I just finished reading Nora Ephron’s I Remember Nothing. Nora Ephron is the funniest woman on the planet. I rue the day I was not born Nora Ephron.

Once I was sauntering around Amtrak in Penn Station waiting for a train. The waiting area was nearly empty if you can believe that. Not so unbelievable was that the only other person sauntering around with me was a bag-man. A wrinkled man in baggy pants who looked like a street person. Now one of my particular characteristics is that I have my father’s eye. I can spot celebrities (who think that they are cleverly impersonating regular people) from a mile away. But on that Amtrak day I must have been tired, because I was sitting in the waiting area for nearly ten minutes across from the bag-man before I realized that he was Stephen Sondheim! And I was flummoxed. FLUMMOXED (some words are so perfect) the way you are when you realize something incredulous you hadn’t realized that you should have realized. Then the stupid part of my brain started working (the way it does when you are FLUMMOXED by a famous person). I went over and actually said to him, If I could have anyone’s life it would be yours. Then I asked for his autograph. Being the kind bag-man he is he wrote, You have the right life. Stephen Sondheim. A nice thing to say. If only it were true.

Let’s take a poll. How many of you think it’s fair that Nora Ephron (and Stephen Sondheim) are so talented? Don’t you think a person should be limited to only one spectacular talent a piece? Nora Ephron can write books. Nora Ephron can write plays. Nora Ephron can write screenplays. Nora Ephron can direct movies. And she does it all brilliantly. How many of you think that’s fair?

I’m going to spend a week in Manhattan at the end of the month and the first thing that crossed my (infected) mind – I kid you not – was, I’m going to call Nora and go out to lunch. She likes Orso. Maybe we’ll go there. Then it occurred to me, I DON’T KNOW NORA EPHRON. But when you read her books, or see her movies, you feel like you know her. That is another of her great talents. She is so talented that she thinks Women in Film panels are stupid because in her mind OF COURSE WOMEN ARE AS GOOD AS MEN AT MAKING MOVIES. LOOK. SHE DID IT. SHE CAME OUT OF JOURNALISM LIKE ATHENA CAME OUT OF THE HEAD OF ZEUS AND BEGAN DIRECTING HYSTERICAL, AWARD WINNING MOVIES. JUST LIKE THAT. SO WHAT ARE ALL THESE WOMEN WHINING ABOUT?? Those are the kinds of thoughts that saunter around in your brain when you’re multi-talented.

I remember interviewing Sherry Lansing. At that time she was President of 20th Century Fox and she said to me, (sic) Almost never have I seen any examples of prejudice [in the movie business]. That was in 1985. At that hour, Sherry Lansing was one of the most beautiful women you had ever seen. Not coincidentally, she was also smart and sweet and nice as a geisha girl. She’d return every phone call whether you were a bag-man like Stephen Sondheim or a studio chief. She made everyone feel like a million bucks. If you think that was incidental (even if unconsciously) to the men running the movie business, then you deserve your fate as a bag-person.

I once spoke to Nora on the phone. It was around the same time I interviewed Sherry Lansing. I was producing a series for the Today Show on the then, novel subject of contemporary ‘pioneer’ women in film (i.e. women who at the time were remarkable enough to have actual paying jobs in the higher profile crafts). And probably because I was a producer for The Today Show, Nora picked up the phone.

At the time, she had written When Harry met Sally, Silkwood (which had been nominated for an Oscar), and the hilariously heartbreaking, Heartburn from her best selling book. I wanted to interview her as one of our pioneers. Perhaps marking this as the very first moment of her ‘scoffing’ period, Nora turned me down. She said she didn’t feel she had yet garnered the kind of experience to permit her accepting such a lofty mantle.

Another poll. How many of you would grab that lofty mantle with both hands and run for your lives if you’d written an Oscar nominated movie and two other screenplays to die for? Be honest now.

I’ve said this before but it’s worth repeating. Most of us are not Nora Ephron. Most of us are mere mortals. Most of us are good at some thing, usually one thing. And then, there are the others. There are the Sherry Lansings of the world who truly, deeply and organically understand what is means to sail graciously through the social stratum of a man’s world and have no clue about what prejudice or sexism feels like . There are the Sherry Lansings, and there are the Nora Ephrons. I wonder if this kind of thinking is infectious? I wonder if it can rub off and stick?

I’ll have to ask Nora next week when we’re out to lunch.

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One thought on “THE WRONG LIFE”

  1. Hi Cuz,

    I read Nora’s book and had to change my drawers several times…hilarity caused too much peeing in the pants.

    How’s Nora? Hope all’s well.

    Cuz Cyn

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