Last week should have been designated “Nora Ephron Week.” She received terrific publicity, seemingly everywhere, for her new book, I Remember Nothing: and Other Reflections. What woman of a certain age wouldn’t agree with the premise of her two most recent titles? We all feel bad about our necks, and who among us has not lost her keys? Not only was Nora’s new book getting a big play (and important reviews) but she got quite a lot of ink about being the founding editor of a new section on Huffington Post: Divorce. This is a subject I find enormously interesting, obviously, because I have had three of them. And what makes it even more interesting is that you might say that Nora and I got divorced.
This is kind of complicated, but what divorce isn’t? (Well, actually, two of mine weren’t. Although the first one was hot and cold running detectives, the second was a matter of indifference, and the third was probably the friendliest on record. I mean, it was “You take this,” “No, you take this.”)
But back to Nora, who is a marvelous writer, and back in the day was a wonderful girlfriend. We met right before she became engaged to Carl Bernstein; a mutual friend introduced us. We had dinner at the old and glorious Pump Room in Chicago. At some point we got deep into girl talk. She introduced me to the analytic idea of girls marrying their mothers, in the bad way, and agreed that perhaps this is what we had both done the first time around. We also had our own Ugly Man contest. Good taste prevents me from naming the husbands and beaus we each named, but we were pretty even in that department, and decided the guys who weren’t lookers were often the smart ones. At that particular dinner, Nora spoke of fidelity and its importance to her. Alas, that was around the time she had caught Carl with a Playboy Bunny, but she gave him a pass, as they were not yet married. Anyway, that dinner was the seed of a friendship I cherished, because I was just starting out as a writer and Nora was already … Nora. (The only other meal I can think of that turned into something meaningful was an interview lunch I had with Ken Howard … and we got married. Then divorced.)
Nora was into the women’s movement in a way I was not. One of the things I admired about her, aside from her gifted prose, was that she was extremely generous and non-competitive with other women writers. In fact, when I called it a day with Mr. Right #2, she insisted I go back to work. (As then-newspaper editor Jim Hoge put it, “Writing is what Margo does between husbands.”) Nora went so far as to get me in to see Lee Eisenberg, who was then running Esquire, and he asked me to write a story for them.
In a funny way, Nora was also like a big sister, though she was a year younger. I remember, in 1975, when my parents divorced after 36 years, savvy Nora said I should put my phone on service and not answer because every women’s magazine and a few wire services would be after me. When it was announced, it was a 24-hour news story and she was right. The list of publications that left messages was quite long, indeed.
I also remember being madly impressed when, on a visit to New York, Nora made me a tuna fish sandwich that was maybe the best I’d ever had. OMG, the girl could cook, too. This was particularly impressive to someone who often stored extra sweaters in the oven.
Although there were people who found our writing styles similar, Nora had something I never did have, and never would: ambition. She wanted to do it all, and she has. I, on the other hand, the sloth to her motivated, high achieving self, was always happy with a toy career.
But on to the divorce – hers and mine — which, strangely enough, crosses paths with the biggest criticism she is facing with her latest book, if not her new HuffPo section. The common thread would be Carl Bernstein, her (second) husband from 35 years ago. She has managed to keep his indiscretion alive for all this time so that someone not up on the news might think it was only yesterday that she caught him screwing Margaret Jay. At the time Heartburn came out, I wrote about it for The New Republic. It wasn’t meant to be a book review, because we were friends, but it was an essay — funny, I’ll grant you – that said a true and serious thing: I was unhappy that she’d written the book because it invited people to pity her, which I didn’t think a good thing, at all. I remember writing that I believed the title of the book had been a compromise between Heartache and Slow Burn. Because Nora had interspersed recipes throughout Heartburn, my piece used them, too. I made the observation that while her book went quite beyond kiss-and-tell (being more live-and-tell) I felt she didn’t actually reveal everything … that she was fudging. Then I gave a recipe for fudge. I think you get the picture.
Fast forward to a night not long after the TNR piece ran when we essentially bumped into each other at Orso in New York. Nora spotted me and race-walked to her table, leaving me in the dust, as it were. Not that there really is any dust at Orso’s. It was then I knew that her dictum, told to her by her late mother, “Everything is copy,” did not apply to her. Nora, herself, had written about close friends, old beaux, etc. – very thinly disguised – so it took me a while to figure out that she could do this, but other people could not. I must admit, for many years, I did not understand her feeling that I had been disloyal, because my main point was pro-Nora. Years later, however, I did see her point and felt the piece, although quite terrific, was not worth the friendship. However … I am lucky in one respect; there are people walking around who have no idea why Nora dropped them. I did think about apologizing, but felt in my gut that Nora being Nora, it would be rejected. I wish we were still friends, but there you are. And whenever I feel like taking the sweaters out of the oven, I make her peach pie, which is fab.
I read in one of the articles about her that Nora saves letters. So do I! And some are from her. A few of them tell me that I and my (then) tykes encouraged her to have children. She really seemed to love motherhood. She also admired my Rolls Royce. And she was a constant cheerleading section for my working. So that’s the story of our divorce. And — unlike those with any of the husbands — this is the one I wish hadn’t happened.