Nora Ephron Tribute

Tavis pays tribute to the Oscar-nominated screenwriter and best-selling author, who recently lost her battle with leukemia.

An acclaimed screenwriter, director, film producer and novelist, Nora Ephron segued from well-known journalist to Hollywood heavy-hitter. She started as a New York Post reporter and wrote for several publications, including New York Magazine. Her film credits include Sleepless in Seattle, When Harry Met Sally and Silkwood—all of which earned best original screenplay Oscar nominations—and Julie & Julia. The New York native was raised in Los Angeles and educated at Wellesley. In 2006, she visited the set to talk about her then-new book, I Feel Bad About My Neck, which became another one of her best sellers.


Tavis: So many people, both well-known and unknown, have been paying tribute to the life and legacy of Nora Ephron. Back in 2006, the woman behind so many notable films, plays and essays joined us for a conversation about something we all have to face in life – aging. As she did so often, Ephron took a topic that most people have a hard time discussing and made it interesting, funny and poignant.

I began our conversation by asking Ephron the reason for writing her latest best seller, “I Feel Bad about My Neck.”

[Begin previously recorded interview]

Tavis: Well, aside from being more chronologically gifted, what got you to want to put this stuff on paper?

Nora Ephron: Well, I think that was the main reason, is that you get to be a certain age and you start reading stuff about the age you are, and you think, what is wrong with these people who are writing these books? Do they not have necks? (Laughter) Why are they lying to us? Why are they saying, “Oh, you’ve reached this fabulous period of your life when you can travel,” when the truth is you go and travel, you take a nice walk, your hip goes out. That’s the truth. (Laughter)

You really have time to be in shape? You get in shape after the age of 50, you are in the hospital. You are. (Laughter) Everybody I know who goes out and plays a little softball, they break their leg. About two years ago, somebody sent me the videotape of the movie “Chicago,” and I confused it with an exercise video (laughter) and thought for a brief period of time that I was Catherine Zeta Jones.

Tavis: Yeah.

Ephron: And went sort of prancing around the house with these not very heavy weights, and yet they were light as air because of my bonding with Catherine mentally, and the music and everything. I threw out both shoulders, and it wasn’t the movie’s fault, but the point is that you get to a certain point where all the things that are supposed to make you better sort of break you.

Swimming – swimmers ear instantly, right? So that’s – I just thought well, I should write a little bit about this, and not just about looking older, feeling older and everything, but about some of the other things that go through your head simultaneously, because the truth is, we’re all happy to be here. We’d all rather look older than be dead.

Tavis: You don’t sound very happy to be here, Nora.

Ephron: Oh, I am really happy to be here. (Laughter) And right here. Right here, although I could be having my nails done. (Laughter) Yeah, yeah, which –

Tavis: I can have Sheila come out and do it while you’re sitting here.

Ephron: Oh, that would be great.

Tavis: Would you like to kill two birds with one stone?

Ephron: (Laughter) I just mean that’s another thing you end up doing when you get older, is you spend so much time sort of trying desperately to keep from just looking just a little older. You’re just constantly putting stuff on your face and having things removed from yourself and opening up copies of “Vogue” so that you can find new ways to throw whatever money you’ve managed to save into the arms of some doctor who has (laughter) just come up with a new way of lasering your face that feels like electroshock and all these things. (Laughter)

Tavis: I want to get to some of these other thoughts that you’ve been having about being a woman who is again, more chronologically gifted by the day. But before we –

Ephron: “Chronologically gifted,” I like that.

Tavis: My grandmother used to tell me that.

Ephron: That’s good.

Tavis: She didn’t like being called old. She preferred chronologically gifted.

Ephron: That’s good.

Tavis: Yeah, that’s big mama for you. Before I move on to some of these other thoughts, though, so there’s got to be something you like about this process.

Ephron: Of getting older?

Tavis: Yeah.

Ephron: Well, I don’t know. (Laughter) No, no, I mean –

Tavis: It’s not for wimps, but you’ve got to be –

Ephron: Well, it’s not for sissies, that is really true. No, I don’t know about it, because they always say, “Well you’re wiser.” But I was not that stupid when I was young. (Laughter) So if they came along –

Tavis: I like that – “I was never stupid to begin with,” yeah.

Ephron: If they came along and said, (laughter) “Would you give back three IQ points for 10 years? Yes, there’s no one coming along and doing that, though. I’ve noticed that. There’s a lot of hypotheticals that come along. (Laughter)

“If you had it to do over, what would you do?” Well, who is offering this? (Laughter) Someone who can actually give me the ability to do it over? Then you get so confused because you still want to live in the same apartment and things, (laughter) and is that going to be part of the deal if you do it over?

Tavis: See, I’m fascinated by this now. So if – just work with me on this. So if there was this person, if God on high or whomever said to you, “Nora -”

Ephron: Yes, someone in a movie, probably.

Tavis: Somebody in a movie, exactly.

Ephron: Yeah.

Tavis: Played by Morgan Freeman or somebody.

Ephron: For sure.

Tavis: If you could give away, give back a few IQ points for a few more years, you’d do this?

Ephron: Oh, sure.

Tavis: Oh, yeah?

Ephron: Are you kidding? Yeah. Oh my God, wouldn’t you?

Tavis: I ain’t got that much to give, so I’m not sure.

Ephron: Oh, okay. Well, yeah, I would. I would, yeah. Yeah, I would, and I, yeah, there are some things I’d like to do over big time. Yeah. I mean, this is –

Tavis: One? Give me one. Give me one.

Ephron: – these people who say “No regrets,” I mean –

Tavis: Give me one, give me one. One thing that you would do over again.

Ephron: Oh, well, I – oh my God, there are things I wouldn’t have written. There are things I wouldn’t have said. There are – oh my God, oh, no, yeah. (Laughter) Oh my God, there’s so many things. So many things. As long as I get to be still married to the same guy now and living in the same place, and I still have my kids.

Tavis: But see, you can’t have it that way, though.

Ephron: I know, but who wrote this?

Tavis: But if you –

Ephron: Who made up the rules to this?

Tavis: It’s my question.

Ephron: It doesn’t exist.

Tavis: I’m writing the rules. I’m asking the question.

Ephron: I know, that’s the problem. (Laughter)

Tavis: So I’m thinking if you gave back those IQ points, you might not have been smart enough to make the right choice to marry the guy you married.

Ephron: No, just a couple, just two. Just two or three.

Tavis: Just – okay, all right, all right.

Ephron: You know, just a few.

Tavis: Okay.

Ephron: Yeah. It’s so interesting that we think we know the rules to this game, this total hypothetical game called, “Would you,” “If you had it to do over.” (Laughter) It’s not out there.

Tavis: Yeah, it’s not an option.

Ephron: Yes.

Tavis: I got your point.

Ephron: It’s make-believe.

Tavis: I will never ask that question ever again.

Ephron: Yes, but you know what I mean.

Tavis: I got it, though.

Ephron: Yeah.

Tavis: But since I know it’s not rooted in any reality, (laughter) why waste good TV time asking a question like that?

Ephron: No, no, I like it, though.

Tavis: Let me move on, then. You didn’t have a choice, did you, being the daughter of two screenwriters. This was, like, in your –

Ephron: What, writing?

Tavis: Yeah.

Ephron: Well, they wanted their kids to be writers, there’s no question of that. My parents were screenwriters, and they had four daughters and we all write. So that’s amazing. Talk about powerful parents. My mother always said to us, “Everything is copy.”

Tavis: I like that – “Everything is copy.”

Ephron: Yeah, it was a really great lesson.

Tavis: There’s something to learn. Yeah.

Ephron: It was a great lesson, because it really taught you that whatever you were going through could be a story, and if you were really lucky it’ll be something funny.

Tavis: You’ve got some great stuff in here. Let me just jump and pick a couple of them right quick, because I only have a few minutes left. The piece that you write about your – I think “angst” would not be strong enough a word. Maybe “anger” is better. You were pretty POed at Bill Clinton.

Ephron: Yeah, I was. I am, yeah.

Tavis: Still are?

Ephron: Well, because I think in – speaking of another game we like to play, which is how did we get here, how did we get into this war that isn’t working and all the rest of it, you can blame a lot of people for who lost that election back then, six, five, whenever, however many horrible long years ago.

You can blame Al Gore and you can blame Ralph Nader and you can blame George Bush, but I blame Bill. I just do. I just think he squandered his presidency the night that woman delivered that pizza to him, and if he hadn’t, we wouldn’t be where we are and there would be a lot of people who are alive today who aren’t.

That’s a big deal. So I feel that he broke my heart. I write about him in the book as if he’s an old boyfriend, in a way, in that I did go for him. I believed he was the guy. I thought oh my God, we’ve finally got a president, and then it turned out we didn’t. So he broke my heart.

Tavis: Of course, you can’t talk about Bill Clinton without talking about the other president, the handsome guy, JFK, who Clinton wanted to pattern his life after.

Ephron: Yes.

Tavis: There’s a wonderful essay in here about your being an intern. (Laughs)

Ephron: I was –

Tavis: Speaking of interns, in the Kennedy White House.

Ephron: I was an intern in the Kennedy White House. I was.

Tavis: Yeah.

Ephron: It was a very – well, it was a disappointing experience. I don’t know how to put it.

Tavis: Disappointed because he did or did not hit on you.

Ephron: He did not hit on me, and –

Tavis: And that’s why you were hurt?

Ephron: – and as the years have gone by and the evidence that he hit on virtually everyone he ever met accumulates, I’m starting to feel more and more hurt about this. A couple of years ago, when yet another intern surfaced who had had a thing with him, I thought, well, this is ridiculous.

Tavis: Of course, when I read the story, though, there was that one time that Kennedy did speak to you during your internship.

Ephron: He did speak to me. He did.

Tavis: You couldn’t hear what he was saying because he was about to catch the helicopter.

Ephron: Yes.

Tavis: Maybe he was hitting on you in that moment and you just didn’t hear it.

Ephron: No, he was not. No. No.

Tavis: Maybe that’s what he was saying, “Nora, I want you.”

Ephron: I wish he had been. There’s no telling what could have happened.

Tavis: How do you know? You admit you don’t know what he said. You didn’t hear him. Maybe he was hitting on you?

Ephron: No, he said, “How are you coming along?”

Tavis: Oh.

Ephron: There was this helicopter making this terrible, huge amount of noise, and I said, “What?”

Tavis: “What?”

Ephron: And that was it. That was our whole interchange, me and Jack, and (laughter) I don’t think that’s – someone has suggested to me he was saying, “Are you coming along?”

Tavis: That’s what I thought he said.

Ephron: But he wasn’t –

Tavis: I thought I heard him –

Ephron: He wasn’t –

Tavis: I thought I heard him say, “Are you coming along?”

Ephron: I was there. He said, “How are you coming along?” It was very sweet of him to ask. (Laughter) But wasn’t the same as, you know. He was something. He was very handsome.

[End previously recorded interview]

Tavis: A unique woman for sure, whose work will live on for generations through her film, her books, and her humanity.

That’s our show for tonight. I’ll see you back here next time on PBS. Until then, good night from Los Angeles, thanks for watching, and as always, keep the faith.

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Last modified: July 3, 2012 at 3:23 pm