I bought this book decades ago in a used bookstore (remember them?). I was familiar with Ephron from her movies and her novel Heartburn, which I periodically pick up for its casual, seemingly effortless voice (especially if my own writing seems awkward and cumbersome, like this sentence).
The book reprints 24 articles Ephron wrote in the mid-1970s for her monthly media column in Esquire. There's also one article Esquire refused to run, presumably because it touched on the magazine's libel and out-of-court settlement practices.
There's a wide range of subjects. Ephron will sometimes look at people associated with a publication, like Dorothy Schiff, publisher, editor and owner of the New York Post, where Ephron got her first big break, or Brendan Gill and The New Yorker (one of the most savage take downs in the collection).
Other times, Ephron will put a publication itself under the microscope: the new, fledgling People Magazine, for instance, or the glossy, aspirational pages of Gourmet or the New York Times' food sections. One of the funniest pieces dissects a little-known periodical called the Palm Beach Social Pictorial (the name kind of says it all). In a self-indulgent low point, Ephron even writes about her apartment building's circulated bulletin.
My favourite articles – and the ones, I think, that have the most lasting value – examine ethical issues in journalism. Should a photographer have taken pictures of a mother and daughter falling off a fire escape during a fire, as Stanley Forman famously did in 1976? What constitutes conflict of interest for a food critic (her story about New Orleans critic Richard Collin is a doozy). Should sources be paid to appear on television? If American Express picks up the $4000 tab for a Craig Claiborne meal and the Times puts the article on page one, is that okay?
What's most exciting about the book is watching Ephron experiment. "The Making Of Theodore H. White" is a note-perfect parody of the noted historian's fussy, pretentious prose. "How to Write a Newsmagazine Cover Story" satirizes cookie cutter celebrity profile writing. Her article on the long-running British soap opera Upstairs, Downstairs is a whimsical, chatty piece that shows what she would accomplish later with dialogue.
In fact, reading this collection all the way through, you can sense Ephron becoming disillusioned with the media. There's too much emphasis on celebrity, she tells us, and journalists themselves are becoming celebrities.
In a year or two she would soon break through with her own screenplays and movies, bringing her wise, wry voice to a much larger audience. But I'm glad to have Ephron's articles and essays around to know what was going on decades ago, and to know that there was someone with a major B.S. detector writing about it.