Nora Ephron & Carl Bernstein: ‘Heartburn’ movie
Besides her essays, screenplays, and directorial efforts, another Nora Ephron claim to fame was her marriage to Watergate journalist Carl Bernstein. Their marriage lasted from 1976 to 1980. Ephron later wrote the semi-autobiographical novel Heartburn, which she herself adapted into the screenplay for Mike Nichols’ 1986 marital comedy-drama. Heartburn starred Meryl Streep as a food writer whose husband (Jack Nicholson), a Washington columnist, continually cheats on her.
Despite its prestige talent, the Heartburn movie adaptation failed to catch on with either critics or the public. In the Chicago Sun-Times, Roger Ebert wrote: “Maybe Nora Ephron should have based her story on somebody else’s marriage. That way, she could have provided the distance and perspective that good comedy needs. Instead, she based Heartburn … on her own marriage. And she apparently had too much anger to transform the facts into entertaining fiction. This is a bitter, sour movie about two people who are only marginally interesting.”
Box-office receipts were tepid. Heartburn earned $25.31 million in North America, or about $54 million today. For comparison’s sake, the previous Mike Nichols / Nora Ephron / Meryl Streep collaboration, Silkwood, collected $35.61 million in 2003 (approximately $90 million today).
Her parents were screenwriters Henry Ephron and Phoebe Ephron, among whose credits are several 20th Century Fox releases, including the June Haver musical Look for the Silver Lining (1949); the all-star musical comedy There’s No Business Like Show Business (1954), with Marilyn Monroe, Dan Dailey, Ethel Merman, Donald O’Connor, Mitzi Gaynor, and Johnnie Ray; and the Katharine Hepburn / Spencer Tracy romantic comedy Desk Set (1957).
Nora Ephron & Deep Throat
Also worth noting, for decades Nora Ephron claimed to know who Watergate’s “Deep Throat” was. Following her acrimonious divorce from Carl Bernstein, Ephron said she never hesitated in telling everyone Deep Throat was Mark Felt.
In fact, Nora Ephron reportedly rewrote William Goldman’s screenplay for All the President’s Men, based on Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward’s book about the Watergate scandal. Her version of the screenplay, however, wasn’t used. Directed by Alan J. Pakula, and starring Robert Redford as Woodward and Dustin Hoffman as Bernstein, All the President’s Men was a major success for all involved.
Carl Bernstein is now 68.
Screenwriter-director Nora Ephron died earlier today, according to several reports. Later reports asserted that Ephron was “gravelly ill” but not dead, adding that she might not survive the night. Now new reports have confirmed that Nora Ephron has indeed died at age 71. Ephron had been suffering from leukemia.
Nora Ephron movies: ‘When Harry Met Sally’ & ‘Sleepless in Seattle’
Nora Ephron wrote the screenplay for Rob Reiner’s When Harry Met Sally… (1989), a major box office success starring Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan as a couple of friends who, inevitably, become a couple. Partly thanks to Ryan’s fake orgasm scene, When Harry Met Sally… turned into the feel-good movie hit of the year. It eventually earned Ephron a Best Original Screenplay Academy Award nomination.
She would be nominated again for another romantic comedy starring Meg Ryan, Sleepless in Seattle, the feel-good movie hit of 1993. Co-written with sister Delia Ephron (and borrowing heavily from Claude Lelouch’s And Now My Love), Sleepless in Seattle is basically an homage to Leo McCarey’s An Affair to Remember, which had Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr failing to meet at the top of the Empire State Building. In Nora Ephron’s movie, which she also directed, Meg Ryan is luckier than Deborah Kerr: instead of getting run over by a car, Ryan hops in the Empire State Building elevator and ascends to meet Tom Hanks.
Less well liked by critics but quite popular with audiences was You’ve Got Mail (1998), a remake of The Shop Around the Corner transposed to late 20th-century New York City. Once again, Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks play the two lovers-to-be, exchanging emails instead of letters.
More recently, Nora Ephron directed Meryl Streep and Amy Adams in the domestic box office hit Julie & Julia, which took in $94.15 million in the U.S. and Canada. (Overseas, the film performed weakly, grossing only $35.41m.) Ephron’s comedy about chef Julia Child eventually earned Streep her 16th Academy Award nomination.
First Nora Ephron movie hit: ‘Silkwood’
An early Nora Ephron movie success was Silkwood, a Mike Nichols-directed 1983 drama about plutonium processing plant worker Karen Silkwood, who died under mysterious circumstances. Meryl Streep earned her fifth Oscar nomination for her performance in the title role. Ephron and co-writer Alice Arlen were nominated in the Best Original Screenplay category.
Other Nora Ephron movie projects were less lucky. Bewitched (2005), starring Nicole Kidman in the old Elizabeth Montgomery role, bombed with critics and was a box office disappointment. Lucky Numbers (2000), with John Travolta and Lisa Kudrow, was a total bomb. Michael (1996), starring Travolta as the titular Archangel, was widely panned by critics, though it managed to perform well at the domestic box office. Mixed Nuts (1994), starring Steve Martin and Madeline Kahn, and This Is My Life (1992), with Julie Kavner as a standup comedian, were critical and box office disasters.
Additionally, Ephron wrote the screenplay for the television movie Perfect Gentlemen (1978), a modestly enjoyable crime romp directed by former MGM child star Jackie Cooper, and featuring Lauren Bacall, Sandy Dennis, Ruth Gordon, Lisa Pelikan, and Robert Alda.
Heartburn movie box office source: boxofficemojo.com.
Heartburn / Meryl Streep and Jack Nicholson (as faux Nora Ephron and Carl Bernstein) image: Paramount Pictures.