Before all the best-sellers and Oscar-nominated movies -- "Heartburn,"
"Sleepless in Seattle," "Julie and Julia," "I Feel Bad About My Neck," "I
Remember Nothing" -- there was Esquire and New York Magazine and books of her
collected articles with titles such as "Crazy Salad" and "Wallflower at the
Orgy," which could be found on the coffee tables and bookshelves in the
apartments of struggling young women writers anywhere.
Most of the obituaries about Nora Ephron, who died Tuesday after a long private battle with leukemia, focus on the big romantic comedies she wrote and filmed, and the books and Huffington Post blog posts she wrote after she made those movies.
But for a certain generation of women, her legacy has to be those sharp little essays and astoundingly entertaining magazine articles and profiles she wrote at those testosterone-infused magazines in the '60s and '70s, when it was truly glorious to be a journalist, especially if you were a woman.
Indeed, in 1972, she penned an essay in Esquire that surely is a classic of the genre, not to mention the era: "A Few Words About Breasts" (you can find it at esquire.com), noting that "If I had them, I would have been a completely different person."
Actually, Ms. Ephron was many completely different people throughout her 71 years.
A partial list: Hollywood brat, Wellesley grad, intern in JFK's White House (the only one the president never hit on, she observed) journalist, feminist, Oscar-nominated screenwriter, playwright, movie director, blogger, not to mention foodie before anyone had ever heard of that word (her room-temperature pasta and tomato sauce recipe, published in her novel "Heartburn," is a classic).
Some critics have dismissed her delicious, if sugary, film comedies (Meg Ryan's feigned orgasm scene in "When Harry Met Sally" will always be a classic, even if the film's ending always felt too pat). But anyone who saw "Silkwood," for which she wrote the screenplay, knows she could have gone darker if she'd chosen to -- except she didn't choose to.
What she did choose was truth, almost always cloaked in humor.
"She showed me how honesty and bravado can work in writing and how powerful it can be when it hits a chord," said Sharon Dilworth, a novelist and professor of creative writing at Carnegie Mellon University.
She was a writer who loved other writers. Again, in "When Harry Met Sally" there's that scene when Bruno Kirby shouts, "I wrote that!" in response to Carrie Fisher's quoting "Pesto is the quiche of the 1980s." It's quintessential Ephron, combining a completely hilarious, culturally accurate food reference with a writer's joy at being recognized in the context of burgeoning romance.
"She was my hero," added Lynda Schuster, a former foreign correspondent for the Wall Street Journal who lives in Pittsburgh and now posts on her website, www.lyndaschuster.com. The book "Heartburn" was, she said, "a classic: smart, hysterically funny, bittersweet, with set pieces and gag lines to rival those of the Marx Brothers. In the world of comedic writing, she was to women what Woody Allen is to men, only better."
Perhaps her greatest gift was an uncommon ability to dissect the complex emotional transactions between men and women -- and render them hilarious, completely authentic and moving -- whether through the printed word or on
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