Ephron was born in New York City, the daughter of Jewish screenwriters Henry and Phoebe Ephron. The family moved west to Beverly Hills when Ephron was four. After attending Wellesley College, where she worked on the school newspaper, and then interning in the Kennedy White House, Ephron spent five years writing for the New York Post before regularly writing for such magazines as Esquire and New York.
In 1976 Ephron married fellow journalist Carl Bernstein, half of the team responsible for breaking the Watergate story. Ephron and Bernstein had two sons, Jacob and Max, before divorcing in 1980.
Ephron’s first screenplay was Silkwood (1983), based on the true story of Karen Silkwood (Meryl Streep), who died under suspicious circumstances after she exposed unsafe conditions at the plutonium processing plant where she worked. The script earned Ephron the first of her three Oscar nominations.
Moving from the word processor to the director’s chair, Ephron helmed This Is My Life in 1992, a slight but likable film about a single mother (Julie Kavner) pursuing a career in stand-up comedy. The film was not a success, but her subsequent directing efforts, Sleepless in Seattle (1993) and You’ve Got Mail (1998), were both huge box-office hits, particularly with female audiences. Her most iconic work, though, is probably Rob Reiner’s When Harry Met Sally… (1989), the now classic romantic comedy starring Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan as an on-again, off-again romantic couple. The film was a critical and box-office hit.
Ephron’s screenplay adaptation of her book Heartburn, a fictionalized account of her turbulent marriage to Bernstein, remains her most personalized film. Directed by Mike Nichols, the 1986 film starred Meryl Streep, in one of her most underrated performances, and Jack Nicholson, also superb, as two journalists who meet at a friend’s wedding, hit it off, marry, have a baby, and live a life of domestic bliss in Washington, D.C. until Streep discovers Nicholson has been unfaithful to her. With a supporting cast that includes Maureen Stapleton, Jeff Daniels, Richard Masur, Catherine O’Hara, Milos Forman, and a then unknown Kevin Spacey in his film debut, it is one of the most overlooked films of the 1980s. Set to some great Carly Simon songs, it is an insightful, funny, and very human look at love, marriage, and betrayal as only Ephron could write it.
Her final film was 2009’s Julie & Julia, once again starring Streep, this time as Julia Child.
Ephron was married to GoodFellas scribe Nicholas Pileggi since 1987. He survives her along with her two sons and her sisters Delia, Amy, and Hallie, all of whom are also writers. A memorial lunch is being planned by her friends in New York City.