I Remember Nora

On the fourth anniversary of Nora Ephron’s death

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I interviewed Nora Ephron not long before her cancer diagnosis became known and a little more than a year before her death. She entered the Drexel University Picture Gallery, where we film our Drexel InterViews, looking game but weary. I thought she was tired out by the speaking engagements attached to the publication of her latest book, I Remember Nothing. In retrospect, I realize she was sick — and knew it. She was wearing black leggings and her hair framed her small head like a luxurious cap. I wonder now if it was a wig but tend to think not. Ephron always had marvelous hair; it was other attributes she complained about.

I had worn a turtle neck in preparation for her wearing one, given her essay, “I Feel Bad about My Neck” in her 2006 book by that name. The neck, she had noted in that piece, was the part of the female anatomy most prone to revealing age. She did not, however, wear a turtle neck that day, which left me feeling slightly ridiculous, since the weather was warm.

Much of what she said in the interview she had said before (and crops up in the recent HBO documentary by her son, Jacob Bernstein). She discussed working as a lowly mail girl and then researcher at Newsweek Magazine (women weren’t employed as writers then), of getting her big break as a writer for the New York Post, and then being hired by New York Magazine and Esquire. She recalled how, if she had received an inheritance that she was expecting but that did not pan out, she never would have finished the screenplay for When Harry Met Sally that launched her career as a screenwriter and then as a director. She rehearsed the familiar stories about her mother, whose dictum, “Everything is copy,” she lived by up until the end drew near. Only at one moment was there a chill in the conversation, when I glimpsed a tauter, more unscripted Nora. I said something to the effect that getting old wasn’t entirely bad. “Yes it is,” she snapped. “There’s nothing good about it.” I saw a spark in her eyes that did not brook disagreement.

We moved on.

The room where we shot the interview was a beautiful space where Drexel University exhibits the extensive painting collection of its founders. It is fitted with an alarm system and, for some reason, the alarm went off during out interview. The siren screeched on and on as Nora and I sat opposite each other. I was mortified. Here was a woman who oversaw shooting on big-budget movies, who was known for her perfectionism and her impatience on the set, being forced to sit in an unfamiliar space for 5, 10, 15 minutes waiting for a faulty alarm to stop ringing. I apologized profusely. “I know how you feel about having things go according to plan,” I said. “I’m so sorry. But I have to say that you don’t seem very upset.”

“It’s not my show,” said Nora, shrugging.

Nora Ephron died today (June 26) in 2012.•

Part 1

Part 2

More interviews can be found at Drexel Interview’s YouTube Channel.

Image courtesy of Dennis Amith via Flickr (Creative Commons)

Paula Marantz Cohen is Dean of the Pennoni Honors College and a Distinguished Professor of English at Drexel University. She is the host of  The Drexel InterView, a unit of the Pennoni Honors College. The Drexel InterView features a half-hour conversation with a nationally known or emerging talent in the arts, culture, science, or business. She is author of five nonfiction books and six bestselling novels, including Jane Austen in Boca and Jane Austen in Scarsdale or Love, Death, and the SATs. Her essays and stories have appeared in The Yale ReviewThe American Scholar, The Times Literary Supplement, and other publications. Her latest novels are Suzanne Davis Gets a Life and her YA novel, Beatrice Bunson’s Guide to Romeo and Juliet.
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