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Three time Oscar nominee Nora Ephron, the successful quintuple threat director and screenwriter and playwright and author and columnist who made a career out of the frank depictions of women and their relationships with men and careers and themselves, died today. Sources told Deadline she had been suffering from leukemia but didn’t want the showbiz community to know and had kept her illness a private matter. (The family later confirmed she died of acute myeloid leukemia). The result is that her death came as a shock to Hollywood. She was 71. Many considered Ephron one of Hollywood’s first successful feminist filmmakers able to bring humor, drama, pathos, and sometimes sentimentality to her depictions of women’s lives and their families.
The New York native wrote and/or directed some of Hollywood’s most admired and even best-loved modern movies, including Silkwood (1983), When Harry Met Sally (1989), This Is My Life (1992, her first directing effort), Sleepless In Seattle (1993), You’ve Got Mail (1998), and Julie And Julia (2009). She was a triple Academy Awards nominee in the Original Screenplay category for three films: Silkwood, When Harry Met Sally and Sleepless in Seattle. One of her least successful films, Heartburn, was autobiographical based on her 1983 roman a clef and depicted the adulterous end of her marriage to second husband, Watergate journalist Carl Bernstein. Ephron’s third husband of 20 years, author Nick Pileggi, is a frequent collaborator with Martin Scorsese. Later in life, her essays and columns moved away from women’s issues and into politics and she became not only a leading feminist voice but also a prominent champion of liberalism. Ephron was working on a Broadway play set to debut in January titled Lucky Guy which was a biographical drama about the newspaper columnist Mike McAlary who tragically died young. Tom Hanks, a frequent Ephron collaborator in films, was reported to be in discussions to make his Broadway debut in the play.
Daughter of screenwriters Henry and Phoebe Ephron, Ephron began her career as a journalist at the New York Post. Known for her humor and wit, she went on to write for publications such as Esquire, New York, and The New York Times Magazine. Her first collection of essays, Wallflower At The Orgy (1970) became a best-seller. She took on subjects ranging from Betty Friedan, whom she chastised for pursuing a feud with Gloria Steinem, to her alma mater Wellesley College, for turning out what she described as an earlier generation of “docile” women. Ephron eventually followed in her parents’ footsteps and transitioned to the big screen where she established herself as an original voice who created strong roles for women. She received an Oscar nomination for penning the whistleblower drama Silkwood (1983), director Mike Nichols’ biopic of anti-nuclear activist Karen Silkwood played by Meryl Streep. But Ephron enjoyed her greatest success with romantic comedies like When Harry Met Sally (1989) directed by Rob Reiner and starring Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan. She began directing and soon had major international hits with Sleepless In Seattle (1993) and You’ve Got Mail (1998), both starring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan. Her most recent picture was the sleeper critical and audience favorite Julie And Julia (2009) blending two stories: one about Julia Child’s rise to fame and starring Meryl Streep, and the other about a blogger who decides to cook all 524 recipes in Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking and starring Amy Adams. Ephron primarily wrote and directed for Sony because of her close friendship with its chairman Howard Stringer.
“Nora, as a writer, director and producer, is a legendary triple threat in entertainment’s great trifecta: Broadway, Hollywood and publishing. With her passing, many lights have been extinguished – studio lights, theater lights, of course. But mostly, the light from the chandelier above her dining table where so many gathered to share, with Nick and her sons, her extraordinary life. So many friends will miss her terribly and no longer know who to call, what to see, what to listen to, where and what to eat, and often, what to think. Such is her energy, her enthusiasm and her gift for friendship.” – Sir Howard Stringer, Chairman, Sony Corporation
“We are devastated and heartbroken. We all loved Nora very much”. – Amy Pascal, Co-Chairman, Sony Pictures Entertainment
“We were greatly saddened to learn of the passing of director Nora Ephron, 2011 recipient of the DGA Honors Filmmaker Award. Last year, as part of the Guild’s 75th Anniversary, the DGA celebrated game-changing directors who have made an indelible mark on our industry. We are proud to have recognized Nora’s contributions in honor of her prolific career as a director, producer, journalist, novelist, playwright and screenwriter. When she began directing, Nora was an inspiration for women filmmakers at a time when there were few female directors working in Hollywood. Nora once said in the New Yorker, ‘You look at a list of directors and it’s all boys; So I thought, I’m just going to become a director and that’ll make it easier.’ Nora, thanks for making it easier for the many directors who will continue to follow in your footsteps.” – Taylor Hackford, Directors Guild of America President
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