Nora Ephron, Playwright and Screenwriter Known for "Heartburn" and "When Harry Met Sally," Dead at 71

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and Robert Simonson
26 Jun 2012

Nora Ephron
Nora Ephron
Joseph Marzullo/WENN

Nora Ephron, the Academy Award-nominated writer of "Heartburn," "When Harry Met Sally" and "Sleepless in Seattle,", who brought her wit and intelligence to projects in a variety of writing fields, died in Manhattan at the age of 71, according to published reports.

Ephron died from pneumonia, which was brought on by acute myeloid leukemia.

The 1986 film "Heartburn," which starred Meryl Streep and Jack Nicholson, was based on Ephron's own memoir of the same title about her turbulent marriage to writer Carl Bernstein, with whom she had two children, Jacob and Max. Ephron penned the screenplay for the film that was directed by Mike Nichols.

Ephron earned an Academy Award nomination for the screenplay to the 1989 film "When Harry Met Sally," a romantic comedy which starred Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal as longtime friends who fall in and out of a series of relationships before realizing they are made for one another. The film was enough of a success to land her in the director's chair for her next script, a semi-autobiographical film called "This Is My Life," about a single mother struggling to become a stand-up comic. Though applauded by critics, it did not resonate with audiences.

That was not the case with her next project. With "Sleepless In Seattle," Ms. Ephron returned to what the public recognized as her new forte: romantic comedy. Ryan played a Baltimore woman who falls in love with the voice of Seattle widower Tom Hanks, when he calls into a lonely hearts radio show. The movie, co-written with her sister Delia, was a critical and popular hit.



Ms. Ephron's other films include " "You've Got Mail" (in which Hanks and Ryan reunited, in a modern adaptation of the comedy "The Shop Around the Corner"), "Hanging Up", "Michael," "Mixed Nuts" and her last film, "Julie & Julia," which she also directed.

Following in the footsteps of her parents, Ms. Ephron wrote for the stage as well as film. On Broadway, she authored the short-lived 2002 play Imaginary Friends, exploring her interest in her literary predecessors through an examination of the long-simmering rivalry between playwright Lillian Hellman and novelist and critic Mary McCarthy. Jack O'Brien directed the comedy that had tunes by Marvin Hamlisch and Craig Carnelia. A curious hybrid of drama, comedy and song, critics found it an intriguing, but odd evening.

Her most recent theatrical venture was the long-running Off-Broadway production of Love, Loss, and What I Wore, based on the book by Ilene Beckerman, and co-authored for the stage with her sister Delia Ephron. The show, which ran from 2009 until last March, featured a rotating cast of famous actresses.

Ms. Ephron's theatrical career will continue in her absence. A Broadway production of Lucky Guy, a new play by Ephron about New York Post and Daily News columnist Mike McAlary, has been reported to star Academy Award winner Tom Hanks. An early 2013 opening is being eyed. George C. Wolfe will direct.

A Broadway-aimed musical based on "Sleepless in Seattle" is currently in development as well.

Nora Ephron was born in New York City on May 19, 1941. She grew up in a cultured, erudite household, the daughter of the husband-and-wife playwriting and screenwriting team of Henry and Phoebe Ephron. (Among their titles were Take Her, She's Mine, in which the daughter character is based on Nora, and Desk Set.) The family moved to Beverly Hills when Nora was four, and she was raised there.

Educated at Wellesley, she first gained success as a witty essayist at the New York Post. Publisher Dorothy Schiff had noticed parodies of Post columnists Ms. Ephon had written during a newspaper strike, and hired her when the strike was over. She also wrote for the New York Times Magazine, New York magazine and Esquire, becoming a force in the "New Journalism" movement. Her essays were collected in a series of best-selling volumes, "Wallflower at the Orgy," "Crazy Salad" and "Scribble Scribble."

She is survived by her husband of 20 years, the screenwriter Nicholas Pileggi, and her sons, Jacob and Max Bernstein.