Nora Ephron, Drama Without the Dramatic: Remembering a Legend

Nora Ephron in 2006. Nikki Kahn/The Washington Post/Getty Images

It never occurred to me that Nora Ephron could die. But she did, yesterday.

She didn't seem the type. She was such a constant, such a North Star, such a force of nature that the idea she might not be around explaining and cajoling those of us who counted on her just doesn't seem real.

I knew her for 25 years. And that was nothing. She had lots of friends who'd taken the whole ride with her, from the early days in Washington, to the New York Post to Hollywood and back again.

People have asked all day, "What was she really like?" Well, what she was really like is like no other. She was a woman who talked with knowledge and insight about such a wide range of topics you had to pay attention not to be left in the dust. She loved to talk about politics and trials and once in a while, Hollywood. She loved to gossip. She loved beauty products and shoes and anything having to do with good food. And just for the record, it seemed to me she remembered everything, unlike her claim in print.

I was in a lunch group with her. We call ourselves - lest anyone else does - "The Harpies." It's a swell group of women, all of whom have plenty to say. Many of the names you'd know. We frequently find that we are all talking at the same time, but when Nora spoke we hushed ourselves and listened up. No one wanted to miss a word.

She was known for her humor as both a writer and director. In person she was funny, too. Not the yuck-yuck kind of funny but a wry, slow-burning humor, sometimes tinged with honey, sometimes vinegar. She had what used to be known as wit, an ability to capture the essence of a situation and its inherent truth. And of course, in a very few words, she'd nail it.

Lesley Stahl and I host a talk show in Sirius Radio on Wednesdays and Nora appeared a couple of times in the last year. She was a great guest. We knew when Nora was on the set we could sit back and relax. I asked her one day what she'd learned from failure. "Failure is overrated, " she sighed. "Everybody always says, 'I learned so much from my mistakes.' Rubbish. What I learned is I don't like failing." She paused. "I guess I did learn that if you can survive three days everybody else has forgotten about your failure." See what I mean?

As she got older she had plenty to say about women and aging, famously making fun of her neck and many other features. Her book, "I Feel Bad About My Neck," was a winner. Actually, I rarely saw her neck (she was prone to wearing scarves) but my glimpse of it suggested it was actually a pretty nice neck, willing to stick itself out with abandon.

She was famous for her one-liners. Many have compared her to Dorothy Parker. Only nicer. Here are a few favorites of mine:

"Marriages come and go, divorce is forever."

Or how about, "In my sex fantasy, nobody ever loves me for my mind."

Here's a good one: "If pregnancy were a book they would cut out the last two chapters." Amen, sister.

Another favorite: "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 until you are 34."

Well, you get the idea. I wasn't taking notes at lunch, of course, but I am sure if I had been I could give you dozens more. Stuff just poured out of her. Her delivery was part of the appeal. She always said stuff as if she had no idea it were funny. She always played it totally straight. It must had something to do with having gone to Beverly Hills High. She got that drama is not dramatic.

But of all the insights, my favorite has to be this one: "Above all, be the heroine of your life, not the victim." She lived that one. And made it look great. Neck and all.