The late writer/director was known for writing strong, funny female characters
By Danny Miller
Special to MSN Movies
As the world deals with the shock of Nora Ephron's passing today (few people outside of her inner circle were even aware that she was ill), fans are looking back at the beloved films the 71-year-old writer leaves behind.
Nora Ephron (©AP)
Although she worked as a journalist and published collections of her essays early in her career, Ephron would make her mark in a world she knew all too well. Her parents, Henry and Phoebe Ephron, were a successful screenwriting duo in the 1950s, penning such classic films as "There's No Business Like Show Business," "Carousel" and "Desk Set." Nora was the oldest of the Ephrons' four daughters, all of whom became successful writers, with Nora following most closely in her parents' footsteps.
Most of Ephron's films featured strong female protagonists, none more so than her first effort, "Silkwood" (1983), the Mike Nichols film in which Meryl Streep played the real-life Karen Silkwood, a worker in a plutonium processing plant whose attempts to blow the whistle on unsafe working conditions at the plant most likely led to her death.
Ephron teamed up again with Mike Nichols and Meryl Streep on "Heartburn" (1986), based on her own bestselling novel about her marriage to Watergate journalist Carl Bernstein. Ephron's next film, "Cookie" (1989), was directed by Susan Seidelman and starred Peter Falk, Emily Lloyd and Dianne Wiest. The mobster comedy did not light any fires, but her next film, "When Harry Met Sally" (1989), directed by Rob Reiner and starring Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal, became one of the most popular films of the '80s and made big stars of its leads. Its famous deli scene provided one of the most memorable lines of the decade: "I'll have what she's having!"
Returning to the world of mobsters, Ephron's "My Blue Heaven" starred Steve Martin, Rick Moranis and Joan Cusack and was directed by
Herbert Ross. Though dismissed by most critics, the film has developed something
of a cult following over the years, as has "This Is My Life," starring Julie
Kavner as a stand-up comic raising two daughters. That film, based on Meg
Wolitzer's novel, marked Ephron's first screenwriting collaboration with her
sister Delia as well as her first stint in the director's chair. Her flair for
directing led her to helm all but one of her subsequent screenplays, including
the huge hit "Sleepless in Seattle" (1993), starring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan, a romantic comedy inspired
by the old Cary Grant/Deborh Kerr tearjerker, "An Affair to Remember."
Bing: More on Nora Ephron
Nora then directed "Mixed Nuts" (1994), another collaboration with Delia that featured Steve Martin, Madeline Kahn and Robert Klein in a story about a long night at a crisis hotline. Next up was "Michael" (1996), with John Travolta as a colorful archangel living in rural Iowa, followed by the successful "You've Got Mail" (1998), which reteamed the dream couple of Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan as two people who hated each other in real life but were unknowingly falling in love with each other over the Internet.
Nora next film, "Hanging Up" (2000), was based on Delia's book and starred Diane Keaton, Meg Ryan and Lisa Kudrow as three sisters dealing with the impending death of their curmudgeonly father (Walter Matthau). Keaton took over directing duties for the film, but Ephron was back in the director's chair for her next project, the less-than-successful "Bewitched" (2005), based on the '60s sitcom and starring Nicole Kidman, Will Ferrell and Shirley MacLaine.
Ephron's final film, "Julie & Julia" (2009) would reteam the writer/director with her original muse, Meryl Streep, who gave a bravura performance as cooking legend Julia Child. The film also starred Amy Adams and Stanley Tucci.
Following some confusion earlier today about her condition, it was confirmed that Nora Ephron died of complications from the blood disorder myelodysplasia. Though she wrote only 13 produced screenplays and directed only 8 films, Ephron was responsible for some of the most iconic characters in movie history. She received Oscar nominations for three of her screenplays: "Silkwood," "When Harry Met Sally," and "Sleepless in Seattle." She is survived by two sons and her third husband, writer Nicholas Pileggi. Nora Ephron's voice will truly be missed.
Danny Miller writes for MSN Movies' Hitlist blog and edits books on a
range of topics. He lives in Los Angeles, Calif.
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She was an amazing lady worthy of the respect she earned. As a fan, I'm struggling to grasp that there will be no more Nora scripts or books.