A few words here about Nora Ephron. She became my inspiration and role model in 1972 with her Esquire piece, "A Few Words About My Breasts." She had me at the bath tub, staring down at her flat chest.
A discussion followed with her mother, who was anti-bra. After Nora screams, "I am too old to wear an undershirt," her mother says, "Then don't wear an undershirt" to which Nora replies, "But I want to buy a bra." Her mom asks, "What for?"
The hilarity continued in that piece. In the rest. When my friends and I discuss our body parts, hair, men and aging, we include what Nora said.
In the mid-seventies, I approached her at a New School conference and asked for advice on getting humor pieces published. She took my left hand. "You're married. Too bad. The editors at MAD are a horny bunch." A pause then, "Call them, anyway. Make an appointment, take the ring off, get yourself up there, and pitch a piece." Another pause. "Maybe keep the ring on. They'll dig that you're married and unavailable. Maybe pitch a few."
I did not go to MAD, but I took off that wedding band and wrote essays on dating men who did not have a nodding acquaintance with reality, which I had published in many other magazines and then compiled in a book. Although I was not as smart or witty as Nora, I followed the advice her mother gave her, "everything is copy" and "take notes."
I took notes on my experiences. I took notes on Nora's films.
Flirting with the idea of writing a screenplay, as I watched "When Harry Met Sally" for the third time, I counted the number of scenes.
The form and structure were not all I needed to know. I returned to writing essays, which has been fine with me.
Nora Ephron remained a role model. To me. To every woman who attempts to be amusing in print or on the screen.
Nora lived out and surpassed the dream, doing it all, wearing several hats. She became a director in male-dominated Hollywood, blazing the trail for other women who had not yet ventured into that arena.
Speaking at the New School several years ago in the same auditorium as she did at the mid-seventies conference, she was asked by a young woman for pointers on getting published.
"What are you writing?"Ephron asked. "A novel. I have my manuscript with me," the woman said. To which Nora replied, "Bring it up." The woman did.
On Tuesday night, when my friend and I were on the phone mourning Nora's death, my friend asked, "When was the last time you heard her speak?" Twice in recent years: on a panel of smart, witty writers at a New York Times Talk and on a televised tribute to Mike Nichols. She called him on his saying that he loved three women: his wife, Diane Sawyer; Julia Roberts; and Meryl Streep. The implication: she felt left out.
Nora Ephron excluded? Not from the affection of her friends, family, and fans.
I feel bad she left us way too soon, but I feel good about her neck.
Her neck. Her achievements. And her wit that came out in what she wrote and said. Nora Ephron will continue to touch and enrich us with her timeless, amazing gifts.
Nancy Davidoff Kelton, who grew up in Buffalo, is the author of six books. She teaches at the New School.