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10 Things You Didn’t Know About Nora Ephron

When Harry Met Sally Nora Ephron
Columbia Pictures/Jason Merritt, Getty Images

The news of writer and director Nora Ephron’s passing came as a shock to many because even in her old age, she still seemed as vibrant, optimistic and self-effacing as ever in her writing and her style.

Not only was she a pioneer in her time when journalism, humor writing and filmmaking were all dominated by men, but she also offered her own unique voice to all of her works. Being part of the “new journalism” movement helped establish her as a funny, witty and insightful observer of the human condition. That facet of her humor writing carried her through her work as a screenwriter and a director of such classics as ‘When Harry Met Sally…,’ ‘Sleepless in Seattle,’ ‘You’ve Got Mail’ and ‘Julie & Julia.’ In addition, she lived an interesting life that touched on major events in US history. Here are a few things you might not know about Nora Ephron.

1. She grew up in a family of writers

Carousel
20th Century Fox

Like all great writers, Ephron got her start at a young age before she could even learn to write since her mother and father Henry Ephron and Phoebe Wolkind both worked throughout the 1940s and 50s as Hollywood screenwriters on classic films such as ‘Carousel,’ ‘Wallflower,’ ‘Daddy Long Legs’ and ‘Desk Set’ starring Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn. Her three younger sisters, Amy, Hallie and Delia, also became writers. Delia would often write scripts with Nora for some of her movies such as ‘You’ve Got Mail,’ ‘Hanging Up’ and ‘Bewitched.’

2. She worked in the White House during JFK’s term

Nora Ephron Premiere
Stephen Lovekin, Getty Images

Ephron went to college at the all girls school Wellesley and scored an internship position in the early 1960s in President John F. Kennedy’s administration where she worked in the White House, “lurking near the file cabinet” in the hallway. She claims she once rescued Speaker of the House Sam Rayburn from a locked men’s room and revealed in an essay for The New York Times that “I am probably the only young woman who ever worked in the Kennedy White House whom the president did not make a pass at.”

3. She got her first big newspaper job at the New York Post by making fun of it

Nora Ephron
Jason Merritt, Getty Images

The journalism world in the 1960s didn’t have many women in high ranking roles, so Ephron started at the very bottom working as a “mail girl” for Newsweek. The 1962 newspaper strike prompted a satirical parody of the New York Post, dubbed the “New York Pest,” that included some humor pieces from Ephron. The Post’s publisher, Dorothy Schiff, was so impressed with the writing in the scathing parody that she hired its entire staff of writers for the real New York Post. Ephron worked at the paper for five years, only to remark later on that it was a “terrible newspaper in the era I worked there.”

4. She knew the identity of “Deep Throat”

Mark Felt Deep Throat
Justin Sullivan, Getty Images

One of the most closely guarded secrets in the history of American journalism was the identity of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein’s executive insider source who guided their coverage of President Nixon’s “Watergate” scandal, a scandal that would ultimately lead to Nixon’s presidential and political demise. Even though Ephron was married to Bernstein from 1976 to 1980, he refused to tell her famous source’s true identity. In 2005, after FBI Associate Director Mark Felt came out as Deep Throat, Ephron claimed in a Huffington Post essay that she figured it out and would tell anyone and everyone that Felt was “Woodstein’s” background source. One clue was Bernstein’s constant references to Deep Throat as “my friend” — a tip to his real initials “MF.”

5. She wrote a draft of the script for ‘All the President’s Men’

All the President's Men
Warner Bros.

The iconic film based on her then-husband and Woodward’s groundbreaking work helped get her foot in the door of the movie business, purely by accident. Bernstein and Woodward didn’t like the original script written by William Goldman for the film based on the book of the same name, so Bernstein and Ephron took a crack at their own draft. Ultimately Goldman’s script made the final cut, but Ephron’s draft got her offers to do more screenwriting work.

6. She didn’t write the “I’ll Have What She’s Having” line from ‘When Harry Met Sally…’

One of Nora Ephron’s most famous films, directed by Rob Reiner, earned her an Oscar nomination in 1990 for Best Original Screenplay, an award that ultimately went to Tom Schulman for ‘Dead Poets Society.’ The most memorable scene in the movie was Meg Ryan’s fake orgasm scene with Billy Crystal, a moment that was in and of itself almost entirely improvised on the set. However, the famous “I’ll have what she’s having” line uttered by Reiner’s real-life mother was actually suggested by Crystal, according to Ephron.

7. She based ‘My Blue Heaven’ on the real life inspiration for ‘Goodfellas’

My Blue Heaven
Warner Bros.

Ephron was married to fellow screenwriter and author Nicholas Pileggi up until her death, and took inspiration from his most famous novel. Pileggi penned ‘Wiseguy,’ the account of mobster Henry Hill that served as the basis for ‘Goodfellas.’ Ephron used first-hand accounts from Hill as the inspiration for her screenplay for the Steve Martin/Rick Moranis comedy ‘My Blue Heaven,’ a comedic twist on the “mobster-in-the-witness-protection” story that was released a month before ‘Goodfellas’ hit theaters.

8. Her son plays guitar for Ke$ha

Max Bernstein and Kesha
Max Bernstein, Facebook

Max Bernstein, Ephron’s son with Carl Bernstein, is a singer/guitarist who plays with the band Max and the Marginalized. He also plays guitar and synths for Ke$ha and tweets jokes under the name maxmarginal. (Like mother, like son.) And if this photo is any indication, he’s also a fan of Wilson Philips cosplay.

9. She originally wanted Julia Roberts to star in ‘Sleepless in Seattle’

Meg Ryan was not the first choice to play opposite Tom Hanks in Ephron’s beloved romantic comedy. Julia Roberts was originally offered the part, but turned it down. Kim Basinger, then hot from movies like ‘Batman,’ also turned down the lead role, a move she now regrets. Basinger’s reason for passing? She thought the premise was ridiculous.

10. She hinted that she was dying in her final book

Nora Ephron I Remember Nothing
Salon.com

Ephron’s passing came as quite a shock to many because very few people even knew she was sick. Her most recent book of humor essays, ‘I Remember Nothing,’ may have been trying to tell her readers that this would be her last work with two essays that listed “What I Won’t Miss” and “What I Will Miss.” Even in death, she followed the first rule of comedy: always leave them laughing.

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