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Nora Ephron, Filmmaker, Is Dead at 71


The writer Nora Ephron has died. Over the course of six decades, she chronicled the lives of women in newsprint, in books, on the stage and on screen. She was 71 years old, and died of complications from a blood disorder. She's best known for romantic comedies such as "Sleepless in Seattle" and "When Harry Met Sally," but she also brought to the big screen Karen Silkwood and Julia Child.

Joining us now to talk about Nora Ephron is our movie critic Bob Mondello. And Bob, Nora Ephron started her writing career in newspapers. She made her - a name for herself in the 1970s, writing very funny essays. Her first credit for writing a movie, was for "Silkwood."

BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: Which is so not like the things that she became known for later. Karen Silkwood, of course, was a whistleblower in the nuclear power industry. And with Meryl Streep, and Mike Nichols directing, they turned this into a really searing drama. And she followed it up, kind of, with an adaptation of her novel "Heartburn," which was about her own marriage and how it broke up - to one of the great reporters...

BLOCK: Her marriage to Carl Bernstein, right.

MONDELLO: That's right. Again, pretty searing and great parts for Jack Nicholson - it does not set up the career that we actually know her for.

BLOCK: And she really hit her stride with a string of romantic comedies, most notably "When Harry Met Sally." Let's listen to a scene.


BLOCK: That's Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal there, in "When Harry Met Sally." Bob, what do you think it was about that film - also, about "Sleepless in Seattle" and "You've Got Mail" - that made them really resonate with film-goers ?

MONDELLO: You know, I think it was in that clip. You can hear that the characters have a little bit of edge. Romantic comedy was always a treacly form. And she came into it - she is a woman writing in a male-dominated industry - and she wasn't willing to put up with that. So her movies became a little more strong.

When you think about "You've Got Mail" and the work that that came from - "The Shop Around the Corner," which is the world's most sentimental piece of work - she made it seem more substantial than that. It seemed to be current and interesting and about real people. And I think that's what she brought to things.

BLOCK: And Nora Ephron very willing and able to laugh at herself. I'm thinking about her recent book of essays, "I Feel Bad About My Neck" - the title sort of says it all - hilariously funny. What was she working on in her last years - do you know?

MONDELLO: Well, interestingly, it's a combination of the things she did originally - those biographical pieces - and the comedies that she was doing. She was working on - she had two films in development. One was a biopic of Peggy Lee, the singer, that she wrote, and was to direct; and it was going to star Reese Witherspoon. The other was "Lost in Austen" - A-U-S-T-E-N - about the writer, not about the city. It was about a Jane Austen fan who sort of swaps places with Austen's fictional characters. It sounds like perfect material for the kind of thing that Nora Ephron loved to do.

BLOCK: OK. Bob, thank you.

MONDELLO: Thank you.

BLOCK: That's NPR film critic Bob Mondello. We were talking about the writer and filmmaker Nora Ephron, who died today at age 71.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.