The New Yorker has done it again. Normally known for its snarky pieces about actors and celebrities, it defied expectation and published a gushing article about Nora Ephron. Written by, apparently, a schoolgirl with a crush, the article blows Ephron’s influence and “talent” totally out of proportion.
Judging by the tone of the article, I’m going to assume the New Yorker believes Ephron to be this generation’s Woody Guthrie. Why don’t we see how their lives stack up?
Woody Guthrie’s mother had Huntington’s Disease, a horrific neurological affliction. According to NINDS, Huntington’s “genetically programmed degeneration of brain cells, called neurons, in certain areas of the brain. This degeneration causes uncontrolled movements, loss of intellectual faculties, and emotional disturbance.” Even today, there is no cure. Woody inherited this disease. The specter of his early death hung over him his entire life.
Nora Ephron’s first husband had an affair when she was seven months pregnant with their child! It’s true. She wrote a book about it, which then became a movie starring Jack Nicholson. That must have been tough, watching her own marriage disintegrate right before her eyes in a movie theater. Maybe it wasn’t as tough because she made a million dollars off of it.
“If you want to be successful and you are a woman, you have to understand that there’s all kinds of horrible stuff that comes with it, and you simply cannot do anything about it but move on,” said Ephron, sitting in her Upper East Side apartment. Through the window you could see the sun gloriously setting on the Chrysler Building.
Ephron directed the abysmal bomb Bewitched, which lost the studio 20 million dollars, domestically. I don’t think any of Woody’s recordings ever made or lost that much, so he couldn’t even imagine the hand-wringing Sony Pictures executives went through.
Woody grew up just in time for the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl. After his father was badly burned and had to go live with his sister, his sister was burned to death in a tragic accident. (The Guthrie’s first house was also destroyed by fire.) In spite of, or perhaps because of, these events, Woody remained cheerful and went on to write literally thousands of songs.
Nora Ephron grew up in a house “full of apples and peaches and milk” in Beverly Hills, California. It must have been awful. Can you imagine a house stuffed with apples, peaches, and milk year-round? Unable to breathe, unable to move. The daughter of two successful screenwriters, she also grew up to be a screenwriter. To date, none of her immediate family members have been consumed by flame.
Woody wrote a staggering number of songs--many still unrecorded. “This Land is Your Land” may be the greatest song ever written about the United States of America. He wrote ballads and stories, peace songs and war songs, children’s songs and protest songs. His music captures America in a time of great revival. They serve as both time capsule and timeless chorus.
Nora Ephron wrote the memoir Heartburn about her divorce from Carl Bernstein. Bernstein, as you may recall, was also a writer of some note. She also wrote: “The amount of maintenance involving hair is genuinely overwhelming.”
Woody was a friend to many contemporary folk musicians. Pete Seeger and he played together often. Leadbelly was a frequent collaborator. When Woody was in the hospital dying of Huntington’s, Bob Dylan made a pilgrimage to visit his hero.
Nora Ephron vacations on David Geffen’s yacht! She rents her house in East Hampton to Heather Mills for $200,000 a month!
In May 1941, the Bonneville Power Authority hired Woody to write a few songs about a dam they were building. They figured the folk singer would lend credibility and good PR to the project. Today, the Bonneville Dam continues to power Portland, Oregon. Woody was paid the princely sum of $250 for 28 days’ work. In that time, he spoke with workers and traveled all around the dam site. He wrote 26 songs in that time, some of them the best of his career.
Norah Ephron wrote and directed Sleepless in Seattle, which only partly takes place in the Pacific Northwest. It raked in $126,533,006 domestically and will play on cable TV nonstop until we’re all dead. It is not as good as another Tom Hanks/Meg Ryan movie, but I digress.
Don’t bother turning on the radio to hear “Roll Columbia Roll,” but I bet if you turn on TBS right now You’ve Got Mail is playing. Thanks, New Yorker, for giving Nora Ephron the artistic credibility she so desperately needed.