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Nora Ephron Theater Career: 'Harry Met Sally' Writer Called First Play 'The Best Thing' She Ever Wrote

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NORA EPHRON IMAGINARY FRIENDS
Playwright Nora Ephron, left, and actresses Swoosie Kurtz, second from left, and Cherry Jones, third from left, take their curtain call at the Barrymore Theatre in New York, Thursday, Dec. 12, 2002, after the opening night performance of Ephron's Broadway play, "Imaginary Friends." Ephron said the show was "the best thing" she ever wrote. (AP Photo/John-Marshall Mantel) | AP

Nora Ephron, who pioneered a brand of writing and filmmaking all her own, died Tuesday at 71, of complications from the blood disorder myelodysplasia, The Washington Post reports.

After her enormous success as a screenwriter, director and essayist, Ephron parlayed her talent into the American theater only later in life.

"Love, Loss, and What I Wore," a play of monologues she co-wrote with her sister, Delia, had a long, lucrative life off-Broadway, and her newest play, "Lucky Guy," is set for Broadway next year with Tom Hanks attached as the star.

"Love, Loss and What I Wore," an exploration of five women and how their wardrobes related to pivotal moments in their lives, was based on the 1995 memoir by Illene Beckerman. The show premiered in 2009 and ended its off-Broadway run in New York on March 25. It continues to travel across the world, with a rotating cast of female stars.

Throughout the course of its run, illustrious stage and screen performers such as Tyne Daly, Kristen Wiig, Jane Lynch, Parker Posey, Blythe Danner, The Daily Show's Samantha Bee, Rosie O'Donnell, Julie White, America Ferrera, Brooke Shields and Janeane Garofalo stepped into the lead roles of the sartorial comedy, among many others.

Writing for The Huffington Post, for which she was an editor-at-large, Ephron said the show was "like the Vagina Monologues, but without the vaginas."

"It's all about clothes we've loved and the memories they trigger," she wrote, "the powder blue strapless prom dress, the nightmare of the bra saleslady, the tragedy of the purse, our mothers, our mothers, our mothers and more."

"Love, Loss" is in step with the brand of sharp female comedy Ephron pioneered in film -- the New York Times' Charles Isherwood wrote in his 2009 review, "If there are chick flicks and chick lit — derogatory though some might find those terms to be — 'Love, Loss, and What I Wore' should clearly be classified as chick legit."

The show won a special Drama Desk Award and was nominated for two Drama League awards in 2010. By the time it closed in March of this year, it had been performed more than 1,000 times with 32 different casts and 120 different actresses, breaking box office records for the Westside Theatre. The production also drummed up an impressive $125,000 in contributions to "Dress for Success," a non-profit organization dedicated to providing clothing and support to low-income women.

Other productions have premiered in cities as varied as Buenes Aires, Sydney, Paris, Johannesburg, and Manila, spanning six continents.

Coming off the tremendous success of that show, Tom Hanks -- the star of the Ephron-penned films "Sleepless in Seattle" and "You've Got Mail" -- confirmed in May that he'd be making his Broadway debut in Ephron's "Lucky Guy," which follows the career of former New York Daily News columnist Mike McAlary. Broadway veteran George C. Wolfe is still set to direct that production, which will premiere in late winter.

Ephron was part of a major writing family. Both of her parents were screenwriters, and in 1961 the letters she'd written home from college became the centerpiece of their own Broadway show, "Take Her, She's Mine," which ran for more than 400 performances at the Biltmore Theatre. It was also turned into a film starring Jimmy Stewart and Sandra Dee.

On Charlie Rose in 2003, before her first play, "Imaginary Friends," premiered, Ephron said she'd always wanted to write a play, but she didn't know if one would ever "smack" into her. Once the subject came along, she got excited about the format.

"The great thing about a play is you can jump around, you can be very abstract, you don't have to worry about where you are," she said. "Where are we in this play? We're wherever we are right now."

The lesser-known "Imaginary Friends," which debuted on Broadway in 2002, starred Cherry Jones and Swoosie Kurtz. Like "Love, Loss and What I Wore," it also followed complicated female characters, focusing on the relationship between the writers Lillian Hellman and Mary McCarthy.

In her 2011 book of essays, "I Remember Nothing and Other Reflections," Ephron said the show was "the best thing" she ever wrote, yet also referred to it as her "biggest flop."

"You'd think I would have given up hoping that anything good would ever happen to this play, but I haven't," Ephron wrote, in an excerpt from that book published in the Guardian. "I sometimes fantasise that when I'm dying, someone who's in a position to revive it will come to my bedside to say goodbye, and I will say: 'Could I ask a favor?' He will say yes. What else can he say? After all, I'm dying. And I will say: 'Could you please do a revival of my play?'"

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