When I heard of the death of writer Nora Ephron at the age of 71 this week, I felt really quite sad. Perhaps partly because she died of the exact same disease my mother in law died of 12 years ago (acute myeloid leukaemia); perhaps because it seemed as if it had struck so suddenly (as I know this devastating disease can do). But mainly because I admired her work, and feel as if it's been a part of my life since my teenage years.
I first saw When Harry Met Sally at the cinema when it came out in the 80s, and it's still among my top five films. Whenever it's on TV (which is a fair amount) I'll watch it, and even though I've seen it at least 10 times, the dialogue still feels fresh and funny. It's still the ultimate romantic comedy, even though Billy Crystal isn't your typical leading man by any means and Meg Ryan, though pretty, has the most atrocious 80s hairstyles throughout. That's a testament to Ephron's writing, which is natural, entertaining and never patronising. It's so superior to any romantic comedy to come out of Hollywood in the last 10 years - those forgettable movies, starring Jennifer Aniston or Kate Hudson or suchlike, pale in comparison. My favourite scene isn't the orgasm scene though, notorious as it has become. I'd rather post something like this clip below, where Harry and Sally try out a first-generation karaoke machine.
While I wasn't quite so enamoured of her 90s comedies, such as You've Got Mail and Sleepless in Seattle, I also loved Heartburn, starring Meryl Streep, based on Ephron's book about her breakup with journalist Carl Bernstein. It led me to read the novel, which is searingly sharp, funny and sad at the same time, and I began to feel like I really knew this woman. She didn't mince words; she was honest about her life; in fact, a bit like a really great female blogger. No wonder she later got into blogging and even made a film about a blogger (the excellent Julie and Julia).
Two years ago I took my sister to see the off-Broadway production of Love, Loss and What I Wore, written by Ephron and her sister Delia. A series of monologues about women and their relationship with their wardrobe, it was fabulous and confirmed my heartfelt admiration of her writing, sense of humour and ability to encapsulate what it is to be female.
Reading her obituaries this week (and there are many; this was a woman revered by the New York intelligentsia in particular), I was struck by how she managed both to be a nice person with tons of loyal friends, about whom no-one had a bad word to say, and a feisty woman who succeeded in the a male-dominated worlds of first journalism and then film. She set the agenda for women in media; when she first worked at Newsweek, she had to take a job as a mailroom girl, because they didn't allow women to write for the magazine. Now, Newsweek has merged with Tina Brown's Daily Beast and Brown is editor-in-chief of both titles.
So, RIP, Nora. A great writer, and a great female role model.