Magazine article The New Yorker

Nora Ephron

Magazine article The New Yorker

Nora Ephron

Article excerpt

When Nora Ephron was growing up in Hollywood, her parents, Phoebe and Henry, a team of screenwriters, used to throw big, boozy parties at home and bring out little Nora, the eldest of four sisters, dressed in her pajamas, to meet the guests. On several occasions, one of the guests was Dorothy Parker. Parker was a satirist, a critic, a screenwriter, and, most famously, a self-described "wisecracker" who passed Bartlett's-ready remarks like "Brevity is the soul of lingerie." And, "If all the girls who attended the Yale prom were laid end to end, I wouldn't be a bit surprised."

In the early sixties, freshly ironed and folded from Wellesley, Nora came to New York and went to work for the Post when the Post came out in the afternoon and its op-ed page was liberal. She loved being a reporter, asking rude questions, working on her prose, and breaking stories about Bob Dylan's secret marriage to Sara Lownds and the number of raisins in Lynda Bird Johnson's wedding cake. (There were one thousand five hundred and eleven.) She also fell in with a dubious crew, led by Victor Navasky, who wanted to start a humor magazine called Monocle. They met Round Table style, at the Algonquin Hotel, where, as Ephron wrote, Navasky played the founder role of Harold Ross; a few writers, including Calvin Trillin, took turns playing Robert Benchley; and "whoever was fattest and grumpiest got to be Alexander Woollcott." Ephron was Dorothy Parker. This, after all, was why she came to New York in the first place, she said. Not to be the real Dorothy Parker--the woman of squalid hotel rooms, alcoholic binges, and suicide attempts. What Ephron wanted for herself in those days was to embody the legend of Dorothy Parker: "The funny lady. The only lady at the table. The woman who made her living by her wit."

What Ephron had going for her, fully formed and evermore, was a voice--deadpan, personal, digressive, intelligent, acidic, confiding--and that voice electrified everything she would ever write or film. Her first form was the personal essay, and she wrote about breasts (her own), about pastrami (Langer's, in Los Angeles), about Ayn Rand, Betty Friedan, Women's Wear Daily, marriage, friendship, divorce, The Palm Beach Social Pictorial, her internship in the Kennedy White House, New York real estate, the unmitigated humbling of getting older, and the time she almost inherited a lot of money from her Uncle Hal. Then came the movies, and all of her famous films--even some of the less celebrated ones--are imbued with that unmistakable comic tone, crackly and warm, a blend of the hilariously wised-up and the unabashedly romantic. …

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