When Harry Met Henri: Nora Ephron’s Love Affair With Art
1:30 pm, September 21st | by Terri Ciccone
It’s too late for any of us to become a beneficiary of Nora Ephron, but In a bit of nostalgia for your Friday, You’ve Got Mail, — and it’s a rare Henri Matisse sketch from Nora Ephron. The late screenwriter and director was interested in art beyond writing and filmmaking, and upon her death earlier this year she gave several rare works of art to old friends — including the man who was the inspiration for Billy Crystal’s character in When Harry Met Sally.
Ephron was known for using her real life relationships as material for movies and novels that became classics for millions of Americans. “You never knew with Nora when you were going to end up in one of her movies,” said friend to Ephron Sally Quinn in an interview with MSNBC, after revealing that she was the inspiration for everyone’s favorite sandwich-eating blonde. Sally’s love interest in the film was Harry, based on Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen.
Cohen and Ephron started off as enemies, as Cohen described it. He described their second meeting, when Ephron came to him and said “This is going to be like the movies. We start as enemies and end as friends.” He remembered that “She extended her hand. I took it and never let it go.” In return for being the inspiration for Harry, Cohen was the recipient of a rare 1938 drawing by French modern artist Henri Matisse that Ephron had owned, and bequeathed to him upon her death.
Ephron’s art collection didn’t stop with Matisse. She left generous amounts of money and jewelry to friends and loved ones, including cinematographer John Lindley, who worked on films with Ephron such as You’ve Got Mail, Lucky Numbers, and Bewitched. To him, she gifted a W. Eugene Smith photograph. The photographer was known mostly for his shockingly honest World War II photography, but this particular shot is more tame — it depicts a couple crossing the street.
In her lifetime, Ephron even broke an important art news story. She wrote about the time she witnessed her friend Steve Wynn, who owns The Wynn Hotel in Las Vegas, accidentally put his elbow through a Picasso painting. And it wasn’t just any Picasso, but “Le Reve (The Dream)” which is said to be the first painting of his infamous mistress Marie-Therese. As tempting as it was, Ephron talks about giving her word not to repeat the story at Wynn’s request, until it eventually came out in the press. Ephron honored his wish and only told her side of the story after it was reported in The New Yorker, telling the story in an affectionate way that showed the warmth of the friendship between the two.
Nora Ephron’s art collecting career may not be the thing that she became famous for, but it is clear that the beloved writer and director unquestionably valued her friends, especially the ones who inspired her characters onscreen, like Quinn to Cohen. In her films, art always imitated life — it’s fitting that one of her last wishes was to give a work of art to her muse.
[Photo via Washington Post]