Richard Drew/Associated Press
“I married him against all evidence. I married him believing that marriage doesn't work, that love dies, that passion fades, and in so doing I became the kind of romantic only a cynic is truly capable of being.” Nora Ephron, Heartburn
I've led an interesting life in politics, journalism, entertainment and social media. In many cases with few or no degrees of separation from well known people.
Therein lies my Nora Ephron connection ... through her former husband Carl Bernstein. I knew her, not well, and appreciated her rapid fire wit, but found her oddly vulnerable and largely pedestrian for someone possessing such a vaunted literary pedigree.
I liked her collection of essays, Crazy Salad, found I related to much of it, though she was quite a bit older. When Harry Met Sally was arguably her cinematic tour de force. Still, I found it more than a little whiny and self-centered. A theme repeated throughout her work.
So I was less impressed or inspired by her essays and other movies. I didn't like Sleepless in Seattle or You've Got Mail, both formulaic, insipid and predictable. I especially didn't like Heartburn, the fictional story of her real marriage to Carl Bernstein. Jack Nicholson? As Carl Bernstein? Seriously? She bascially requested an actor who personified The Devil, in case we missed the point of how vile Carl was to poor little Nora.
Sure, it was her side of the story, the movie was her bully pulpit, and during their marriage Carl behaved badly. But was she the Perfect Wife? I found myself wondering about the extent of her rage and self-pity --surely not all directed at Carl-- and how it skewed hers and our prespective.
Woodward and Bernstein @The Washington Post UPI / Bettmann
"Carl’s a phenomenal jitterbugger. At parties in high school, we danced together. ... if I saw him in the nursing home and somebody put on Bill Haley, we could get up and do it again." Annie Groer, Washington Post reporter
My Carl Bernstein Connection
In the early to mid 70s, working in politics, I lived much of the time at a friend's Georgetown house. My friend was a few years older, she'd actually worked at the Watergate during the break-in. And she knew everybody.
A lot of journalists and politicians were frequent visitors to the House at 37th and P. One of them, a rumpled, driven, chainsmoking reporter named Carl Bernstein pretty much lived there too. He wasn't famous. Yet. But there was something about him... special, compelling. And yes, even sweet.
Carl was fun and funny, a party guy, intense and yet full of nonsense, a self-confident man with the ladies -- when he wasn't slaving at the Washington Post trying to make a name for himself.
If you're a Boomer, or have studied any American politics, you know what's coming.
Carl started working more and hanging out less. He and Woodward were onto something big. When Carl fell through the door late at night, he was bursting with stories about break-ins and cover-ups and sleazy wheelings and dealings in the Nixon administration.
We should have paid more attention, but we were young and --in retrospect-- as clueless as everybody else about what was happening to our country.
The Watergate Connection
"The burglars who broke into the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee at the Watergate were, in effect, breaking into the home of every citizen." Senator Sam Ervin
If you were a toddler when the Watergate scandal tore the country apart, consider yourself lucky. But don't for a minute think Watergate didn't have an effect on you.
The break-in and the events stemming from it set the political scandal bar at an all time high -- or, more accurately, low.
Watergate put our liberty, lives and the government itself in jeopardy. Bob Woodward, Carl Bernstein and The Washington Post exposed a scenario of desperately deep corruption, huge payoffs and serious criminal acts, from the President on down.
They literally brought a corrupt president and administration to its knees. Highly placed Nixon administration officials went to jail. Nixon himself escaped that penalty only by resigning the Presidency.
Woodward and Bernstein can be justifiably proud of their historic accomplishment. They co-authored a best-selling book, All the President's Men which subsequently became a movie.
Trust me, Dustin Hoffman was so convicing as Carl it was actually kind of creepy to see a friend portrayed so realistically on screen. Even creepier for Carl himself.
The Smothers Brothers Connection
Before the movie and all the fame, Carl and Bob crisscrossed the country on book tours. One day Carl came to Philly to flog the book on a nationally syndicated talk show taped locally at KYW TV.
By then I was living in Philly again. I picked him up at the airport, took him to my house for a breather, then on to the studio. We were both beyond excited. The Smothers Brothers were also among the day's guests.
If you don't know, The Smothers Brothers were a wildly popular topical comedy team with their own show on CBS. Which CBS cancelled when they got too political. Another story.
Carl, new to the Fame Game, wondered over and over if it would be dorky to ask for their autograph. I urged him to go for it. Over and over.
But he was still dorky Carl. Who didn't want to act like a dork. We walked into the Green Room and there they were. The Smothers Brothers.
Carl's sweaty hand grabbed mine as he fumbled for words, clearly star struck.
Tommy Smothers stood up and said, "You're Carl Bernstein."
"Uh, yeah," was Carl's articulate answer.
Tommy picked up a book from the end table. It was, of course, All The President's Men. Sheepishly, he held the book out to Carl. "I hope you don't think this is dorky," Tommy said, "but can I have your autograph?"
The Carl and Nora Connection
Thus began Carl's education on his drawing power and his entry into the highest levels of the literati. Did it go to his head? You bet.
Did he marry a woman with excellent credentials but serious self-esteem issues? Yes he did. Did he seek and find another woman more centered and less demanding while he was married? Yes. Was it wrong to do that, to cheat on his wife with her? Of course!
But it was totally predictable to those who knew them both.
You know as I know, when a couple goes through a nasty divorce, their friends often choose sides. I am not speaking ill of the dead to admit I chose Carl.
Nora Ephron inspired me to try to write essays and memoirs without allowing my own neurosis to seep too deeply into the words, without allowing my stories to be overly sour or self-indulgent. Only you can tell me if or when I succeed.
Carl Bernstein inspired me to look at the big picture and for the smallest details, to dig down, do the hardest work possible and reach for the best I could produce. In that I did succeed. So again, no contest.
I am truly sorry Nora Ephron lost her life, too young, too soon. I only wish she'd had the ability to enjoy much more of it while she was alive. I'm really sorry that a fake orgasm will be likely, inevitably her most lasting legacy.