arts of hustle and competition better than anybody.
It was her mothers’ milk–or more likely bottled formula. She learned it from both
She told me a story. When she was an adolescent, she was hospitalized for an operation that might give her sight in one eye. Her father was to be there when the bandage was removed from her eye to hold her hand when she learned if she could see out of the weak eye. Nora’s doctors waited for Henry Ephron as long as they could. He arrived after the bandage was removed.
“Baby”, he announced loudly, opening his arms wide, “I had a meeting with Jack Warner.”
Nora and I were part of a small group of women writing for the Times Magazine who in the spirit of the late 1970?s gathered to petition the Times editors to hire more female freelancers.
We met for one strategy session at Nora and her then husband Dan Greenberg’s posh east side duplex. As we were sorting out our coats piled on the marital bed, somebody asked, “Is that a gun under there?”
Nora pulled out a shotgun and said casually, “It’s not loaded.” To demonstrate that fact she pulled the trigger, narrowly missing fellow writer Martha Lear. Martha grabbed my arm and whispered, “Just walk me out of here, fast.”
I held her up, and we hit the sidewalk running.
I’ve always thought the incident emblematic of the ambivalence elite women felt about banding together to help each other. Also emblematic of the raw competition underlying the solidarity espoused by so many feminists of that history-making time.
When I was a Ms magazine writer/ editor, Nora invited me out three times. Once, she fixed me up on a blind date with Bob Woodward. It was exciting to walk into a writers’ bar behind Nora and the young heroes — Woodward and Nora’s beau Carl Bernstein. I noted that night that Nora was smarter than either of the heroes of that moment.
The second time Nora invited me out was right before the publication of her splendid essay collection “Crazy Salad”. She charmed me and only fleetingly referred to her upcoming publication. I rushed back to the office, requested a reviewers’ copy of her book and was charmed again. I wrote a glowing review for Ms magazine.
The third time she invited me out was more complicated. She was chairing a panel at a journalism convention and invited me to sit on the panel. But I had a task. A former beau of hers, a Playboy editor, was also invited to sit on the panel. My job was to attack him by making feminist points. Nora didn’t want to attack him, in view of their former relationship.
I did my job diligently.
I noted that Nora had never written for Ms, and I considered this a terrible oversight. I didn’t find out for years that Nora and Susan Brownmiller had tried and failed to launch their own feminist magazine and were thus considered our rivals.
In any case, I assigned Nora a book review. It came in in flawless condition. What an ear for language. Ms editor, Mary Peacock, and I couldn’t find a comma to change.
It was my habit to write at Ms on weekends when the office was empty except for me and Gloria Steinem, whom I adored. Ms had just published an excerpt from my diaries about my divorce. There was buzz.
That Saturday my office telephone rang. Nora had tracked me down
Gloria asked me who was calling me. I told her, and Gloria said, “Isn’t it great to have one Hollywood friend who gets in touch when you’re hot. That way you know when you’re hot.”
I always read what Nora was doing and it made me feel somehow that it was okay that I was doing it too. When I recently read she was spending a lot of time lying down, I thought, So much for the exercise fanatics. When I read she was thinking a lot about death, I nodded to myself. Me too.
I wish I could have said goodby to Nora.
Susan Braudy is a journalist and author. She clawed her way from Philadelphia to Manhattan. She wrote the memoir Between Marriage and Divorce: A Woman’s Diary, two novels Who Killed Sal Mineo? and What the Movies Made Me Do: A Novel as well as two highly researched non-fiction books This Crazy Thing Called Love: The Golden World and Fatal Marriage of Ann and Billy Woodward and Family Circle: The Boudins and the Aristocracy of the Left. The last was nominated by publisher Alfred Knopf for a Pulitzer. She is a frequent blogger on the Huffington Post.