I'll Have What She's Having

How Nora Ephron's Three Iconic Films Saved the Romantic Comedy


By Erin Carlson

Read by Pippa Armstrong

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A backstage look at the making of Nora Ephron’s revered trilogy–When Harry Met Sally, You’ve Got Mail, and Sleepless in Seattle–which brought romantic comedies back to the fore, and an intimate portrait of the beloved writer/director who inspired a generation of Hollywood women, from Mindy Kaling to Lena Dunham.

In I’ll Have What She’s Having entertainment journalist Erin Carlson tells the story of the real Nora Ephron and how she reinvented the romcom through her trio of instant classics. With a cast of famous faces including Rob Reiner, Tom Hanks, Meg Ryan, and Billy Crystal, Carlson takes readers on a rollicking, revelatory trip to Ephron’s New York City, where reality took a backseat to romance and Ephron–who always knew what she wanted and how she wanted it–ruled the set with an attention to detail that made her actors feel safe but sometimes exasperated crew members.

Along the way, Carlson examines how Ephron explored in the cinema answers to the questions that plagued her own romantic life and how she regained faith in love after one broken engagement and two failed marriages. Carlson also explores countless other questions Ephron’s fans have wondered about: What sparked Reiner to snap out of his bachelor blues during the making of When Harry Met Sally? Why was Ryan, a gifted comedian trapped in the body of a fairytale princess, not the first choice for the role? After she and Hanks each separatel balked at playing Mail’s Kathleen Kelly and Sleepless‘ Sam Baldwin, what changed their minds? And perhaps most importantly: What was Dave Chappelle doing . . . in a turtleneck? An intimate portrait of a one of America’s most iconic filmmakers and a look behind the scenes of her crowning achievements, I’ll Have What She’s Having is a vivid account of the days and nights when Ephron, along with assorted cynical collaborators, learned to show her heart on the screen.



MFEO (Made for Each Other)

"God, are we gonna get away with this?"

So muttered Nora Ephron, smiling despite herself as she watched Meg Ryan traverse the Empire State Building observation deck to greet her destiny, Tom Hanks. In one corner of the set, painstakingly constructed to match the real thing, the director wore super-sized headphones and kept her eyes glued to the monitor.

It was the summer of 1992, and if Nora wanted to keep making movies, she really needed to pull off Sleepless in Seattle's high-stakes last scene: a fantastical encounter between her stars that defied Hollywood convention. Studio executives quivered. They don't meet until the very end! Would an audience accept the gimmick and sit through 90 minutes without a proper meet-cute? And can Nora Ephron, a neophyte director with one failed film under her belt, even be trusted to get away with this?

What transpired when the camera started rolling would make cinematic history as the most romantic (and schmaltzy) moment she ever filmed, anointing Tom and Meg as America's Sweethearts—a label at which they winced—and Nora the Queen of Romantic Comedy. But getting there was a battle. At one point, Tom got cold feet—could he portray a wussy dad without committing career suicide?—forcing Nora, anxious about keeping him happy, to persuade a fellow skeptic and know-it-all (and therefore a kindred spirit) to take a chance on her.

Sleepless is the second in a trilogy of Ephron-scripted romantic comedies that combined old-fashioned romance with hilarious truths about contemporary relationships (one word: tiramisu) to shape ideas and expectations about love, however pie-in-the-sky. According to When Harry Met Sally, you could get lucky and marry your best friend. Or, given the arcs of Sleepless and You've Got Mail, you might break your commitment to a blah suitor and delay marriage until Mr. Soulmate (who exhibits an uncanny resemblance to Tom Hanks) arrives to pledge his undying affection… as long as you both shall live. Like the great Manhattan-set romcoms of yore, from The Apartment to Breakfast at Tiffany's to Annie Hall, these romances stand the test of time: We get to experience the vicarious thrill of falling in love, a feeling at once intoxicating, addictive, and comforting, over and over again. But if you consider Nora a sentimentalist, you're mistaken: The mastermind yanking the heartstrings did not always sample the cherry-flavored Kool-Aid she served up.

Early in her career as a journalist, Nora cultivated a cutthroat, suffer-no-fools writing persona that skewered subjects from one-time idol Dorothy Parker to the staff of Gourmet magazine with bull's-eye precision. Back then, especially if you were a powerful media entity—or a ridiculous man, or a conventionally beautiful woman who complained about the downside of being born conventionally beautiful—you wanted to stay on Nora's good side and out of her line of vision. Later, when Nora turned her attention to filmmaking, she relied on her fierce wit and nimble social maneuvering to navigate the high highs and low lows of a male-dominated industry where women's stories typically play second fiddle. Though generous of spirit, she had the capacity to smear reputations and steer public opinion away from objects of her disapproval. And since she gave her point of view decisively and with such confidence, you took her word for it. You looked to Nora's bullshit detector to give it to you straight.

Nora, like a proto–Taylor Swift, channeled heartbreak into pop art with an autobiographical novel, Heartburn, exposing the bitter end of her second marriage to Watergate journalist Carl Bernstein. The film version, starring Meryl Streep and Jack Nicholson, would be her last cinematic take on divorce.

In a stark turnaround, her public image began to crystallize into a new Nora: someone who embraced the fantasy that a pair of perfect strangers, or mortal enemies, could be so MFEO. During the irony-drenched 1990s, when star-driven romances thrived anew, she found the ideal screen couple in two genre powerhouses whose sweet-and-tart sensibilities translated to sizzling chemistry, a merging of minds: Tom, an unlikely leading man who gained his sex appeal through clever delivery instead of a chiseled jaw, and Meg, a gifted actress trapped in the vessel of a Disney princess, forever struggling to earn the respect Tom came by effortlessly.

In hindsight, casting Meg as Sally Albright, her breakthrough role, was obvious. Faking the orgasm at Katz's Deli? Meg's idea. But other actresses turned down the part before she got to audition. On Sleepless, Nora initially doubted whether Tom, in career flux, had what it took to sweep Meg off her feet. On Mail, Meg expressed wariness toward playing adorable bookstore owner Kathleen Kelly. What changed her mind? And more importantly, what was an edgy up-and-coming comic named Dave Chappelle doing… in a turtleneck?

This is the story of how Nora and her collaborators shed inhibition to redefine the romantic comedy genre in a way that felt utterly new: wry, knowing, and urbane, but with an unabashed idealistic streak as well. And in the process, she came to also reshape the popular perception of the city she so loved: New York was just as much a character in her films as any of the romantic leads were, and her dialogue and cinematography betrayed her deep adoration of the town.

Recall the moment at a cozy Upper West Side café, where Shopgirl, rose tucked inside her well-worn copy of Pride and Prejudice, nervously awaited NY152 to walk through the door.

"I hear nothing. Not even a sound on the streets of New York, just the beat of my own heart. I have mail. From you."

Nothing, not least the city itself, would ever be the same again.


It Was a Sign

Was the script trying to tell her something? Suddenly it all made sense. Her husband, she suspected, had been having an affair. She, Nora Ephron, had been duped.

"Read this," said Jay Presson Allen, the Academy Award–nominated writer, offering a screenplay by Frederic Raphael, who wrote the 1965 drama Darling. "You'll like it."

Nora was in New York, her adopted hometown, to meet Allen, a sharp-witted Texan who wrote her way out of her ho-hum first marriage to win prestige credits on scripts for Fosse's Cabaret, Hitchcock's Marnie, and the Broadway and big-screen adaptations of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, which scored Maggie Smith her best-actress Oscar in 1969. (Quoth Allen: "Male characters are easier to write. They're simpler. I think women are generally more psychologically complicated.") In 1979, the year Nora's second marriage went bust, she had started the transition from esteemed, if not handsomely paid, magazine writer to hired-gun screenwriter, a credit for a made-for-television movie called Perfect Gentlemen under her belt. "It was so awful," she said of the crime caper starring Lauren Bacall as one of three cash-strapped women outlaws who hold up a hotel safe. Its 1978 premiere had Nora, then expecting her first baby, paralyzed with fear and "really worried that this child was not going to live through this television screening."

Later, a silver lining developed upon discovery that the Bacall debacle inspired an older woman to rob a bank in Newton, Massachusetts. Nora's humiliation turned to bliss: "Forget journalism—that's power."

She cracked Raphael's script on the short flight home to DC, where she and her other half, Watergate hero Carl Bernstein, had an apartment at the Ontario, a Beaux Arts building that outlasted their crumbling relationship. He liked Washington; she loathed it. He was a notorious flirt who had vowed before marrying Nora to keep on the straight and narrow; she, caught up in Carl, willed away skepticism to instead look toward the future, thinking he'd changed. He had not. There she was, however many miles up in the air, absorbing the uncanny parallels between her life and the plot unfolding before her on page 8 of this screenplay she was reading.

"It began with a married couple at a dinner party," she later wrote. "I can't remember their names, but for the sake of the story, let's call them Clive and Lavinia. It was a very sophisticated dinner party and everyone at it was smart and brittle and chattering brilliantly. Clive and Lavinia were particularly clever, and they bantered with each other in a charming, flirtatious way. Everyone in the room admired them, and their marriage. The guests sat down to dinner and the patter continued. In the middle of the dinner, a man seated next to Lavinia put his hand on her leg. She put her cigarette out on his hand. The glittering conversation continued. When the dinner ended, Clive and Lavinia got into their car to drive home. The talk ceased, and they drove in absolute silence. They had nothing to say to each other. And then Lavinia said: 'All right. Who is she?'"

All right, Carl. Who is she?

Nora Ephron, 38 years old and seven months pregnant with their second child, saw her carefully manicured world falling apart. She beelined from the airport to Carl's drawers, uncovering confirmation in the form of a "book of children's stories"—the audacity!—in which the Other Woman had scrawled "an incredibly stupid inscription about their enduring love." The Other Woman was Margaret Jay, the blond, doe-eyed daughter of Britain's former prime minister James Callaghan and wife of UK ambassador Peter Jay. Salt, meet wound.

She would write her way out of this. Maybe a book—one for adults, not children.

Nora fell hard for New York City, and distance made the heart grow fonder. Even then it was clear that she could never live anywhere else. She didn't belong anywhere else. She felt discombobulated when her parents moved the family out of claustrophobic Manhattan, where she was born on May 19, 1941, and into a strange new world populated by strawberry blondes: Beverly Hills. Her five-year-old self wondered, What am I doing here?

What Henry and Phoebe Ephron were doing there: making it in showbiz. In 1943, the married screenwriting team landed a seven-year contract with 20th Century Fox amid the success of their play Three's a Family, a comedy about a miserable young mom who moves into her parents' West 110th Street apartment. Phoebe's idea. While she wasn't ha-ha funny, an irony observed by daughter Delia (who is ha-ha funny), Phoebe showed a comedian's instinct for spinning wackiness from unhappiness. She used her relatives as fodder. Her work became her identity. Speaking to a journalist during the couple's professional heyday, Phoebe proclaimed: "I don't go in the kitchen very often, except for ice cubes for a drink."

The Phoebe and Henry Ephron production Three's a Family lasted 497 performances on Broadway; Henry directed the stage show, but not the movie adaptation. Their creative collaboration had taken off when Phoebe—a restless stay-at-home mom who lived with Henry, baby Nora, and her parents in an apartment on 110th Street—became her husband's official writing partner.

"My dad had written a bunch of plays and I think Mommy got tired of his plays not selling and she said, 'I'll write one with you,'" Amy, the youngest of their four girls, relayed in the Nora-centric documentary Everything Is Copy, directed by Nora's son, Jacob Bernstein. "And it was sort of a hit. And then they moved to LA. And I think Mommy felt, and rightly so, that she'd broken some kind of glass ceiling."

They wrote the screenplay for the 1944 romantic comedy Bride by Mistake, starring Laraine Day as Norah Hunter, an heiress who pretends to be a secretary in order to fool gold-digging prospective suitors. Among their splashiest credits: the 1956 movie version of Rodgers and Hammerstein's Carousel, featuring Gordon MacRae and Shirley Jones as doomed but vocally gifted lovers, and 1957's Desk Set, a stylish battle-of-the-sexes romance that reunited Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn as an IBM engineer and the equally brainy supervisor of a TV network's old-school research department at Rockefeller Center. Kate fears that Spencer, a productivity pro who means to install a computer in the office, will make her job irrelevant. It's no small thing, putting a nice lady out of business. Most inconveniently, an attraction grows.

Given Phoebe's disregard for traditional gender roles during a period when women were expected to stay home (and out of the workforce), it's fitting that she chose to name Nora after the iconoclastic heroine of the 1879 Henrik Ibsen play A Doll's House, which tells the saga of a soul-searching, independence-seeking wife who packs her bags and leaves her family behind. Phoebe, a Jane Austen fan, preferred that her young daughters read books about plucky female protagonists—Eloise, Madeline, and Dorothy Gale—and she passed down their stories like heirlooms. Nora's first memory of Phoebe was her mother teaching her how to read—and Phoebe's joyous response when she actually could.

In Beverly Hills, the Ephrons lived in a Spanish stucco home with 14 rooms on Linden Drive, just down the street from the property where gangster Bugsy Siegel was gunned down—a bit of trivia that fascinated Delia, the second eldest. Dinner was served nightly at six thirty, with the siblings swapping stories that entertained their parents. "That was when every time I said something funny, my dad said, 'That's a great line. Write it down,'" Delia wrote.

Phoebe, who recited poetry at the table, imparted a litany of rules: "Never buy a red coat." "Don't worship celebrities." "Don't join sororities."

Nora paid witness to Henry and Phoebe's insider-y parties, which drew boldfaced names like Dorothy Parker, the sharpest of the wits, as sparkling conversation and cocktails flowed.

Cut to 1957. Nora's prophetic interaction with the actor who practically invented the word debonair, the Mid-Atlantic accent, and the essence of George Clooney. The event: An Affair to Remember.

"My mother took me to a screening in Westwood, and I just lost it," Nora said. "There I was, a hopeless teenage girl awash in salt water, and we stood up to leave, and my mother introduces me to Cary Grant. I blubbered that this was the greatest movie I'd ever seen. I now look at this movie and say, 'What was I thinking?' But I could play the last 10 minutes of that movie for you now, and we'd be crying."

That was also the year Nora saw Funny Face, a romantic comedy that cast Audrey Hepburn as a winsome bookstore clerk turned model and Fred Astaire as an opportunistic fashion photographer. The 1950s prized hourglass shapes as a feminine ideal; Nora, the insecure 15-year-old Beverly Hills High School girl so desperate for bigger breasts that she once purchased something called a Mark Eden Bust Developer, was coming of age in a town where looks—the right look—meant absolutely everything.

She'd catch a matinee every Saturday around noon. She watched Marilyn. Doris Day. Jane Powell. She'd sit there thinking: This breathy-voiced bombshell isn't me. This flaxen-haired ingénue isn't me. Enter Audrey. "She was as close as you could get to someone who was interesting and quirky and smart," said Nora. "You saw her in that bookstore, in Funny Face, in that little black turtleneck sweater, and it was the most compelling article of clothing anyone wore in a movie when I was growing up."

Nora had a side job at a local bookstore (Martindale's, earning 75 cents an hour, once gift-wrapping a book for Cary Grant) and dreamed of lofty things. As the class of 1959's "Most Likely to Succeed"—she graduated number one out of 309 students—Nora wielded enough clout at her school newspaper to fire future billionaire Barry Diller, who would go on to run Paramount; launch a fourth broadcast TV network, Fox; and marry wrap-dress fashion icon Diane von Fürstenberg. Who knew?

Diller was 14 years old at the time. As an adult, he recalled, "There was not a lot of feminine about Nora… she had one eye that was kinda unevenly closed. Or open."

Still, she impressed the judges at an LA junior essay competition, winning first prize: a pair of tickets to the premiere of a movie starring Doris Day, that paragon of postwar conservatism.

While Phoebe's daughters swooned at the movies, she was making them. She took pride in an atypical path and urged the sisters Ephron to follow suit. Delia summed up Phoebe's ideology: "You will have a career like me. You will work. You will be a writer. You will leave Los Angeles. You will go to New York City. You will work. Career, career, career." Phoebe would repeat: "Everything is copy."

If everything was copy, then it had to be sugarcoated, scrubbed clean of self-pity, and played for laughs—or risk Phoebe's rejection. "If you came back to her with a sad story, she had no interest in it whatsoever," Nora said. "'Turn it into a funny story. Get back to me. I will be interested.'"

Nora studied, then mastered, the Tao of Phoebe: "When you slip on a banana peel, people laugh at you; but when you tell people you slipped on a banana peel, it's your laugh. So you become the hero rather than the victim of the joke."

She provided inspiration (and free material) for Henry and Phoebe's zippy 1961 play Take Her, She's Mine, which debuted to stellar sales at New York's Biltmore Theatre on 47th Street and referenced her letters home from Wellesley College. Precocious coed Mollie Michaelson, Nora's alter ego, proclaims: "He doesn't know it yet, but I have met a boy from Harvard who's going to marry me."

Not everything was fit for print. Concerned with decorum (the table had to be set just so) and loath to show weakness, the emotionally distant Phoebe did not choose to make "copy" of her marital woes and self-destructive slide into alcoholism while Nora was in her teens. These could not be mined for laughs. Things got worse after Nora left the nest. Late at night, Phoebe and Henry (also a drinker) waged bitter verbal battles, traumatizing Delia, Hallie, and Amy (all of whom, like their big sister, became writer-subscribers to the "Everything is copy" mantra, in one form or another). "When she found out my father was fooling around with other women, she didn't walk out on him like Ibsen's Nora," said Hallie, writing in O magazine. She stayed, and stewed. "Alcohol ignited her anger, and sometimes they fought from midnight to dawn," Hallie continued. "By the time Delia and I were both in college, things got so bad that Amy ran away and ended up moving in with Nora and her first husband in an apartment near Central Park."

Henry and Phoebe returned to New York. Six years after the curtain fell on Take Her, She's Mine, the 1968 spectacle of Hair—a free-love, pro-nudity, antiwar rock musical—lit up the Great White Way. The Ephrons and their PG-rated collaborations were going out of style. "It was hard to change forty years of thinking that sex is a private thing," Henry wrote of himself and Phoebe in his memoirs. All the drinking wrecked Phoebe's liver. She died on October 13, 1971, when Nora was 30 and Amy 18; she was hospitalized with cirrhosis—immediate cause of death: an overdose of sleeping pills administered by Henry—and had remarked to Nora, "You're a reporter. Take notes."

The next decade, Nora took those words very seriously while chronicling the demise of her own messy marriage to a cheating partner in a roman à clef, Heartburn, which deployed comedy to share a painful personal story. "The truth is that if my father weren't my father, he would be one of the men he hates; he is incorrigibly faithless and thoroughly narcissistic, to such an extent that I tend to forget he's also capable of being a real peach," she wrote.

By 1993, Nora, partnering with Delia on Sleepless in Seattle, would undergo a decidedly unintentional rebrand as a specialist in the lost art of fairy-tale romance. Meg Ryan seemed an ideal mother figure and Tom Hanks the perfect father; together they embodied the kind of joie de vivre that Henry and Phoebe might have prolonged had darker realities not intervened.

"My sister Delia says this, and it's true," Nora recalled. "When we were growing up, we used to love to hear the story of how our parents met and fell in love and eloped one summer when they were both camp counselors. It was so much a part of our lives, a song sung again and again, and no matter what happened, no matter how awful things became between the two of them, we always knew that our parents had once been madly in love."

The retelling of their first date ended with a punchline.

Henry: Will you marry me?

Phoebe: Can I read your work?

While attending Wellesley, Nora Ephron outlined requirements for her ideal husband: Loyal Democrat? Check. Reads the New Republic? Check. Plays tennis? Check. Speaks French? Check, check, and check.

A few years later, she fell under the spell of Dan Greenburg.

Twenty-five years and 11 months old, Nora said "I do" for the first time. Can you imagine if she waited one more month? It was 1967, and from Nora's perspective (which she'd grow to regret), a 26-year-old bride might as well be a 100-year-old bride.

Let's talk about the groom: early 30s. Chicago-born beta male. Acerbic, dry sense of humor. Magazine editor. Successful author. Unabashed cat lover. Catnip to a rising star New York Post reporter who had dreamed about (a) moving back to New York City, (b) becoming a journalist, and (c) dating a journalist, too.

Dan had a strong jaw, wide smile, and expressive, watchful eyes with Paul McCartney bedroom lids. If an actor were to play him in a romantic comedy, it might be a young Hank Azaria or Alan Alda, somebody who projects intelligence and quirk. In 1970, he went on The David Susskind Show and said he felt "anthropomorphic about things like wastepaper," so instead of throwing out wastepaper ("a rejection"), he saved sheets of it. Copy that for cardboard, string, and manila envelopes.

"I've always liked odd and interesting-looking men because I'm odd and interesting-looking myself, and I always figured I had a better shot at them than the conventionally good-looking ones," Nora revealed in Heartburn, spending several pages lampooning a Dan-inspired first husband character (Charlie) as a "low-grade lunatic who kept hamsters" (instead of cats) and had one cryogenically frozen when it died (correction: Dan never froze a cat—or a hamster for that matter). Charlie, according to narrator Nora, "slept with my oldest friend Brenda." (Hmmmmm.)

Dan and Nora got married in the Rainbow Room atop Rockefeller Center in a ceremony officiated by a rabbi. They shared a lavender apartment and several cats around whom they spoke in high-pitched voices. (This was before cats ruled the internet, and speaking to one's cat in a high-pitched voice was deemed generally acceptable, if not encouraged.)

Dan wrote the 1964 humor book How to Be a Jewish Mother, which also happened to be the bestselling nonfiction book of 1965, an accomplishment that most certainly appealed to Nora. It was easy to succumb to the charm of an interesting (and interesting-looking) male writer, a Clark Kent to her Lois Lane, who thought being smart was sexy.

"We would have dinner parties," Dan said, "and Nora would go up to celebrities she had never met and say, 'Hi, my name is Nora Ephron; if I invited you to dinner to my house, would you come?' And she was so adorable and so appealing that I don't think anybody ever said no. And so we got to run with a very fast crowd. We had Mike Nichols over to dinner. We had Buck Henry. Joan Didion."

Writing features and essays for Esquire and New York, Nora rode the wave of New Journalism that swept up Didion, Tom Wolfe, and Gay Talese, voice-y writers who flouted the traditional who-what-when-where-why rules of news reporting and made themselves part of the story. What Nora had in spades that many of her equally driven peers did not was a point of view that engaged (and sometimes enraged) the reader; an unrelenting itch to shake things up, cause trouble, and undo emperors and empresses whom she found to have no clothes; a voice demanding to be heard that people actually wanted to listen to. Hers was simultaneously warm and icy, winking and withering. She could be brutal, eviscerating her subjects with wry detachment—and if she suffered fools in person, she rarely suffered them on the page. As a cultural and media critic, she spared no one, no woman: an Esquire profile of Helen Gurley Brown stung the pioneering Cosmopolitan editor as oversensitive, "Almost but not quite tasteless," yet also celebrated Brown as totally genuine in her motivation to help women succeed as she had. Post publisher Dorothy Schiff, her ex-boss, was "silly," "frothy," and "giddy." Dorothy Parker, whose fame she sought to emulate early in her career, had an "almost unbearably girlish sensibility." While Gloria Steinem represented "the only remotely chic thing" about the women's movement, Betty Friedan threatened to undermine it through her petty, "thoroughly irrational hatred of Steinem."

Among Nora Ephron's biggest targets: Nora Ephron. In May 1972, she achieved what she considered her breakthrough as a real Writer with a capital W—a confessional, self-deprecating, angry, funny column in Esquire that lamented the small size of her chest and zinged women who whined about their fuller busts. "A Few Words about Breasts" described an obsession that had its roots in adolescence. "If I had had them, I would have been a completely different person," she wrote.

In July of that year, she informed the magazine's predominantly male readers that she had a rape fantasy involving "faceless" men tearing her clothes off. The startling, shock jock–ish confession riled second-wave feminists fighting the good fight but drew attention to a gray area that confused Nora: "So many of the conscious and unconscious ways men and women treat each other have to do with romantic and sexual fantasies that are deeply ingrained, not just in society but in literature. The movement may manage to clean up the mess in society, but I don't know whether it can ever clean up the mess in our minds."

She slipped on banana peels, telling everyone.

"I am skinny and have a long face, long chin, and dark hair and a snaggletooth that I've worked very hard to get," she banana-peeled to a writer doing a profile on her, writing a physical description for him. "My hair droops over my left eye so no one will notice my left eyelid droops."

It's hard to believe in this age of digital overshares, but such candor was deemed radical. People on the outside of clubby New York media circles began to care what this young, fearless writer had to say about women's issues, about other women, and, especially, about herself.

In the meantime, she and Dan had drifted apart. As her Heartburn doppelganger would divulge, those "Charlie" quirks had begun to grate. She wrote, "At first I thought he was charming and eccentric. And then I didn't. Then I wanted to kill him. Every time he got on a plane, I would imagine the plane crash, and the funeral, and what I would wear to the funeral and flirting at the funeral, and how soon I could start dating after the funeral."

She initially tested the bit on The Dick Cavett Show, looking glamorous in a black jumpsuit and deflating Dan in her nasally drawl: "He's like on this plane—it's terrible—and then I get to marry Mike Nichols!"


  • "[Erin Carlson] offers a breezy, detailed rehearsal of three successful romantic comedies from the 1980s and '90s.... A large bag of buttery popcorn that goes down oh so pleasantly."—Kirkus Reviews
  • "Deeply reported and deeply felt, Carlson's account of Nora Ephron's unlikely rise to romantic comedy queen deftly exposes the messy, human reality lurking beneath those sparkling paeans to true love. Magically nostalgic, cynical, and smart all at once."—JenniferKeishin Armstrong, author of Seinfeldia and Mary and Lou andRhoda and Ted
  • "In her love letter to the rom-coms of Nora Ephron, Erin Carlson brings us on a nostalgic, insightful, and joyous ride through the legendary writer/director's most iconic works. Full of the whimsy, heartbreak, attention to detail, and romantic optimism that defined Ephron's films, I'll Have What She's Having is a must-read for anyone who is a fan of the filmmaker's genre-defining classics."—Danny Strong, co-creator and executive producer of Empire
  • "Erin Carlson would make Nora Ephron proud with this deeply reported valentine to her work. Written with warmth, humor, and surprises, Carlson provides plenty of dishy insider scoop on the making of the renowned writer's beloved films. This book is the perfect companion to your favorite movie. A delicious read that will have you laughing out loud."—Jo Piazza, New York Times bestselling co-author of TheKnockoff
  • "When the subject is Nora Ephron, culinary metaphors prove irresistible: Erin Carlson has cooked up a dish full of delicious insight into an icon who was both warm and snobbish,full of juicy tidbits about a feminist who preferred to hang out with the guys,a trenchant trailblazer with an old-fashioned belief in love.I'll Have What She's Having offers a satisfying portrait of a lady who wasn't always 'nice' but who nevertheless created timeless moments to fill our hearts and give us hope—Faith Salie,author of Approval Junkie and contributor to CBS Sunday Morning
  • "Erin Carlson has served up a lively, inside look at the making of Nora Ephron's three famous rom-coms and how she broke into the male-dominated directing club. Anyone who loves Nora and her films will relish this book."—Lynn Povich, authorof The Good Girls Revolt
  • "Read this book in an adorable bookshop and, who knows, maybe you'll meet-cute with a handsome stranger reading the same book. Of course, if he's reading a book about Nora Ephron rom-coms, he may be gay. Ugh, that is sooo your luck, Carol! Also, it's raining now and you're wearing suede."—Meredith Scardino,writer for Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, The Colbert Report, thisbook blurb
  • "Perky and approachable . . . those who miss funny romantic comedies will enjoy this detailed behind-the-scenes look at three of the best."—Library Journal
  • "Carlson's first book pays affectionate and clear-eyed tribute to the three most popular movies associated with screenwriter and director Nora Ephron. Going behind the scenes to explore the making of When Harry Met Sally, Sleepless in Seattle, and You've Got Mail, she dispenses insider information that fans of the movies will find hard to resist ... her breezy, frisky tone makes reading the book like sharing a gossipy lunch with an old friend. Although she keeps the focus on the three films, she also allows herself to go off on fascinating tangents about the lives and other movies of the director and her stars. As sweet and bubbly a treat as the movies it covers, this book does what it does impeccably, and readers will love it."—Booklist
  • "I'll Have What She's Having: How Nora Ephron's Three Iconic Films Saved the Romantic Comedy delivers a delight of buzzy Hollywood backstories unearthed by veteran entertainment journalist Erin Carlson. The book also serves as a tribute . . . Hanks, Ryan, Rob Reiner and a host of others provided fresh interviews about Ephron, with great results."—New York Daily News
  • "Fast-paced, humorous, yet impressively researched, Carlson's voice feels cut from the same cloth as Ephron's . . . Seamlessly woven into the narrative are bits of behind-the-scenes gossip that will surprise even the most die-hard fans. . . . The book's wide net of sources, along with Ephronisms and movie dialogue, proves to be a wonderful recipe, giving readers a sense of what it was like working on an Ephron project at every level."—Washington Post
  • "The rom-com is having a moment. But the case Erin Carlson makes in I'll Have What She's Having is solid: Nora Ephron reinvented and saved the genre with When Harry Met Sally, Sleepless in Seattle and You've Got Mail. . . . ultimately, the book serves to show how the movies were made and the effect they had."—Los Angeles Times
  • "This smart and witty book is as much about the life and times of the brilliant Nora Ephron as it is her three great late-20th-century rom-coms: When Harry Met Sally (1989), Sleepless in Seattle (1993) and You've Got Mail (1998), with Meg Ryan standing in for Everywoman in all three. This is an excellent piece of Hollywood scholarship, thoughtful and entertaining. Make no mistake: It's not a love letter to Nora. Just like Ephron, writer Erin Carlson wields a sharp pen."—Toronto Star
  • "An enjoyable ride through the years Ephron spent behind the camera. . . . What Carlson effectively creates is a persuasive time capsule of a filmmaker who believed a connection of the heart was born of a soulful, searing, satisfying tête-à-tête between two equals."—USA Today
  • "Reading author Erin Carlson's book I'll Have What She's Having is as satisfying as finding out what goes into a favorite dessert--and then having another slice."—Associated Press
  • "She shows Ephron's evolution as a filmmaker and gets down to the details of how the rom-com sausage is made. . . . The book's wide net of sources, along with Ephronisms and movie dialogue, proves to be a wonderful recipe, giving readers a sense of what it was like working on an Ephron project at every level. Seamlessly woven into the narrative are bits of behind-the-scenes gossip that will surprise even the most die-hard fans. . . . Fast-paced, humorous, yet impressively researched, Carlson's voice feels cut from the same cloth as Ephron's."—San Antonio Express News
  • "Erin Carlson depicts the stubborn ferocity that equipped Nora Ephron to crack Hollywood in I'll Have What She's Having."—Toronto Star
  • "Ms. Carlson tells a full, gossipy "behind the scenes" tale of Ephron's stylish and witty world of film."—TheWall Street Journal
  • "When Harry Met Sally and other Nora Ephron films finally get the star treatment they deserve in I'll Have What She's Having. Erin Carlson interviews dozens of people involved in the filmmaking for an intimate, insightful look at some great romantic comedies."—Campus Circle

On Sale
Aug 29, 2017
Hachette Audio

Erin Carlson

About the Author

Erin Carlson is a culture and entertainment journalist, and the author of three Hollywood history books, including I’ll Have What She’s Having and Queen Meryl. Her work appears in many publications, including Vanity Fair, Town & Country and her Substack newsletter, You’ve Got Mail. She lives in San Francisco.

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