By Stephanie Schaefer
Yes, you read that headline right. If you think all badasses have to shoot guns, frequent boot camps, and stab people in prison, think again. Feminist, humorist, and the first lady of romantic comedies Nora Ephron didn't need to do any of that to be legendary—all she had to do was smash through a few glass ceilings with her high heels.
What makes Nora Ephron badass, you ask? For starters, without her men wouldn’t know what it sounds like when women fake an orgasm, Tom Hanks may have never been such a successful actor, and, most of all, countless hopeless romantics worldwide wouldn’t believe in happily ever afters. Not to mention, when she was an intern for the White House during the Kennedy Era, Ephron once saved Speaker of the House Sam Rayburn from a men’s room in which he had accidentally locked himself in. Now that’s badass (and so anti “damsel-in-distress”)!
Fresh off her stint in D.C., Wellesley-educated Ephron began her longstanding career in New York City in the 1960s. Although her first job was as a mail girl at Newsweek, she eventually rose to become a literary Renaissance woman, finding success in journalism, screenwriting, directing, producing and beyond, in spite of the fact these realms were male-dominated. After publishing a series of well-read essays, Ephron gained fame with her Academy Award-nominated screenplays “Silkwood” and the legendary romantic comedy “When Harry Met Sally.”
In the early 90’s Ephron stepped up to the director’s chair for the hit romance “Sleepless in Seattle,” which garnered $120 million at the box office and once again proved her feminine power. Success continued later in the decade when she reunited Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks for my personal favorite chick-flick, “You’ve Got Mail,” a heartwarming take on dating in the digital age (Ask Daniel Ford about how much he loves this movie. He’ll talk your ear off and do lousy Tom Hanks impressions). Even in her late 60s she continued to produce high-quality work, writing and directing "Julie & Julia,” a light-hearted film that depicts the life of another fierce female: culinary master Julia Child.
“To state the obvious, romantic comedies have to be funny and they have to be romantic,” Ephron said in an interview. “But one of the most important things, for me anyway, is that they be about two strong people finding their way to love.”
We can credit Ephron with transforming the way females are portrayed on film. During her reign, attractive women were no longer confined to play the quintessential over-sexed “Bond Girl,” but grew into multi-dimensional characters attempting to navigate their careers and love lives with honesty and humor. Essentially, her works challenged industry executives who, according to Cate Blanchett’s recent Academy Award acceptance speech, “foolishly cling to the idea that female films with women at the center are niche experiences.”
Her films were romantic, but Ephron stayed away from clichés and depicted heroines who were not only independent and hardworking but also sensitive and capable of expressing an array of emotions—anger, love, sensuality, and everything in between. “I try to write parts for women that are as complicated and interesting as women actually are,” she said. Ultimately, she proved that women don’t have to abandon their true selves to be “badass.”
From “I’ll have what she’s having,” to “I wanted it to be you,” Ephron’s famous lines remain etched in pop-culture stone, unable to be erased with each passing year and every male-dominated superhero blockbuster that has followed her 2012 death. Although female screenwriters that walk in her footsteps may have big shoes to fill, Ephron’s legacy proves that you can still be successful—in Hollywood and beyond—even if your footwear choice is high heels.