By James Wallace Harris, Sunday, March 27, 2016
My wife called and said she wanted me to watch a documentary with her. My wife hates documentaries. I love documentaries, and always beg my wife, and lady friends, to watch them with me. They won’t. They always say, “Let’s watch TV!” but they never mean documentaries. Or westerns. Anyway, I said sure. At least it wouldn’t be a romantic comedy. I’m still glad I agreed.
Do you know who Nora Ephron is? I didn’t. The name was oddly familiar, but I couldn’t put a face to the name, or a list of accomplishments. “Oh, you know, she did When Harry Met Sally, and Sleepless in Seattle,” why wife prompted. Uh-oh. Yeah, there’s a reason why I love documentaries. Anyway, I watched Everything is Copy, the new documentary on HBO about Nora Ephron. I was glad I did. Even though Ephron is famous for writing the kind of movies my wife watches over and over again while I do something else, her story was compelling. It turns out, Nora Ephron was an exceedingly fascinating a person. She was a writer, and one much loved by writers I love, and I love documentaries about writers, even ones I don’t read.
I went to the library the next day and got two Nora Ephron books, I Remember Nothing and other Reflections and I Feel Bad About My Neck. I’ve read four essays so far, and I’m impressed. I was hoping for some of meanness that her friends talked about in the documentary. Unfortunately, no stealth barbs have shown up yet. I think I need to track down her magazine work from the 1970s, because she seems to have mellowed before she died. The show did say that.
Ephron had a long career, and for a while in the 1960s she was a journalist for the New York Post, learning the newspaper business. She was at the airport when The Beatles arrived in 1964, and broke the story about Bob Dylan getting married in 1966. Then wrote for Esquire and New York, mastering magazine writing during the legendary times in the 1970s that Tom Wolfe and Gail Sheehy wrote for them. Evidently, Ephron knew all the famous feminists back then, and wrote a column about women. Although Esquire is behind a pay wall, it does offer an audio version of “A Few Words About Breasts” from May, 1972—scroll down to see it. (I may have to subscribe to Esquire so I can read it’s back issues.)
Everything Is Copy covers Ephron’s early life, her Hollywood screenwriting parents, all her marriages, including the marriage to Carl Bernstein, her careers in New York City, her careers in Hollywood, and how she kept her fatal illness from all her many friends. Ephron’s story is mostly told by her older famous friends, or by younger famous friends reading her work, which only illustrates just how amazingly rich her life was. I’m sorry I wasn’t a fan from way back. Maybe I’ll even watch her movies, now that I have some background to understand them. (No promises, Susan.)
I don’t know if I should admit this, but I sometimes find biographies of successful women more fascinating than their work. I read three biographies of Louisa May Alcott before I read Little Women. And I’d rather read about Virginia Woolf than read her novels, even though I do admire her novels. Now that I think about it, there are male authors I’d rather read about than read. Aldous Huxley is one. Ephron was one of those writers whose life was far more exciting than her own stories, at least to me.
Anyway, this woman is going to always be famous for romantic movies that my wife loves, but I don’t. She actually deserves to be remembered for doing so much more. I’m sure most people know that. I didn’t. Sorry. I’m not knocking her movies, I’m just not her target audience. So, if you don’t like Ephron’s movies, I still highly recommend seeing Everything is Copy, especially if you’re the fan of documentaries like those on American Masters, the PBS series. And as documentaries go, it was very well written and filmed, the kind that’s intriguing even if you’re not interested in the subject itself.