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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.)
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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 (reprinted from the September 16, 1968, issue of Publishers Weekly by permission of the critic, published by R. R. Bowker Company, a Xerox company; copyright © 1968 by Xerox Corporation), Vol. 194, No. 12, September 16, 1968, p. 74.
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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.
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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 Xerox Corporation), Vol. 198, No. 11, September 14, 1970, p. 66.
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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, several of the pieces are so light that they almost float away, and the interview with Mike Nichols, while interesting, is patently self-indulgent. (p. 45)
Henry S. Resnik, "The Apotheosis of Masscult," in Saturday Review (copyright © 1970 by Saturday Review; all rights reserved; reprinted with permission), Vol. LIII, No. 47, November 21, 1970, pp. 29, 45.
Ephron's articles [in Wallflower at the Orgy] consist of entertainingly sophisticated, tongue-in-cheek profiles, sketches, and comments on the popular cultural scene and certain big names of gourmet cookbook and television fame, in show business, the publishing and best seller world, high fashion, and other profitable mass culture areas. Ayn Rand, Helen Gurley Brown, Arthur Frommer, and Bill Blass are among names gaily bandied about in Ephron's amusing social commentary.
"Biography and Travel: 'Wallflower at the Orgy'," in The Booklist (reprinted by permission of the American Library Association; copyright 1971 by the American Library Association), Vol. 67, No. 13, March 1, 1971, p. 543.
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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 light of the future?, she asks, putting her finger on the fact that polarization of the sexes does seem to be an integral part of what we call romance….
The first piece in ["Crazy Salad"], "A Few Words About Breasts," is already regarded as the classic statement on large-breast fetishism. In this case, though, I think that Miss Ephron has been disproportionately praised. While there are good things in the article, she is too often cute when she is capable of being profound. I didn't feel much wiser after reading it, and it is her subject, after all.
"Dealing With the, uh, Problem," her study of vaginal deodorants, is a fine piece of reporting, full of splendid deadpan ironies….
I found two cases in which the author herself seemed to put sisterhood before objectivity: her calling one of Midge Decter's books "almost unreadable" and her uncharacteristically humorless response to Jan Morris's "Conundrum."…
Sometimes the author is a little too deft for me. I am not quite sure what she is trying to say about Julie Nixon Eisenhower, Rose Mary Woods or Pat Loud. She gives me a lot to think about in reference to each of them, but I'm puzzled as to what she wants me to feel.
The best thing about "Crazy Salad" is the implicit portrait of Miss Ephron herself. In many ways, she might model for a kind of contemporary pin-up who would please and relieve quite a few men I know. She is the sort of woman who can be ironical without seeming antiaphrodisiac or "castrating." She sounds as if she regards her own sexuality as part of a Dutch treat. She is intellectual in what I will rashly call a rather erotic way, appearing to enjoy the shape, the feel of an idea as much as its significance. If you were talking to her, I think you might occasionally forget that she is a woman then suddenly remember it with pleasure. She has the balance of an acrobat, a talent we all need these days.
Anatole Broyard, "A Woman for All Seasons," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1975 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), June 27, 1975, p. 33.
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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 assessments of three public figures who feel they've found success and see themselves as bold examples for others to follow (at what peril!): Linda Lovelace,… Pat Loud,… [and] Jan Morris, delighted at "being patronized by illiterate garage-men, if it meant they were going to give me some extra trading stamps." Is this what being a woman is about? (They are object lessons only if the lesson is to be an object.)
"Dealing with the, uh, Problem"—Ephron's long piece on the $40 million feminine-hygiene spray industry—is the best in the book, especially the description of how Alberto-Culver tested its product's efficacy on live subjects in the laboratory. Terry Southern couldn't have invented a vignette with wilder implication….
Also included are three pieces on Ephron herself: how it feels to be flat-chested …, not beautiful …, not blond ("being blond doesn't hurt").
Being talented doesn't hurt either. You can't have it all.
Alix Nelson, "Nora Ephron on Women and Nora Ephron," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1975 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), July 13, 1975, p. 5.
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[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. (a Xerox company); copyright © 1975 by Xerox Corporation), Vol. 100, No. 14, August, 1975, p. 1406.
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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 seriously, but unlike most self-declared women activists she does not belabor the truth about woman and in fact at times belittles certain aspects of the Feminist Movement. It is her balanced perspective (neither too gamey nor too wise), her pointed style that make the book irresistible reading. It is like a "crazy salad that fine women eat" (Yeats)….
Another factor which makes the book compelling (perhaps only for a woman and for men who pretend interest) is that Ms. Ephron unashamedly likes to talk, and smartly, like Paul Klee's "Ventriloquist" (the cover painting), on all subjects dealing with women and Woman…. Part of the charm in this collection is found in the parentheses: "(I didn't say that I wanted my class and the college to see what happened to me, but that of course was part of it, too.)" Most feminists would not admit that underlying their desire to deal candidly with the truth behind "the feminine mystique" is a deeper truth—that they are, in fact, part of the myth and live it daily (though frustrated) most of their unliberated lives. Most feminists may be chameleons but they'd never admit it to their liberated sisters. Nora does and I for one like her honesty.
Barbara Hoffman, "Non-Fiction: 'Crazy Salad'," in Best Sellers (copyright © 1975 Helen Dwight Reid Educational Foundation), Vol. 35, No. 6, September, 1975, p. 171.
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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 commenting on popular (female) culture. And I'm glad that such a smart person is on the story.
Susan Braudy, "Books in Short: 'Crazy Salad: Some Things about Women'," in Ms. (© 1975 Ms. Magazine Corp.), Vol. IV, No. 5, November, 1975, p. 59.
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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. Nevertheless, Nora Ephron assures us that she is committed to the women's movement and possesses a most empathetic personality. In Crazy Salad it is difficult to find evidence of either. But what is most disturbing about this book and its critical reception from other feminists is its display of feminine self-hatred. (p. 412)
To be fair, Ephron recognizes that fundamental changes in ourselves are required before relationships between men and women can be improved, even to the point of altering our basic fantasies. "Vaginal Politics," on health care for women, is eminently worth reading, as is "Dealing with the, uh, Problem," an essay about vaginal sprays. "Truth and Consequences" stresses the importance of overcoming one's political prejudices and reporting and accepting unpleasant truths. And she is correct about the potential dangers of consciousness-raising groups.
But the truth is that Nora Ephron refuses to take women seriously. Take her essay, "Baking Off," on the Pillsbury contest. She never uses her skill to probe these women. She prefers, rather, to quote the silliest member of the lot. She does not ask why some women find it imperative to enter the Pillsbury contest or why they struggle to be "super" homemakers. Unable to understand that many women honestly enjoy the homemaker role, she never questions their isolation from the women's movement.
One wishes she had addressed herself to the problem of why so many women for whom this movement is ostensibly intended feel so alienated from it. "In the women's movement, to be called the mother of anything is rarely a compliment." More's the pity, for this is exactly where the movement is at its weakest. (pp. 412-13)
Nor does Ephron deal with the obvious profitability of sexism. She's too busy scoring points off those Pillsbury ladies….
Unable to "understand any woman's wanting to be the first woman to do anything," Nora Ephron treads too many well-worn grooves: Julie Nixon Eisenhower, Rosemary Woods, one more negative comment about women in Israel. We have all been there before. But Ms. Ephron is not in business to tell her audience anything it does not wish to hear. After all, there are men lurking in those Esquire bushes. (p. 413)
Harriet Kriegel, "Books: 'Crazy Salad'," in Commonweal (copyright © 1976 Commonweal Publishing Co., Inc.; reprinted by permission of Commonweal Publishing Co., Inc.), Vol. CIII, No. 13, June 18, 1976, pp. 412-13.
What most of these media phenomena [described in Scribble Scribble] have in common, besides Ephron's contempt for them, is that they had no merit or standing B.E. Two exceptions are a discerning low-key interview with Russell Baker and a funny piece on "Uncle Art" Ephron the TV carpet campaigner. The pity of it is, she knows better: every damning thing that can be said about this compost heap, Ephron says about one or another of her trashy subjects (and, covering her tracks, about herself for having written about them). Including "Nobody really cares."
"Non-Fiction: 'Scribble Scribble'," in Kirkus Reviews (copyright © 1978 The Kirkus Service, Inc.), Vol. XLVI, No. 4, February 15, 1978, p. 216.
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[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 to suffer, to some degree, from unevenness, but "Scribble Scribble" more than most. There is included here a piece about an uncle of Miss Ephron's who did carpet commercials on television, which, even at the time of its magazine publication, could hardly have been of interest to anyone outside her immediate family; and there is an equally inexplicable account of a newsletter distributed throughout an apartment building in which Miss Ephron once resided. There is, in fact, such a wide, seemingly random diversity to the pieces as to make the whole—the book—not quite equal to the sum of its parts. One has no sense here of sustained seriousness of purpose; of the consistent application of critical intelligence that one finds, for instance, in the television criticism of Michael Arlen, or the book reviewing of Geoffrey Wolff. Perhaps this is because Miss Ephron never particularly wanted to write a news media column in the first place. She wanted, she tells us, "simply to find some subject to write about in order to get back into the front of Esquire magazine." She found her subject—the news media—and when she got bored with it, or grew sufficiently troubled by the awareness that she was making too much of too little, she had the good sense to stop. Leaving us with this bright, amusing, razor-edged souvenir.
Joe McGinniss, "Mixed Salad," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1978 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), April 16, 1978, pp. 7, 33.
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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 York Times Book Review (© 1978 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), April 18, 1978, p. 37.
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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 (copyright 1978, by Newsweek, Inc.; all rights reserved; reprinted by permission), Vol. XCI, No. 17, April 24, 1978, pp. 96, 98.
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[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)
R. Z. Sheppard, "She-Wits and Funny Persons: Five Women Who Have Something in Comic," in Time (reprinted by permission from Time, The Weekly Newsmagazine; copyright Time Inc. 1978), Vol. III, No. 22, May 29, 1978, pp. 92-4, 96.∗
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[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 substantive…. (p. 3)
John Deedy, "'Scribble Scribble'," in The Critic © The Critic 1978; reprinted with the permission of the Thomas More Association, Chicago, Illinois), Vol. 37, No. 4, August 15, 1978, pp. 2-3.
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