17 October, 2021

Nora Ephron’s Son Writes About Her ‘Final Act’

Jacob Bernstein, a contributor to The New York Times ephronand son of the late writer, Nora Ephron, wrote a beautiful tribute to his mother for the publication. The piece explains the final days of her illness, just before she lost her fight against leukemia and the final project she was working on prior to her death.

Illness, and how a person handles it, was not the first thing on my mom’s mind when she began writing “Lucky Guy” back in 1999. At that point, she wasn’t even sick.

Based on real events, “Lucky Guy” is about a tabloid journalist named Mike McAlary. In the early ’90s, he became one of the highest-paid newspaper columnists in the country. Crime was still rampant in New York, and the Internet had not yet destroyed the economics of the newspaper business. My mother said that she saw his career as “the end of something,” a bookend to a time when reporters could still believe there was power in the job; when Elaine’s was still one of the city’s most glamorous rooms; when much of Times Square still belonged to prostitutes and drug dealers; and when the West Village had not yet been taken over by hedge-fund magnates and Russian oligarchs.

My mother knew a lot about McAlary’s world. She dreamed of being a newspaper reporter from the time she was in high school, and wound up spending much of her 20s working at The New York Post. Moreover, McAlary was what she liked to call “a problematic human being.” And after a decade of writing and directing romantic comedies, a lead character who wasn’t entirely likable seemed like a good way to keep herself from getting boxed in.

Bernstein discusses the impact the play made on his mother’s creative process despite her illness and the lessons he learned from his mother and, by extension, her mother, about writing and telling “your” story so that it is truly yours:

All her life, she subscribed to the belief that ‘everything is copy,’ a phrase her mother, Phoebe, used to say. In fact, when Phoebe was on her deathbed, she told my mother, ‘Take notes.’ She did. What both of them believed was that writing has the power to turn the bad things that happen to you into art (although ‘art’ was a word she hated). ‘When you slip on a banana peel, people laugh at you; but when you tell people you slipped on a banana peel, it’s your laugh,’ she wrote in her anthology I Feel Bad About My Neck. ‘So you become the hero rather than the victim of the joke.’

Ephron died last summer. She wrote such film classics as Silkwood, Sleepless In Seattle, You’ve Got Mail and Julie and Julia. You can read the piece in its entirety here.

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