Nora Ephron Essay - Critical Essays

Ephron, Nora (Vol. 17)


Nora Ephron 1941–

American journalist, essayist, and editor.

Ephron is a commentator on popular culture who brings a fresh, iconoclastic approach to contemporary topics. A feminist who is not dogmatic or humorless ("I always say I'm a quirky feminist. I don't know what the party line is."), Ephron is also a popular media celebrity who is frequently irreverent about fellow journalists.

The daughter of two Hollywood filmwriters, she was raised in affluent America. She has said of her childhood, "I grew up in Beverly Hills loving the smell of mink, the smell of the pavement after it rained, and the smell of dollar bills." Ephron's fascination with the products of a consumer society has produced some of her best known essays, such as the Esquire article on feminine hygiene products.

As a columnist for Esquire and New York magazine, she exhibited a variety of techniques; while admiring her skill in the short essay, some critics wish she would attempt a longer, more demanding form. Ephron's three best known books, Wallflower at the Orgy, Crazy Salad, and Scribble Scribble, are collections composed primarily of her magazine articles. Young people have found their perceptive, humorous analyses of American foibles to be both accurate and entertaining. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 65-68.)

Leonore Fleischer

Quite early in [And Now Here's Johnny] the author shows her pique at the difficulty of telling the story of the "real" Johnny. The scores of people interviewed agree that he was a nice guy, but none could call themselves either close friends or bitter enemies. Carson, when interviewed, gave short, noncommittal answers. When it comes to keeping his private life private, he's "second only to Greta Garbo"…. Occasionally it gets a little salty, but for the most part this is a bland biography of an apparently bland guy doing a bland show and it should appeal to thousands of bland readers.

Leonore Fleischer, "Show Business: 'And Now Here's Johnny'," in Publishers Weekly...

(The entire section is 143 words.)

Clarence Petersen

And Now, Here's Johnny attempts to unveil the "real" Johnny Carson, but Carson mightily resists unveiling. Miss Ephron complains that in interviews he gave short, noncommittal answers…. But the author combed assiduously through old magazine and newspaper files for quotes, anecdotes and information, and pieced together a life story that will doubtless interest all who are dying to know what Johnny Carson is really like.

Clarence Petersen, "Paperbacks: 'And Now, Here's Johnny'," in Book World—Chicago Tribune (© Postrib Corp.; reprinted by permission of Chicago Tribune and The Washington Post), October 27, 1968, p. 21.


(The entire section is 91 words.)

Albert Johnston

Rep-wrecker Nora Ephron swings the funniest journalistic wrecker's ball this side of Rex Reed. [Wallflower at the Orgy] is an implosion of miscellaneous interviews and analyses, nearly all of them highly personal and devastating, focused on some of the established figures in popular culture…. It's an uneven collection of magazine ephemera, but many readers will laugh hilariously while chasing Nora on her rounds.

Albert Johnston, "Non-Fiction: 'Wallflower at the Orgy'," in Publishers Weekly (reprinted from the September 14, 1970, issue of Publishers Weekly by permission of the critic, published by R. R. Bowker Company, a Xerox company; copyright © 1970 by...

(The entire section is 103 words.)

Henry S. Resnik

Several times in the course of Wallflower at the Orgy, a collection of magazine articles, Nora Ephron captures the true spirit of the popular arts in America perfectly. It is a spirit that grows from the heart of The People. The media didn't need to invent it, for it reflects profound longings, anxieties, and dreams, the most pernicious neuroses of capitalism; the media merely nourish it….

Ephron is at her best when probing and exposing the masscult sensibility, for she brings to the subject just the right combination of camp playfulness and shrewd intelligence. She's dismayed, but not despairing. And she can make good fun of her own role in the masscult-midcult madness…. Unfortunately,...

(The entire section is 260 words.)

Anatole Broyard

While she might be a bit startled to hear it, I think that Nora Ephron comes pretty close to exemplifying the androgynous ideal that some feminists advocate as the solution to the war between men and women. She is attractively feminine, in the obsolete sense of that battered word, and a regular fellow at the same time. I would even say "one of the boys," if I were not afraid of being misunderstood. She is tender and tough, sentimental and cynical, old-fashioned and modern in just about the right proportions. Her feminism does not keep her from wondering whether our secret sexual fantasies can ever catch up with the categories of the women's liberation movement. What will happen to the literature of the past in the...

(The entire section is 491 words.)

Alix Nelson

Ephron has made it as a journalist not only through her wit, which though offhand and irreverent is without the [Dorothy] Parker bite, but through the particular sensibility which infuses her pieces with a freely acknowledged moral bias or ambivalence that nonetheless is seldom allowed to take over the whole show (unless she is describing her own pratfalls, which she does with splendid élan).

"Crazy Salad" is a collection of 25 articles "that glance off and onto the subject of women." What she glances off and onto is really how women fail—fail because they are given so few options to succeed on any terms that aren't ultimately self-defeating….

[Most] telling are Ephron's...

(The entire section is 288 words.)

Barbara Zelenko

[Crazy Salad is a] collection of witty and absorbing pieces…. At her best, Ephron brings a great deal of herself to her writing … but she is good at thoroughly researched, impersonal reporting as well. Her feminist consciousness is evident throughout, but Ephron is a far too perceptive and original writer to take the usual movement line on every occasion…. She has a gift for finding the different slant on a person or issue so that even pieces on such overworked media favorites as Pat Loud and Sally Quinn are worth reading.

Barbara Zelenko, "'Crazy Salad'," in Library Journal (reprinted from Library Journal, August, 1975; published by R. R. Bowker Co....

(The entire section is 120 words.)

Barbara Hoffman

At first glance the title, Crazy Salad, recalls Penny Candy, a collection of written-for-magazine essays by Jean Kerr. Even the first essay, "A Few Words about Breasts," salted as it is with self-depreciating remarks, makes me laugh in spite of myself…. With "Breasts" the tendency is to see Nora Ephron as the Seventies' sophisticated sister of Jean Kerr—after all Nora does write for Esquire, not McCalls! Here the comparison ends, for though Nora may write about breasts, the Pillsbury Bake-off, and FDS, her intent is not purely to milk wit out of every line, but rather to expose the truth despite consequences. And she says so, too. Like all feminists, though, she asks to be taken...

(The entire section is 340 words.)

Susan Braudy

If you've ever heard Nora Ephron hold forth on television, or read her excellent pieces in Esquire and New York magazine—many of which are collected in Crazy Salad—you know her unpredictable and trenchant take on any subject and her unique voice: smart, witty, and confidential. And her voice—written or verbal—is backed by a brilliant, restless mind….

Although Ephron modestly claims that "this book is not intended to be any sort of definitive history of women in the early 1970s; it's just some things I wanted to write about," I prefer to think that she is one of our serious social critics. These essays are the work of a journalist who has assigned herself the task of...

(The entire section is 158 words.)

Harriet Kriegel

Not disposed to educate or alienate her audience, Ms. Ephron can't believe that beautiful women or women with breasts have anything to complain about…. This implies, of course, that only plain women earn the right to question a sexist society—presumably because they are less readily accepted by it. Ephron's audience can, no doubt, speak with some authority here. Unfortunately, Ms. Ephron herself never asks why beauty is such an important commodity in this society and fails to recognize that when ludicrous physical standards are created, we all become losers—plain, ugly and beautiful.

Nor does she feel sympathy with mothers and housewives; she confesses to voluptuous fantasies about rape....

(The entire section is 608 words.)


[Scribble Scribble] is as clean, tart and refreshing as the first gin-and-tonic of the summer….

Nora Ephron writes, at all times, with clarity, directness and wit; and with a casual, agreeable chattiness well suited to her subject. It is as if she were calling on the phone at 10 A.M. to bounce a few impressions off you over coffee. Her best moments come when she takes off into manic flight and seems suddenly transformed into Woody Allen; or, perhaps, into a somewhat more malicious Roger Angell….

On those infrequent occasions when she becomes truly incensed, she can be brutal…. (p. 7)

The book, however, is not without flaws. All collections would seem...

(The entire section is 359 words.)

John Leonard

If you haven't read Miss Ephron's other two books, "Wallflower at the Orgy" and "Crazy Salad," you should be redistributed by George McGovern. She can write about anything better than anybody else can write about anything….

She pays too much attention [in "Scribble, Scribble"] to The Palm Beach Social Pictorial, Gourmet Social Pictorial, Gourmet magazine, double-crostics and a putative failure of character on the part of Daniel Schorr—the medium is not the message!—but gets away with it because she is that peculiar phenomenon, the blithe moralist, the mistress of the steely clause, a brilliant scourge.

John Leonard, "National Insecurities," in The New...

(The entire section is 119 words.)

Walter Clemons

Nora Ephron's "Scribble Scribble" collects 25 shrewd and funny articles on the media written for Esquire. Ephron's best pieces are her devastating profile of Dorothy Schiff, former owner of The New York Post, her scathing review of Brendan Gill's "Here at The New Yorker" and her parodies of Theodore H. White's Making of the President books and Gail Sheehy's "Passages"…. [She] turns out finally to be a troubled critic of personal journalism …: "Journalists … just aren't as interesting as the things they cover," she wrote on resigning her Esquire column. "It is possible to lose sight of this. I would like not to."

Walter Clemons, "Pressing Issues," in Newsweek...

(The entire section is 122 words.)

R. Z. Sheppard

[Nora Ephron] … gives her subjects plenty of rope before she hangs them. Scribble Scribble …, a gathering of her journalism criticism for Esquire, allows a number of well-known writers and editors to twist slowly in their own wind. Ephron is an excellent parodist. (p. 94)

One of Ephron's funniest pieces is not about a journalist but about her cousin, the owner of a Bronx carpet store. He may seem somewhat out of place beside Russell Baker, Bob Haldeman and Theodore H. White, but Cousin Arthur Ephron delivers the best line when he assures the author that the New York-based department-store chain E. J. Korvettes does not stand for Eight Jewish Korean War Veterans. (pp. 94, 96)


(The entire section is 145 words.)

John Deedy

[Scribble Scribble] is saucier than [Tom Wicker's On Press] and more wide-ranging, but not so thoughtful, no doubt because it is briefer, the chapters sketchier. Another problem is that it's a compilation…. Reading the trim, compact chapters is to have the feeling of killing time in a doctor's office….

Whether she realizes it or not, Nora Ephron is short-changing herself. As one of the top female journalists on manners and modes in modern America, Ephron has much to say, and a sizable reading audience to say it to. The question is how long she can hold her book audience with reprinted 1500-word columns. One of these days her audience is going to insist on something more...

(The entire section is 143 words.)