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Wednesday, June 27, 2012


Nora Ephron:  The essayist/playwright/director who gave us "Sleepless in Seattle" is dead at 71. Photo: Scott Eklund/Seattle Post-Intelligencer / SL
Essayist, playwright and director Nora Ephron, who gave us "Sleepless in Seattle" and "When Harry Met Sally" -- and so many famous scenes and lines -- has died at the age of 71, just as she was beginning to milk the aging process for laughs and life lessons.

The cause of death was pneumonia brought on by leukemia, her son Jacob Bernstein told The New York Times.

Ephron is appreciated in the Northwest for "Sleepless," a romantic comedy in which a widowed architect recently relocated to Seattle (Tom Hanks) who, prompted by his son, confesses to his loneliness on a nationwide radio show.  He is heard across the country by a Baltimore Sun reporter (Meg Ryan), who falls in love with his story.

The plot, a loose remake of "An Affair to Remember," follows her across the country to a chance encounter at the airport, cases of mistaken identity, other romances which fizzle, to the finale of a meeting on the observation deck of the Empire State Building . . . with a final line, "Shall we?" with the architect, his son and newfound love boarding an elevator hand in hand.

Ephron would bring Hanks and Ryan together again for "We've Got Mail," which was one of the first movies to link e-mail and romance.

Ephron drew on and wrote about her life, unsparingly and with rich humor.  One of her last essays was on an inheritance battle in a dysfunctional family -- hers.
Of her stint five decades ago at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue while John Kennedy was President, Ephron wrote that she was "probably the only woman who ever worked in the Kennedy White House whom the President did not make a pass at."

Ephon was later married to Washington Post Watergate reporter Carl Bernstein, only to learn when seven months pregnant that Bernstein was having an affair with Margaret Jay, wife of the British ambassador to the U.S.  The Ephron-Bernstein split was ugly, and very public.

The result was a roman à clef, "Heartburn," about a food writer married to a philandering Washington columnist, a man who was "capable of having sex with a Venetian blind."  The bestseller was made into a movie directed by Mike Nichols and starring Jack Nicholson and Meryl Streep.

Why did she tell so painful a tale? Ephron said it was "the most awful thing I've ever been through, and it was by far the most interesting."

The first mega-hit for Ephron was her screenplay for "When Harry Met Sally," a comedy about a couple (Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan) who have known each other for years but feared carrying the relationship to intimacy.

The flick features a famous scene, set at Katz's Delicatessen in New York, in which the Ryan character fakes an orgasm. A lady at the neighboring table (played by director Rob Reiner's mother) gets off the famous line:  "I'll have what she's having."

Ephron displayed enormous range.  She wrote the thriller "Silkwood" about a nuclear industry employee (Meryl Streep) apparently murdered for spilling secrets.  Three decades later,  in her last movie, she wrote and directed Julie and Julia, with Streep giving an unforgettable performance as author and TV chef Julia Child.

"Sitting at a table with Nora was like being in a Nora Ephron movie:  She was brilliant and funny," writer Sally Quinn told the Times.

She was also, always listening and storing away material that would later be read or seen on screen.  At a large Washington, D.C., gathering, she was one "bigfoot" who would seek out new acquaintences and be interested in THEIR lives.

"Obviously, I wish Nora hadn't written the book," Bernstein told the Post.  "But I've always known, she writes about her life.  Nora goes to the supermarket and she uses it for material."

After Bernstein, Ephron found lasting happiness with author-screenwriter Nicholas Pileggi (Goodfellas, Casino) and a new source of humor about being married to an Italian.  She is survived by husband Pileggi and two sons from her marriage to Bernstein.


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