Nora Ephron, as recalled by her son, Jacob Bernstein, in a heartbreaking piece about his mother’s final days in this week’s Times magazine
In which Rachel Simmons and I take on the Watergate of modern email etiquette: the workplace XO.
XO has surfaced in the digital correspondence of everyone from Arianna Huffington to Nora Ephron. Wendy Williams, the talk-show host, says she wishes she could stop using it, but just can’t. Anne-Marie Slaughter—foreign-policy wonk, Princeton professor, and she who still can’t have it all—doesn’t xo, but knows several professional women who do. In Diane Sawyer’s newsroom, staffers say, the anchor uses xo so frequently that its omission can spark a major panic.
“I feel like xo has taken on its own kind of life,” says Karli Kasonik, a Washington consultant.
“I do it, most women I know do it,” says Asie Mohtarez, a writer and social-media editor.
“In my field, you almost have to use it,” says Kristin Esposito, a yoga instructor in New York.
What follows is one lady’s opinion about what Nora Ephron meant to ladies. For more from my two friends and former colleagues on this topic, check out The Daily Beast. For a trio of exquisite essays on Nora’s love of food, her sense of adventure, and her essential New York-iness, drop everything and go read V.F.’s David Kamp, Todd S. Purdum, and Jim Wolcott.
In 1962, after graduating from Wellesley, Nora Ephron got a job at Newsweek. It is a famous tale at that magazine that Nora had begun her career as a “mail girl” and “clipper,” the duties of which were to carve out relevant news clippings for the editors with a razor blade, under the ink-thwarting protection of some kind of fatigues-like smock. (You can see why a Seven Sisters education was required.) She was never promoted past the position of researcher, despite showing fierce reportorial talent—in The Good Girls Revolt, a wonderful forthcoming book from Lynn Povich about the women of Newsweek, Lynn describes how Nora once came back with a reported file on McGeorge Bundy that was passed around among the magazine’s senior editors “like samizdat, it was so brilliant.” Meanwhile, of the be-smocked clipping, Lynn quotes Nora that “[b]eing a clipper was a horrible job—and to make matters worse, I was good at it.”
Fortunately, for those of us who cherish the work Nora went on to do, Newsweek was not impressed by her razor wit or razor wielding.
Nora Ephron’s first job in New York was as a Newsweek “mail girl” in 1962. In her interview, she was asked why she wanted the position.
— “I want to be a writer,” she told the woman.
— “Women don’t write at Newsweek,” she was told.
“That was what it meant to be a girl then,” Ephron later told me.
(Photo via the NYT)
The always brilliant and wry Nora Ephron, in a 1996 Wellesley Commencement Speech, which is worth reading in its entirety.
This is so, so sad.
Nora Ephron on the premiere of NBC’s The Playboy Club, in this week’s NEWSWEEK:
I worry (as someone who was an adult in the 1960s) that young people will see The Playboy Club and think that this is what life was like back then and that Hefner, as he also says in his weird, creepy voice-over, was in fact “changing the world, one Bunny at a time.”
So I would like to say this:
1. Trust me, no one wanted to be a Bunny.
2. A Bunny’s life was essentially that of an underpaid waitress forced to wear a tight costume.
3. Playboy did not change the world.
SALON: You write about your start in journalism, at Newsweek, in a “Mad Men” era when there was this incredible male hierarchy, and you were stuck in ...
EPHRON: … the girls’ department.
SALON: The girls’ department. I think it’s an immensely confusing time for people who weren’t there, because at the same time, you did have women like Lillian Ross, whom you write about in another essay, who was a big star at the New Yorker.
Well, there were exceptions to the rule. And I think there were always exceptions to the rule, fewer and fewer as you go back in time. But it was so clear in my house that we were all going to end up being writers. And that my extremely powerful, albeit eventually fairly wacky, parents would be disappointed in us if we weren’t. And since our mother was a writer, you know, it all seemed like maybe this could be done, to me.
A friend of mine was a woman writer at Time — Josie Davis, who died very young — and you knew, therefore, that there weren’t going to be any other [women] writers at Time. There was going to be one at a place. And the result of that was that there was a tremendous amount of submerged competition among the handful of us that were climbing the greasy pole. Because you really did think, is she going to get it? Or am I? There was never any sense that there was room for all of you. It seems to me that a great deal of that is gone now.
Being told that “women don’t write here,” via NYMag.
Nora Ephron, with notebook, covering Robert F. Kennedy’s 1964 senate campaign for the New York Post. (Photo: Arty Pomerantz)