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Nora Ephron Brings Laughs To Madison Avenue

Originally Posted: December 18, 2009

Douglas MacKaye Harrington

Elle Magazine Editor-in-Chief Roberta Myers and three time Academy Award nominated screenwriter Nora Ephron. Photos by Douglas Harrington

New York City - Off-Broadway converged with Madison Avenue last week in Manhattan and the champagne flowed. The New York flagship store for Ann Taylor hosted a SRO Q&A featuring writer/director/producer Nora Ephron who, among other topics, talked about fashion, husbands and her new play, "Love, Loss and What I Wore."

Christine M. Beauchamp, President of Ann Taylor Stores.

Co-written and produced with her sister Delia Ephron, the play was inspired by the best selling book of the same name by Ilene Beckerman. In a "Vagina Monologue" like setting, five actresses take the stage and read monologues about how clothes define different periods in women's lives. As Ephron explained during the Q&A, the cast changes on a monthly basis, "We keep re-casting it so we can get really great actresses to come for four weeks. It is really hard to get really good people to work Off-Broadway for six months because it does not pay much, but you can get them for four weeks." The original cast included Tyne Daly, Rosie O'Donnell, Samantha Bee, Katie Finneran and Natasha Lyonne, with the likes of Janeane Garofalo, Carol Kane, June Diane Raphael, Caroline Rhea, Fran Drescher and Didi Conn on the schedule for upcoming performances.

Greeting the audience and introducing the principals to the stage was Ann Taylor Stores President Christine M. Beauchamp, who warmly thanked everyone for "coming out on such a cold night." The event was deftly moderated by Elle Magazine Editor-in-Chief Roberta Myers and Elle co-partnered the event with Ann Taylor. Apparently Myers and Ephron have long been friends and the playwright served this past October as a guest editor at the magazine. The repartee between these two gifted women was nothing short of hilarious throughout the event.

Hadley Higginson, winner of Elle's "Love, Loss, and What I Wore" essay contest.

Myer opened up by acknowledging her guest's three Academy Award nominations and noting several of her films including, "'Sleepless In Seattle,' 'You've Got Mail,' 'Heartburn' which was also a great book, the recent 'Julie and Julia' and the movie that has the most famous fake orgasm ever, 'When Harry Met Sally.'" Myer asked Ephron how she and her sister came to write the play currently running at the Westside Theater, "I was sent the manuscript of this little book called "Love, Loss and What I Wore" and the editor was a woman that I know that sent a little note that said, 'I don't know if people are going to understand this book and I wonder if you would do an introduction to it?'"

Ephron explained that once she started reading it she immediately realized what a great idea it was to tell the story of one's life through the clothes they where wearing at specific times, events and, yes, even tragedies during their lives. "This is not about fashion; it is about what clothes really are to us, those moments when we are constantly trying to find our identity through them and ether failing or succeeding, in my case failing at least three times out of four."

Ephron wrote the editor back telling her the book did not need an introduction from anyone and it was going to be an absolute bestseller. "I gave the books as Christmas presents to my eight girlfriends that year."

She went on explain that she wanted to write her own version of the book, her personal memories regarding clothes and life. Incorporating her own previously written piece "I Hate My Purse" into the play, the Ephron sisters emailed 100 women with a questionnaire asking them about their own related experiences. "We got the most amazing girl stories. Stories about their first bra and the prom dress and what they where wearing when they left their husband and what they were wearing when they met their next husband." Incorporating these stories with their own, the play opened to raves in September.

Nora Ephron responds to a question during the audience Q&A.

Later commenting on her writing relationship with her sister, Ephron explained, "We both share half a brain. We both have the same historical references; we both think that the 'Archie' comic books are a template for everything. We laugh at the same things."

Myers asked Ephron to comment on her "own fashion story." "I think that my fashion story is that thing called 'mistakes.' My sister says, 'Two out of three things you buy are a mistake.' I think until the invention of black, I was sort of wandering in the forest." She went on to say, "I am one of those people that look in the closet and say, 'Who did I think I was when I bought this?' You keep them because you never know."

During this segment Ephron continued to garner laughs from the audience with a commentary on red, "Everything red is a mistake. I see people with red scarves and sweaters, this is the one month of the year you are allowed, but red is always a mistake." Referring to wool, "When will we learn that when it says 100 percent wool, just don't buy it! It does not matter that in that one minute in the dressing room it doesn't itch, it will!"

Among other subjects touched on during the interview was the collaborative nature of plays and films as opposed to novels. A very funny story about convincing 'When Sally Met Harry' director Rob Reiner that all women fake orgasms at sometime, to which he responded indignantly, "Not with me!" The director then proceeded to ask every woman in his office, much to their shock and surprise, if they had faked orgasms.

"Love, Loss and What I Wore," the Ilene Beckerman novel that inspired Nora and Delia Ephron's Off-Broadway play of the same name.

In responding to her ability to so brilliantly create comic material in the face of any personal adversity, Ephron said, "I do feel that I have my parents to thank for this because they had no interest whatsoever in sad stories. If you came to them with something sad that happened to you, they just didn't care. They believed everything could be turned into a funny story. My mother used to say, 'Everything is copy.' She was really saying, 'Turn it into something funny before you come to me.' It is something I couldn't do, but they have four daughters that write and we are all pretty funny."

Quoting Ephron's contribution to "Not Quite What I Was Planning: Six-Word Memoirs by Writers Famous and Obscure" by Larry Smith, Myers noted she wrote "Secret to life, marry an Italian!" Myers asked her to comment on her successful 20-year marriage to her third husband, Italian writer Nicholas Pileggi, Ephron quipped, "Well I have only been married to writers and two out of three just didn't work. I just mean I just did better with an Italian than with Jews. That is just the truth, there it is!"

The interview was highlighted with even more memorable moments than I can include in this article and was followed by a few questions from the audience. Another highlight of the event was recognition of Hadley Higginson, winner of Elle's "Love, Loss, and What I Wore" essay contest. Her piece was inserted into the evening performance at the Westside Theater. There was also a raffle for two pair of tickets to the play and the gift of Beckerman's book with every purchase over $150.

Along with champagne, delicious hors d'oeuvres and great live jazz by the Alex Collins Trio, was an evening of witty banter and many laughs thanks to one of America's most gifted and prolific comic voices, Nora Ephron. Elle Magazine and Ann Taylor warmed a chilly Madison Avenue night up with an event that enlightened, informed and left every shopper with a smile on their face and many funny Ephron anecdotes to share at the office Christmas party. Bravo!

Frequently mistaken for the "Most Interesting Man in the World" from the Dos Equis commercials and the iconic gray-bearded Sean Connery, DMH is the Senior Contributing Editor at Hamptons.com. www.hamptons.com Hamptons HamptonsOnline HamptonsOnline

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