Nora Ephron, an essayist and humorist in the Dorothy Parker mold (only smarter and funnier, some said) who became one of her era's most successful screenwriters and filmmakers, making romantic comedy hits like "Sleepless in Seattle" and "When Harry Met Sally," died Tuesday night in Manhattan. She was 71.
The cause was pneumonia brought on by acute myeloid leukemia, her son Jacob Bernstein said.
She was a journalist, a blogger, an essayist, a novelist, a playwright, an Oscar-nominated screenwriter and a movie director — a rarity in a film industry whose directorial ranks were and continue to be dominated by men. More box-office success arrived with "You've Got Mail" and "Julie & Julia."
Nora Ephron was born on May 19, 1941, on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, the eldest of four sisters, all of whom became writers. That was no surprise: Her father, Henry, and her mother, the former Phoebe Wolkind, were Hollywood screenwriters.
She turned her painful breakup with her second husband, the Watergate journalist Carl Bernstein, into a best-selling novel, "Heartburn," which she then recycled into a successful movie starring Jack Nicholson as a philandering husband and Meryl Streep as a quick-witted version of Ephron herself.
When Ephron was 4, her parents moved from New York to Beverly Hills, where she grew up, graduating from Beverly Hills High School in 1958. At Wellesley College in Massachusetts, she began writing for the school newspaper, and in the summer of 1961 she was a summer intern in the Kennedy White House.
After graduation from college in 1962, she moved to New York, a city she always adored, intent on becoming a journalist. After stints at Newsweek and the New York Post in the late 1960s, Ephron had turned to magazine journalism. She quickly made a name for herself by writing frank, funny personal essays. By the end of her life, though remaining remarkably youthful looking, she had even become something of a philosopher about age and its indignities.
"Why do people write books that say it's better to be older than to be younger?" she wrote in "I Feel Bad About My Neck," her 2006 best-selling collection of essays. "It's not better. Even if you have all your marbles, you're constantly reaching for the name of the person you met the day before yesterday."