From breasts to handbags and turtlenecks: Jack Sunnucks considers what lessons can be learned from the inimitable icon
Watching Everything is Copy, the documentary about the late Nora Ephron directed by her son Jacob Bernstein, one is struck by just how, well, incredible she was. The child of quite mad, alcoholic screenwriters, she escaped LA for New York to become a celebrated journalist, writing her seminal pieces on the female experience for Esquire (sample title: A Few Words About Breasts). It was her film work, however, that catapulted her onto the global stage – she had a rare genius for romantic comedies, that maligned genre that we hate to love. Ephron was Oscar nominated for her writing for Silkwood, When Harry Met Sally…, and Sleepless in Seattle, with her last film 2009’s Julie & Julia.
Ephron lived by the mantra, drummed into her by her parents from a young age, that “everything is copy.” They thought it would give her the necessary tools to take life’s tragedies, or mistakes, and make them funny – to laugh before people laughed at you. “When you slip on a banana peel,” she said, “people laugh at you. But when you tell people you slipped on a banana peel, it’s your laugh.” Perhaps to this end, one of her most famous moments was Heartburn, the book and then film she wrote when she discovered her husband, Watergate journalist Carl Bernstein, cheating on her with her best friend. And she was pregnant. Obviously, Heartburn was the best revenge ever and also cemented her as a big time writer. Here, in her own words as much as possible – because frankly she’s funnier than me – are the lessons we can learn from Nora Ephron.
1. Purses are hate objects, do without whenever possible
Ephron was uninhibited in her hatred of purses, which she saw as cumbersome, full of shit, and anti-woman. And perhaps she was right. “This is for women whose purses are a morass of loose Tic Tacs, solitary Advils, lipsticks without tops,” she wrote about her rejection of the sinister sac a main. After a trip to Paris, Ephron was finally confronted by her need for a bag after realizing she might actually have to leave the house. Her solution: a plastic bucket bag decorated with a NY metro card from the Transit Museum. Because it was so ugly it was never in style – "it matches nothing at all and therefore, on a deep level, matches everything," she said – and thus never out of it either. Lesson: attempt to be style-less, it’s more stylish. Also, fancy bags are passé.
2. Inherited money is the anathema to productivity
For a long time, Ephron and her sisters thought they were going to inherit the big bucks from their Uncle Hal, who was in real estate. Ephron was quite excited to become an heiress, and spending all the money on trees for her house in the Hamptons. As chronicled in a hilarious article for the New Yorker, however, she ended up with a pittance (well, a pittance compared to when she thought she was going to inherit the profits from a Monet). “I am quick to draw lessons from my own experience,” she said, “And the lesson I drew from this one was that I was extremely lucky not to have ever inherited real money, because I might not have finished writing “When Harry Met Sally…, which changed my life.”
3. Wear black
Ephron was almost always in black, and in later years was exclusively pictured wearing her favourite shade (sometimes with a white jacket). She loved to deliver bon mots on the colour. “Everything matches black, especially black,” is a good one. “Sometimes I buy something that isn’t black, and I put it on and I am so sorry,” is a good mantra to carry with you as you shop. And most importantly, “Can’t we just stop pretending that anything is ever going to be the new black?”
4. Don’t do your own hair
Ephron took draconian measures to reduce the amount of time she spent on her hair, pointing out that she had friends who spent an hour a day on theirs, thereby losing nine working weeks of the year to… hair. Shampoos she found similarly heinous, asking why blondes had shampoos especially for them. Her solution was to never do her own hair, and avoid all situations where she might be called upon to wield a blow dryer. “So, twice a week, I go to a beauty salon and have my hair blown dry,” she wrote. It’s cheaper than psychoanalysis, and much more uplifting.”
5. Breasts are such a nightmare
I mean really, I don’t have them, but after reading Nora on her total abhorrence of her tiny tetas I am triply thrilled to never have to worry about them. “And I knew no one would ever want to marry me. I had no breasts. I would never have breasts,” she writes about puberty and the realization that she was not endowed in the chest area. Even a lifetime of therapy couldn’t ease her obsession with her breast size. She felt so marked by the ‘horrible’ fifties and its assigned gender roles that she wrote, “If I had had them, I would have been a completely different person. I honestly believe that.” Luckily, she discovered…
As she aged, Ephron found something else to obsess over – her neck. We all know it goes south as one gets older, and she hated hers so much she wrote a book about it: I Feel Bad About My Neck: And Other Reflections On Being a Woman. Ephron’s way of dealing with hers were black turtlenecks [see picture above] and a plethora of scarves, a look that became so iconic that she was appointed to Vanity Fair’s Best Dressed List in 2010, with special mention for her Chanel turtleneck. Turtlenecks had the double appeal of also concealing her dreaded small breasts – two for one.
7. Until you feel the need for turtlenecks, go as nude as possible
“Oh, how I regret not having worn a bikini for the entire year I was 26. If anyone young is reading this, go, right this minute, put on a bikini and don’t take it off till you’re 34.” - I Feel Bad About My Neck: And Other Reflections On Being a Woman.