Weekend Reads: Nora Ephron Remembered

“In my first year there, I learned how to write, which I barely knew when I began,” she recalled in her final book, “I Remember Nothing.”

“I loved The Post,” wrote the acclaimed author of the screenplays for “When Harry Met Sally’’ and “Silkwood.” “The editor was a sexual predator. The managing editor was a lunatic. Sometimes it seemed half the staff was drunk.” In a piece penned for The Post a decade ago about her five-year stint at the paper, she detailed how it all began with a two-week tryout.
“My first day at the paper I was sent to the Coney Island aquarium to write about two hooded seals who were supposed to mate and had refused to. “The second day I interviewed Tippi Hedren. The third day I interviewed an Italian film director named Nanni Loy.” She began that story with a lead that read, “Nanny Loy’s in town. Who’s Nanny Loy?”- “The fourth day I was sent to the Upper West Side to find out about a businessman who’d killed his wife.”
The fifth day I was hired.” Her salary was $98 a week. “I was 21 years old and I had achieved my life’s ambition: I was a newspaper reporter in New York City. I was the happiest person on the face of the earth.” The doors to the city room were so dusty, someone had written “Philthy” on it with their finger, she wrote in “I Remember Nothing.” There were cigarette burns on the desks — because everyone smoked — and there were no ashtrays. The lavatory “was the most horrible ladies restroom I had ever seen,” she recalled.
And you had to race ahead of other reporters to get one of the too-few desks and, if you were lucky, a typewriter that worked. Ephron was 21 when a friend asked if she could write a parody of Post columnist Leonard Lyons’ widely read gossip column for a takeoff paper called the New York Pest. She captured Lyons’ style so well that Post publisher Dorothy Schiff told her editors to offer her a two-week, “show us how good you are, kid’’ tryout in February 1963.
Ephron began as a general-assignment reporter, “specializing in froth,” she said. She covered trials, the arrival of The Beatles, the political career of Bobby Kennedy and celebrity weddings like the 1967 nuptials of President Johnson’s daughter Lynda Bird. “And, by the way, there are 1,511 raisins in the wedding cake,” was how her piece ended. She was never a prima donna.
A picture in The Post’s files shows her returning from a story with her shoes and pants covered with dirt. She sometimes got to write “the wood” story, the one that made the front page. One wood story, in November 1964, was her exclusive account, with reporter Gene Grove, of how the blunders by three thieves allowed cops to solve the spectacular theft of the 563-carat Star of India sapphire from the Museum of Natural History.
A memorial service for Ephron, who died of leukemia, is scheduled for July 9.
Funeral details were still being worked out.