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If you like Nora Ephron's story, you might also like:
Carol Burnett,
Francis Ford Coppola,
Joan Didion,
Louise Glück,
Ron Howard,
Thomas Keller,
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Nora Ephron
Nora Ephron
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Nora Ephron Interview (page: 3 / 8)

Humorist, Novelist, Screenwriter and Director

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  Nora Ephron

We've read that while you were a student at Wellesley, all you could think about was being a writer in New York. Can you tell us about your desire to be a writer in New York? Why New York?

Nora Ephron: I was born in New York, and I was really happy for the first four years of my life, and then my parents moved to California, and as far as I was concerned, my life was over, ruined. I had an absolutely clear sense of it, even at the age of four or five, and one of my earliest memories is that I was now in California. The sun was shining. I was at nursery school surrounded by happy, laughing children, and all I could think was, "What am I doing here? How can I ever get out of this place and get back to where I truly belong?" I know I absolutely believed that, and I don't think that's unusual with kids, not necessarily with the same -- obviously -- the same story I had, but I think a lot of people have a very strong sense early on that they are in the wrong place and that they belong somewhere else, and I knew I belonged in New York.

Nora Ephron Interview Photo
I wanted to be a journalist. It didn't really cross my mind that someday I would actually think of myself as a writer, but I wanted to be a journalist, and there was a lot of journalism in New York. That's where you wanted to end up if you were a journalist. So it was a perfect marriage of those two things.

When did your other siblings come along? Did you already have your next youngest sister when you moved to L.A.?

Nora Ephron: Delia is three years younger than me, and Hallie is five years younger than Delia, and Amy is three years younger than Hallie.

So there were two of you by the time you moved to Southern California?

Nora Ephron: Yes, yes.

Did that have anything to do with your negative feelings about California?

Nora Ephron: Not at all.

What was your impression of the writing life of your parents, who were screenwriters?

Nora Ephron Interview Photo
Nora Ephron: Well, they went off every morning in their respective cars to the same office, which was about four blocks away from our house. In fact, my mother drove a Studebaker for about five years, and when she traded it in, it had something like 9,000 miles on it. She literally drove to the studio and drove back every day. We knew that they went there and they wrote movies, and that they wrote together, and they were basically contract writers in the old studio system, and they wrote a movie and it got made. It was different when I became a screenwriter.

For years, I just wrote scripts that didn't get made. I got paid for them, but I thought, "Am I ever going to get a movie made?" And I looked at my parents who had 14 or 15 credits, and thought, "This is never, ever going to happen for me." It was a completely different time. But you know, I didn't have a sense of them as much as writers as I did as screenwriters. They were very much in the movie business. Most of their friends were other screenwriters. They were very active in the Screenwriters Guild, and every so often we got to go to the set and meet somebody who was in one of their movies. That was very exciting, meeting Fred Astaire and people like that.

For a long time I thought it was kind of great that they did this. My mother was almost the only working woman that anyone knew in Beverly Hills, until at one point one of my friends moved to Beverly Hills and her mother worked, but her mother had to work because she was divorced.

My mother worked out of choice, and she was really the only woman in that community who did, and went through quite a lot in the way of sort of competitiveness, from the other women, who didn't work, and I think were extremely irritated that my mother managed to work and have four children, none of whom was flunking out of school, quite the contrary, and all of that. But I think she was very defensive about being a working woman in that era, and every so often, there would be something at school, and I would say, "There is this thing at school," and she would say, "Well, you will just have to tell them that your mother can't come because she has to work." And it was years later that I realized that she could have come. She wasn't punching a time clock at 20th Century Fox. When I had children, I had no problem getting to the stuff at school. I just don't think that she wanted to go to school and be perceived as that kind of mother, but I can't ask her about it now.

I think it was one of your sisters who described the family dinner table as like the Algonquin Round Table. Was there a lot of verbal jousting?

Nora Ephron: It was not, I'm sure, at all like the Algonquin Round Table, even though one of my sisters did describe it that way, but it was true that...

At night, one of the things you did is people asked you -- your parents said -- "What did you do today?" and you told them. And unlike my experience with my children, where if I asked them what they had done that day and they said, "Nothing," I was kind of -- that was the end of that. That was not the end of that in our house. In our house, it was very much you were expected to kind of be entertaining and tell a little story about what had happened to you. They really taught us, I think, how to be writers, because we learned at the dinner table to take whatever mundane thing had happened to us and tried to make it a little bit entertaining.

Was there any dynamic there that was particularly telling, being the oldest of four? One of our interviewees wrote a book saying that birth order is very significant.

Nora Ephron Interview Photo
Nora Ephron: Birth order is so significant that you don't have to read a book about it. If you're the first, you absolutely know what it means to be the first. You get all the good stuff, it seems to me. Being the first is the best. First of all, I had the normal things you have as a firstborn child. Also, when my parents got genuinely crazy later in life, I was the one who had had most of the good years with them. So I was very lucky in that way.

Genuinely crazy?

Nora Ephron: Crazy drunk. Very difficult. All that fabulous, sunny, perfect life dissolved in alcohol.

Did that have to do with their careers waning as well?

Nora Ephron: No. Because alcoholics are alcoholics. In those days, you liked to think that people became alcoholics because X, Y, or Z. They had a broken heart or something. Now we know that alcoholism is just a disease, and they had it, and it didn't really come into full bloom until they were well into their forties.

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