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If you like Nora Ephron's story, you might also like:
Francis Ford Coppola,
Joan Didion,
Louise Glück,
Ron Howard,
Carol Shields,
Tom Wolfe and
Robert Zemeckis

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Wellesley Commencement Address

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Nora Ephron Interview (page: 5 / 8)

Humorist, Novelist, Screenwriter and Director

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  Nora Ephron

You had an internship at the White House. Can you talk a little bit about that experience?


Nora Ephron: I had this fantastic internship, I thought. I interned for Pierre Salinger, who was the Press Secretary for John F. Kennedy, for President Kennedy, and I was beside myself getting this internship. Six weeks in the White House! It never crossed my mind that I would have almost no duties whatsoever, much less even a desk. I had really nothing to do, but to sort of hang around and eavesdrop and look through files hoping to find secret documents, which I did find several of, by the way.


Do tell.

Nora Ephron: Well, nothing that would seem that exciting, but you had to be there. At the time, I thought, "Oh my God, look what I have just stumbled onto!" Anyway, I spent most of the summer hanging out, watching the press corps come in to the Press Secretary, going to all the press conferences. A lot of those jobs, if they give you any work to do, which they really didn't -- I mean, there was a woman in Salinger's office whose entire job was autographing Pierre Salinger's pictures. That was not full time, although she had a desk at least, and was paid to be there five days a week, but they didn't have anything worse than that to give out, and I didn't have much to do. But in retrospect...


I realized many years later that I was probably the only woman who had ever worked in the White House that Kennedy didn't make a pass at. It kind of sort of made me sad at a certain point, as one person after another revealed herself to have had an affair with the President, and I thought, "Well, why not me?" But then, of course, I realized why not me, which is that I had had a really bad permanent wave that summer, and I didn't look really great, but it was sad.


I did meet the President. He did say hello to me the first day we were introduced, and about four weeks later, I would have to say the high point of my entire summer came.


I was standing out at the Rose Garden on a Friday afternoon, along with everyone else in the White House, watching the President leave. It may not seem like much to do, but everyone went out to do it, and they were all standing there, and the helicopter had landed to take the President to -- I guess to Hyannis Port or to the plane to Hyannis Port, however it worked. So this helicopter is making this terrible noise, and I'm standing there with this whole group of people, and suddenly -- and we think he is going to come out of the White House itself, but instead, he came right out of the Oval Office door and right past me and turned around, and the helicopter is going around, and he goes, "How are you coming along?" And I said, "What?" And that was it. That was my entire relationship with John F. Kennedy, which someday I am sure the Kennedy Library will ask me about, and I'll tell them, because I don't know how anyone could write a book about that Presidency without knowing that.


Shortly after that, you did get your first job in journalism.

Nora Ephron: I was a mail girl at Newsweek. You know, "We don't have women writers, but if you want to be a mail girl, or a clipper..." I was promoted to clipper after I was a mail girl, and then I was promoted to researcher. The men wrote these stories and then the women checked them. That's how it worked in those days. Then I got a job at the New York Post. There was a newspaper strike in New York, and some friends of mine put out a parody of a couple of the New York newspapers. Calvin Trillin worked on it, too. I worked on the New York Post parody, and he worked on the Daily News.


I wrote a parody of one of the columnists, and the people at the New York Post were very angry about it. They thought that the Post should sue, not that there was anything to sue. There was no entity to sue, but nonetheless, they were all ranting and raving about how someone should be sued for this. This is before people really understood what parodies were. And the publisher of the Post, Dorothy Schiff, said, "Don't be ridiculous. If they can parody the Post, they can write for it. Hire them," and so I got a job as a reporter there.


What was that job like?


Nora Ephron: It was a great job. It was fantastic. I covered everything there was to cover. I covered politics and murders and trials and movie stars and President's daughters' weddings. It was a very small staff. There was a lot of news. You were allowed to write very much with a sense of humor and a certain amount of derision even. We were not The New York Times, and we knew that, and it was a great way to become a writer because you could really find your voice.

[ Key to Success ] Preparation


Nora Ephron Interview Photo
How long were you there?

Nora Ephron: Five years.

And during this time, did you have your first marriage?

Nora Ephron: It was the tail end of it. Yeah.

You seem to be attracted to marrying men who write.

Nora Ephron: I do, I know. How pathetic is that? But they're interesting. You know, Superman is the key to everything. Lois Lane didn't know that Clark Kent was Superman, but I did. Writers are interesting people.

Did you find sexism at the Post in those days?

Nora Ephron: No. The New York Post, with its tiny staff, had way more women writing there than The New York Times with its huge staff. They simply had no sexism at all there, none. When I became a freelance writer afterwards, there was not a lot of sexism per se.


There were magazines that didn't have a lot of women writing for them, but if you wanted to write for them and you were any good at all, you could. But The New York Times Magazine, the first assignment I got from them in 1968 or '9 was a fashion assignment, and I had never written about fashion in my life. I knew nothing about fashion. I cared less, but I thought, "Well, I'll do this. I'll write this, and then they'll see I can write for them, and then I won't have to write about fashion anymore," and I never did.

[ Key to Success ] Perseverance


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