Nora Ephron's extraordinary legacy obviously includes such films as “Sleepless in Seattle,” “You’ve Got Mail,” and “Julie & Julia.” But she also wrote for the stage. Ephron made her Broadway debut with the 2002 flop “Imaginary Friends” and had an off-Broadway hit, "Love, Loss, and What I Wore," co-written with sister Delia Ephron, which she wryly described as “‘The Vagina Monologues’ without the vaginas.”
Ephron always yearned for a Broadway hit. After all, the biggest success of her parents, the playwrights Henry and Phoebe Ephron, was 1961’s “Take Her, She’s Mine,” a comedy about a young woman who is fleeing the clutches of her overprotective father. Elizabeth Ashley won the Tony Award playing Mollie Michaelson, whom the Ephrons based on their then-20-year-old daughter, Nora. Ephron may yet have a posthumous hit with “Lucky Guy,” about the New York Daily News columnist Mike McAlary who, like Ephron, died from cancer. It was revealed earlier this year in the New York Post that the play will debut next season, with George C. Wolfe directing and Tom Hanks starring. McAlary won a Pulitzer Prize for his aggressive reporting on the notorious Abner Louima police brutality scandal in 1997, but had earlier recklessly disparaged in print the accusations of a woman in a rape case. He and the paper were sued for $12 million. Hugh Jackman participated in a reading of the play last year. After some re-writing, Hanks reportedly signed on to make his Broadway debut as the brash and hard-drinking reporter.
In the summer of 2002, just prior to her Broadway debut with “Imaginary Friends,” I joined Ephron and Dick Cavett for a lunch at Rowdy Hall in East Hampton for a magazine story. Her play explored the tempestuous rivalry between writer Mary McCarthy (“The Group”) and playwright Lillian Hellman (“The Little Foxes”). While appearing on Cavett’s popular PBS talk show in 1980, McCarthy launched a vicious attack against Hellman. “Every word she writes is a lie, including ‘and’ and ‘the,’” McCarthy told Cavett in response to the host's question, "What writers do you think are overrated?" Hellman immediately brought a $2.5 million libel suit, hounding her adversary with it until she died in 1984.
At the lunch, Ephron was at her sly and engaging best. Discussing the moment on "The Dick Cavett Show" when McCarthy makes her accusation, Ephron said, “One of the things that I think is so delicious is the smile that comes over her face when she says it. It was not a Julia Roberts smile. It was the smile on the face of the crocodile after having ingested several of the guests for dinner.” At the time of our meeting, Martha Stewart was embroiled in her stock trading scandal. While the style guru was getting crucified in the press, Ephron rushed to her defense. “Oh, I like her,” she said. “I like her as a person. I cook from her magazine, use her magazine and I drink out of glasses I bought in her catalog. I swear by her!"