- - Thursday, November 3, 2016

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

SHE MADE ME LAUGH: MY FRIEND NORA EPHRON

By Richard Cohen

Simon & Schuster, $27, 299 pages

By John Greenya

The columnist Richard Cohen and the writer/director/playwright/and all-around-talented person Nora Ephron, who died of cancer in 2012, were best friends. So how best to remember a best friend? In Mr. Cohen’s case it was to write a book, and the result is this warm, funny and highly readable memorial.

In case you’re having a senior moment and can’t place Nora Ephron in the pantheon of celebs, here are just a few of her credits: books — “Heartburn: A Novel; “I Feel Bad About My Neck” and “I Remember Nothing, and Other Reflections,” among others; — movies written: “Silkwood,” and “Heartburn”; — movies written and directed: “When Harry Met Sally,” “Sleepless in Seattle,” “You’ve got Mail,” “Julie & Julia,” and 12 others. And in 2013, the year after her death, her play “Lucky Guy,” starring her friend Tom Hanks in his Broadway debut, sold out its entire run, and grossed $22 million.

If the book often reads like a Who’s Who of the media — journalism, television, and Hollywood — circa the last three or four decades, that’s probably inevitable, given that Ms. Ephron, the daughter of screenwriters, was married to writer Dan Greenburg; and then, most famously, Carl Bernstein; and, finally and most happily, Nicholas Pileggi, journalist and writer (author of “Wiseguy,” which became the movie “Goodfellas”). So little surprise that bold face names keep dropping onto the printed page like the leaves of fall.

Mr. Cohen met Ms. Ephron when his Washington Post colleague and friend Carl Bernstein started dating her. And while that marriage did not last (see “Heartburn,” book and movie), the friendship between the columnist and the increasingly famous and productive Ms. Ephron blossomed.

Ms. Ephron was the type of person who could, and often did, take over a friend’s life. For example, “she seized control of my son’s bar mitzvah,” Mr. Cohen writes, “transforming it from a High Anglican ritual at a proper [Washington] hotel to a raucous affair of ethnic exuberance held at a New York-type place run by guys named Mo and Joe.”

Or how she took control of the 50th wedding celebration of Meredith and Tom Brokaw, changing the site from “a dandy, bucolic place north of New York City with impeccable foodie credentials” to the Brokaws’ own apartment, explaining, “You’re doing it at your place and I’m doing the cooking.” When Meredith Brokaw protested that their apartment was too small, Ms. Ephron told her to move out the furniture and move in 10 round tables.

“The party was held on Sept. 7, 2012. The guests ate meat loaf, mashed potatoes, fried chicken — the kind of comfort food Nora had always adored and often served herself. The party was joyous and intimate — but also sad. Nora had died in June.”

Ms. Ephron also imperiously rearranged people’s jobs. She told Mr. Cohen that because he wasn’t a good reporter he should become a columnist. Emboldened by her faith in him, he told the Post’s legendary executive editor Ben Bradlee that he was going to quit. “But before I could quit, Bradlee surprised me by offering to try me out as a columnist.” He told Mr. Cohen to submit five sample columns.

“He would look them over and then decide whether I had what it takes to be a columnist. But I needed the adrenaline of a deadline, so rather than submit five columns to Bradlee, I submitted one to the city editor. I’m the new local columnist, I told him. You can check with Bradlee. The next day my column appeared in the paper.”

The Urban Dictionary defines Platonic love as “An emotional and spiritual relationship between a couple that does not involve sexual desire. A working platonic relationship is mighty rare these days. Platonic love is wonderful. Unfortunately, today’s sex-crazed culture has driven it to near extinction.”

“She Made Me Laugh” belies that notion. Throughout the book, Mr. Cohen avers their ongoing friendship and close association, not apart from the others in their lives, but with them.

Nora Ephron’s memorial service was held in Alice Tully Hall in Lincoln Center on July 9, 2012. Richard Cohen writes, “It was an emotionally draining event. Most of the speakers were still coming to grips with the suddenness of Nora’s death Meryl Streep acknowledged what we all felt. ‘Normally, what I would have done on a day like today is call her up and get some jokes and some advice She’d ask me who was speaking and in what order, and I’d eventually make her write the speech for me. We are all on our own.”

Mr. Cohen, who calls this book “a third person memoir,” says he wanted “to capture this remarkable person who meant so much to so many people, women in particular. She did always make me laugh.” And capture her he did.

John Greenya is a Washington writer and critic.

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