Nora Ephron Biography


(History of the World: The 20th Century)

Article abstract: Known for her critical, comedic observations in magazine writing and films, Ephron is one of Hollywood’s most successful screenwriters and directors.

Early Life

Nora Ephron was born in New York City on May 19, 1941, the eldest of four daughters of screenwriters Henry Ephron and Phoebe Wolkind Ephron. Henry, whose plays had not been produced, worked in the New York theater as stage manager for playwright George S. Kaufman and director Moss Hart.

When Nora was born, Phoebe rejected full-time motherhood, and Phoebe and Henry began their lifelong collaboration. The Ephrons’ play Three’s a Family focused its comedy on the addition of a baby to a household. The play was produced on Broadway, winning the Ephrons a motion picture contract with Twentieth Century-Fox. In 1944, they moved to Hollywood with daughter Nora.

Phoebe and Henry collaborated on screenplays for films such as The Desk Set (1957) and Carousel (1956). The Ephron family was close-knit; dinner had a talk show atmosphere, and the four children competed for attention by telling amusing anecdotes about their daily activities or arguing about politics. The children were encouraged to be interesting and amusing, and three of the four daughters became writers.

Nora Ephron cites her mother as a role model, a working mother in an era when most women were housewives. Phoebe passed on the Ephron philosophy of life and art: to use one’s experiences as a basis for writing. Like her parents, Nora often collaborated in her screenwriting, once with her sister Delia Ephron. Her three marriages have been to writers.

Nora grew up in Beverly Hills, as part of an upper-middle-class Jewish milieu in the shadow of the film industry. At Beverly Hills High School, Nora edited the front page of the school newspaper, having discovered that she wanted to be a journalist at age thirteen. She also published news and sports stories in the Los Angeles Times. Her idol was satirist Dorothy Parker, the quintessential New York writer, and New York was her spiritual home.

In 1958, Nora entered Wellesley College in Massachusetts, and she was graduated in 1962. She later wrote that Wellesley taught women to restrain themselves, to be too polite. Nora’s letters home from college became the basis for her parents’ Broadway hit comedy Take Her, She’s Mine (1961).

Life’s Work

While in college, Nora Ephron worked one summer as a copy girl for CBS in New York. After being graduated, she was hired by Newsweek to work in the mail room and was eventually promoted to researcher. In 1963, she was hired as a general assignment reporter by the New York Post, writing short pieces. After two years, she was assigned her first series. Ephron values this period of honing her craft, of learning to condense and research thoroughly. She began to submit articles to magazines.

In 1968, Ephron left the Post to work full-time as a freelancer, writing profiles of celebrities. Ephron’s authorial voice emerged as she used her barbed humor to make serious comments on a variety of popular culture topics: mass media, show business, the worlds of fashion and food, and popular novels. She defended her interest in popular culture by declaring it trivial but as much a part of her life as world politics.

In 1970, Ephron published a collection of articles, Wallflower at the Orgy. The title reflected what she called her journalistic detachment, meaning not objectivity (which she did not deem possible) but a sense of the absurdity of life that tended to make her a witness of events rather than a participant. She claims that it took years for her to use the word “I” in her writing.

Ephron makes use of her direct experience in a harrowing account of a beauty makeover. A piece on Helen Gurley Brown, editor of Cosmopolitan magazine, recounts Ephron’s own experience of being edited by Brown. Her analysis of the cult popularity of writer Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead (1943) mentions her own adolescent fascination with the novel. Her interview with film director Mike Nichols is a conversation; Ephron is not the invisible interviewer.

In 1972, Ephron joined the staff of Esquire magazine as contributing editor, writing a column on women’s issues for the male-oriented publication. Joining New York magazine in 1973, Ephron continued to write on women. Twenty-five of Ephron’s columns for Esquire are collected in her book Crazy Salad: Some Things About Women (1975).

Ephron’s essays here take a personal tone. The lead essay, “A Few Words About Breasts,” describes her own experiences as an adolescent growing up in the American culture of the 1950’s. Even in adulthood, her small breast size figured in competitive interactions with women as well as in relationships with men. For Ephron, observation of her personal experience became an avenue for reporting general cultural phenomena surrounding women. “Fantasies” poses the problem of the contradiction between feminist politics and a culturally induced desire to be dominated.

Ephron’s observations of the political maneuverings of women’s movement leaders at the 1976 Democratic Convention were criticized as a betrayal of the movement. In “Truth or Consequences,” Ephron...

(The entire section is 2214 words.)

Nora Ephron Biography

(Drama for Students)

Nora Ephron was born on the Upper West Side of Manhattan on May 19, 1941 to Henry and Phoebe Ephron, prominent screenwriters of such classic...

(The entire section is 374 words.)

Nora Ephron Biography

(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Nora Ephron (EHF-ron) was born into a literary family: Her father, Henry, and her mother, Phoebe (née Wolkind), both wrote stage plays and screenplays. Two of her three younger sisters, Delia and Amy, are also writers; only the third Ephron daughter, Hallie, has not followed in the family tradition. Ephron’s parents wrote a hit play, Three’s a Family, based on life with Nora when she was two years old, and later a successful play, Take Her, She’s Mine, based on her letters from college. Ephron has said that her mother also encouraged her to write from a personal perspective, telling her “Take notes. Everything is copy.”

When Ephron was three years old, the family moved from New York to Beverly Hills. An intelligent, skinny teenager, Ephron felt unattractive in the glamorous California community where young women were rewarded more for beauty than for brains. As soon as she graduated from high school, she returned to the East Coast. After obtaining her B.A. at Wellesley College in 1962, she worked for several years as a reporter for the New York Post, then freelanced until 1972, when she became a columnist and contributing editor at Esquire. In 1973 she moved to New York in the same capacities. At both magazines her writing concentrated on women and the feminist movement. Witty, ironic, and perceptive, Ephron covered topics ranging from college reunions and cooking contests to the impact of breast size, and she profiled newsworthy women ranging from Julie Nixon Eisenhower to pornographic movie star Linda Lovelace. Many of these essays were collected in her book Crazy Salad: Some Things About Women. Returning to Esquire in 1974 as senior editor and columnist, she turned her attention to the media, the subject of her third book of essays.

Ephron’s first marriage, to humorist Dan Greenburg, ended in divorce in 1967. In 1976 she married journalist Carl Bernstein, renowned for his role in exposing the Watergate political scandal. Ephron and Bernstein were a popular, high-profile couple in East Coast literary and social circles. The marriage collapsed in scandal in 1979, however, after Bernstein announced to Ephron, seven months pregnant with their second...

(The entire section is 917 words.)

Nora Ephron Biography

(American Culture and Institutions Through Literature, 1960-1969)

Early Life

The oldest of four daughters, Nora Ephron was born in New York City but raised in Hollywood, California. Her parents, Henry and Phoebe Ephron, were screenwriters, and their children grew up in the rarefied atmosphere of the film industry. Influential house guests included the witty New York writer Dorothy Parker, in whose footsteps Ephron dreamed of following. The professional life led by Ephron’s mother gave Ephron a will to succeed on her own talents rather than by nurturing a man’s ambitions. Hollywood exposed her to fashion, cinema, and cuisine, all of which became topics in her writing.

The 1960’s

After graduating from Wellesley College in 1962, Ephron worked...

(The entire section is 792 words.)

Nora Ephron Bibliography

(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Abramowitz, Rachel. Is That a Gun in Your Pocket? Women’s Experience of Power in Hollywood. New York: Random House, 2000. Ephron is among the Hollywood women interviewed and assessed in this sweeping work.

Bennetts, Leslie. “Nora’s Arc.” Vanity Fair 55, no. 2 (February, 1992): 76. Discusses Ephron’s directorial debut.

Ephron, Henry. We Thought We Could Do Anything: The Life of Screenwriters Phoebe and Henry Ephron. New York: W. W. Norton, 1977. Ephron’s father relates the story of his and his wife’s lives and careers, including material on Nora’s childhood and social life. The book...

(The entire section is 369 words.)