by Robert Gottlieb
A couple of years before Nora's death in 2012, she and I sat down to begin putting together the table of contents for this book. Then other things got in the way — her play, Lucky Guy; a movie script she was working on — and it was set aside. Perhaps, too, knowing how ill she was, she began to see the book as a memorial and that made her uncomfortable — she never said. But although I was aware of her dire medical situation, the original impulse behind the book was not to memorialize but to celebrate the richness of her work, the amazing arc of her career, and the place she had come to hold in the hearts of so many readers. The reaction to her death was an outpouring of disbelief and grief. Before the publication of her two final collections — I Feel Bad About My Neck and I Remember Nothing — she was, of course, admired and enjoyed for both her writing and her movies, but the readership of these last books seemed to me to be on another level. It was personal. Her readers not only felt that they knew her but that she knew them. Obviously, not all the people — more than a million of them! — who bought Neck were women who identified with her or sensed her identification with them, but certainly many of them were. She had become a model, an ideal, or at the very least, an example — she was telling them things about herself that were also about them, and giving them permission to think these things and feel these things. And she was also telling them what to look out for, what lay ahead. Her honesty and directness, and her unerring prescience, had made her a figure — someone whose influence and authority transcended her individual achievements, extraordinary as they were.
In her later years, her movies brought her tremendous response and reward, both for their quality and because she was the first woman of her time to become a successful commercial film director. How did she do it? By her talent, naturally — her uncanny ability to give us romance as seen through a gimlet eye. Some people complained that her movies were sentimental — those happy endings! But those happy endings were actually realistic: She had lived one herself, through her long third marriage, one of the happiest marriages I've ever witnessed. The determination and persistence — and clarity — that saw her prevail in Hollywood were the qualities that earlier had propelled her to the heights of journalism, first as a reporter, then as an outspoken commentator. Her abiding principle was the reality principle. And of course she had a not-so-secret weapon: She was funny, even when she was furious; funny through thick and (as we know from Heartburn) thin. And she was openly and generously personal without being egotistical. She saw everything wryly, including herself. She also looked great. This book is structured around the many genres and subjects she explored and conquered. As you'll see, it's autobiographical, sociological, political. It adds up to a portrait of a writer, a log of a writer's career, and an unofficial — and unintended — report on feminism in her time. She's a reporter, a profilist, a polemicist, a novelist, a screenwriter, a playwright, a memoirist, and a (wicked) blogger — blogging came along just in time for her to lash out fiercely at the bad old days of Bush/Cheney. And let's not forget that she was an obsessed foodie. Even her novel has recipes. What was she like in real life? To begin with, she was a perfect spouse: She and her Nick could have given lessons to that earlier exemplary Nick-and-Nora, the Thin Man and the Thin Man's lady. She adored her two boys, and nobly tried not to micromanage them. (A real sacrifice: Managing things was one of her supreme talents — and pleasures.) She was a fanatical friend, always there for anyone who needed support, encouragement, or kindness. She was also, I can report, a wonderfully responsive colleague. We worked together on all her books after her first collection, Wallflower at the Orgy, without a single moment of contention. As a result, I think I know what she would have wanted this book to be, and her family allowed me to shape it. My immediate reward was having a professional excuse to reread everything she ever wrote. No other editorial job I've ever performed has been so much fun ...
A few notes on the text. Since almost all of this material has previously appeared in print but in a variety of venues, we've justified such technical matters as spelling and punctuation. There are some places (surprisingly few, actually) where, over the years, Nora repeated certain stories (sometimes with minor variations) or remade certain points — as in her memories of her early role model, "Jane." We've left these as they originally appeared so that they can be read in context. The brilliant introduction she wrote for the published version of When Harry Met Sally ... originally preceded the text of the script, but now it follows it — I felt it gave away too many of the surprises to come. The recipes — she might not have been pleased — remain untested.
From Robert Gottlieb's introduction to The Most of Nora Ephron, a collection of Nora Ephron's works. Copyright 2013 by Robert Gottlieb. Excerpted by permission of Knopf.