Nora Ephron discusses feminism and her book "Crazy Salad"
BROADCAST: Jul. 28, 1975 | DURATION: 00:54:42
Nora Ephron discusses the women’s movement and her book, “Crazy Salad: Some Things About Women.” Ephron discusses the influence of writer Dorothy Parker on her work, as well as topics including women’s rights; the exploitation of women in politics, war, and advertising; the many conflicts she faces in her role as a journalist; and traditional and non-traditional gender roles. Includes an excerpt from a previous interview with Dorothy Parker.
Tap within the transcript to jump to that part of the audio.
Studs Terkel My guest this morning is Nora Ephron the most perceptive young journalist whose collections have been put together in a [book of?] collections concerning the condition you might say of women specifically American women, and the name of the book based on a Yeats quote is "Crazy Salad." The program in just a moment after this message. Before we hear from you Nora Ephron and your reflections, there is a writer whom you admired very much, Dorothy Parker. When you were a small girl living in California she was your girlhood model and heroine. Suppose we hear her voice this was a conversation several years, a few years before she died and it was about what 10, 12 years ago and we'll hear Dorothy Parker's voice and then your thoughts about it. I led into something in and she laughed and then something further happened. [recording begins] We each have our troubles each one I suppose and--
Dorothy Parker Oh!
Studs Terkel Mrs. Parker this is a personal observation on my part having read some of your short stories. As I read your story I'm so moved I begin to think of Ring Lardner and when I read Ring Lardner I think somewhat of Dorothy Parker. Now, what's your feeling about that?
Dorothy Parker I think that's much too high praise for me or for anybody.
Studs Terkel What's your on feeling about Ring Lardner?
Dorothy Parker Well I think he's great. And I think lastingly great.
Studs Terkel Well suppose someone said that were, are.
Dorothy Parker I'd be that embarrassed and frightened I think.
Studs Terkel Isn't this strange. If you don't mind my saying this, I think Mrs. Parker you are low rating yourself, if I may say this. It's my feeling, as a reader. You have you're right.
Dorothy Parker I'm afraid you're wrong.
Studs Terkel I was thinking about--
Studs Terkel Something that FPA said that perhaps there may be some prospective writers listening, young writers, poets. He said something about your verse being so good, and he feels that your prose is so good your short stories are so good because your verse is. And he feels a direct connection. He says a good poet could be a good short story writer but unless he's a good poet he can't be a good short story writer. Do you feel there's a basis for that?
Nora Ephron I think it does teach you a great deal about words and about the rhythm that must be in prose too. I'm not a poet you know I just write verse. And I don't do that anymore.
Studs Terkel Would you feel that it helped ?
Dorothy Parker I think immeasurably. And I owe that all to Mr. Adams who was the sharpest critic of verse, of its technical aspect I mean. [recording ends]
Studs Terkel Dorothy Parker a certain moment in her life toward the last years of her life when quite obviously she had a lack of a sense of our own personal worth. But I thought it's a good way to open the conversation with Nora Ephron who is a very marvelous writer, a journalist, who happens to be a woman and thus her a collection of her articles, pieces, various magazines is called "Crazy Salad." The subtitle is "Some Things About Women" and Knopf the publishers. And I was thinking, in hearing Dorothy Parker. I suppose her thoughts about herself, a woman you admired, you were a little girl and you heard about her. Your parents were writers.
Nora Ephron Well my parents were not only writers but I think I grew up as obsessed with the myth of the New Yorker as as many people in this country did. And it's it's kind of shocking to hear the sadness of that voice and to grow up as I did so worshipful of her and then read about what her life was really like because you grow, I grew up on all the great stories and no one told me the sad parts. There's a story in my book that I love that my parents were screenwriters and they knew Dorothy Parker and she was over one night playing anagrams with another Hollywood writer. And he made the word Curry and he spelled it C U R R I E. And Dorothy Parker was absolutely furious and insisted that there was no such spelling to the word and there was a great fuss made and my mother went out to the kitchen to resolve the argument and came back with a jar of Crosse and Blackwell Curry spelled C U R R I E and Dorothy Parker looked at it and said, What did they know they don't even know how to spell cross?
Studs Terkel And-- Cause there's an e at the end of the double s.
Nora Ephron Right. And I just love that story and I, you know I thought how wonderful it would be to be someone who always got off the right line you know, the number of times one has gone to bed and thought, What should I have said? What really should I have said at that moment? And she never had those moments. And to find out that she had no conception of her own worth. And of her own gifts is a very sad thing.
Studs Terkel As you say this, you are a young journalist today. Nora Ephron is and the collection, "Crazy"--By the "Crazy Salad" is a Yeats quote, isn't it?
Nora Ephron Yes it's from "A Prayer for My Daughter." And the lines are, "It's certain that fine women eat a crazy salad with their meat." And I thought it was a nice title for a book about women.
Studs Terkel And just as you admired Dorothy Parker who you thought was a liberated free woman and indeed she was and as far as thought and being a person at the same time she was put down for many reasons politically too at the same time as a woman and yet you did a beauti--It was not in your book, you did a beautiful profile of Lillian Hellmen when "Pentimento" came out and--
Dorothy Parker Yes.
Studs Terkel "An Unfinished Woman." You know she and Dorothy Parker were very close.
Nora Ephron Yes. In her for her piece on Dorothy Parker in "An Unfinished Woman" is the only thing that I've read in about 10 years that I think really overcomes all those other things that were written about her sadness and her alcoholism and all of that. There's a wonderful line in it where Lillian Hellman writes, "The wit was never as attractive as the comment, often startling, often, always sudden, as if a curtain had opened and you had a brief and brilliant glance into what you would never have found for yourself." And you know she wrote with such love about Dorothy Parker that was quite a beautiful thing.
Studs Terkel [Unintelligible] about you because I mention we opened with Dorothy Parker's voice and [unintelligble] two quite admirable and gifted women. One surviving, the other not surviving. And here are you writing. All your pieces by the way and what is quite astonishing in a very good way is this book is very popular and seldom are pieces previously published popular because the recurring theme is women in our society.
Nora Ephron Well I think if the if the book works at all which God knows it's not for me to say is that it does have the theme that that it doesn't kind of bounce around too much because you know I got kind of interested in the women's movement and then more and more involved in it over the two years that I wrote about it. And and I kind of followed it. And then and then in the end I got a little less and less interested it was it was very odd that I sort of duplicated I think what happened to the women's movement. It went through a period of a lot of activity and anger and so did I. And and then it sort of evened off to get down to business and life and and so did I.
Studs Terkel You speak of schisms and the women movement you know and we're having this conversation not too long after the international conference in Mexico city.
Dorothy Parker Yes indeed. It was interesting for me to read about that because I have a piece in the book about the women in Miami. And and I had hoped that they'd kind of gotten beyond that sort of counterproductive behavior. It's not fair to say that--
Studs Terkel You mean the McGovern convention?
Dorothy Parker Yes. I mean truly if women are to be liberated they ought to be able to squabble and be as nasty to one another as men are. And yet at this point it seems a shame when there's so much to be done that they spend so much time wasting their energy over who is going to lead which in meeting you know.
Studs Terkel At the same time this happens when men also fight. But [during?], you point out too, I think two lightweights, I think two you know credible featherweights, Theodore White and Eric Sevareid who don't take women-- That they are righteously superior and they're amused.
Studs Terkel Who are themselves sounds very light when it comes to [unintelligible].
Dorothy Parker Well I mean you know it's as you may remember during that convention they were looking down on the women and saying, Oh these quotas for minority groups. The next thing you know we'll have one armed Armenians or something like that, and I just did a piece on the Teddy White book and - -
Studs Terkel It was "Breach of Faith."
Nora Ephron "Breach of Faith."
Studs Terkel His hero fell from grace.
Nora Ephron He fails to mention that the only face that was breached was his own you know. He talks about how this breach of faith that was occurred was the American public's faith in the institution of the presidency and it's really Teddy White's ridiculous faith in Richard Nixon.
Studs Terkel Has it ever occurred to you, you Nora Ephron, woman, journalist, to do to treat that you had, as he has tried [or?] Severaid, again another [busher?] tried to treat women? Be very funny. They say, Why are you being superior, in a sense. It would be that wouldn't it?
Nora Ephron Yes it certainly would.
Studs Terkel This is a sequence you have on the schisms and you mention the word, they key word here isn't it, choice. Options. Use that word options and choice.
Nora Ephron Yes I use it a little sardonically because because I think you know one of the one of the lines of the women's movement is that that all of us who care about it say we don't want women to do anything really, that what this movement is about is choice. And really one means that. I don't want every woman to go out and get a job if she doesn't want to she can do exactly what she feels but deep down I think there's the sneaking feeling that that I really believe that if everyone really got it together the choice they would make is the one that I made and I think that's true for a lot of women in the movement and it's it's the reason why we have so much trouble talking to one another. We say that but we don't really mean it. And and so you know there's a there's a book I review by Alix Kates Shulman called "Memoirs of an Ex-Prom Queen." The entire novel is about how difficult, how absolutely abysmally difficult it is to be beautiful. Well you know I can't get into it. And I don't believe it because I was not beautiful and I don't believe for a second that she wishes she weren't. And she's trying to tell me something that will make me say, Oh yes I recognize your pain and I don't.
Studs Terkel Before I lead into something involving a quote you have of a woman named Martha McKay that makes this seem ridiculous. Also your first chapter's autobiographical, your first sequence about women and breasts and how difficult and horrible it was for some women who were shall we say full-breasted to speak of the difficulties. And you were saying it isn't.
Nora Ephron Oh I know. I mean when I wrote this piece on, it was called "A Few Words About Breasts," and I said at the end that that I have a lot of friends who always used to tell me that I had nothing to complain about and that it was much much much worse to have big breasts and I don't. I'm sorry. I don't believe it. And I still get letters about it you know I still get these endless letters saying, You're wrong you're wrong.
Studs Terkel You know I think that's what's good about about Nora Ephron's writing is that she gets to a core of something you know that maybe there's self-indulgence involved here too because she [unintelligible] perhaps you should read that quote. Who is Martha McKay?
Nora Ephron Martha McKay is a woman who is prominent in the women's movement. She's a North Carolina Democrat and--
Nora Ephron Black? She's white and she's , I think she's a sidekick of the Terry Sanford's actually but she's been very active in the women's movement and I found her one of the sane voices that I met there, and at the end of the convention after all this nonsense had gone on between Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem, and I should say it was mostly Betty Friedan's nonsense, I was talking to Martha and she said, I'm 52 years old. I've gotten to the point where I choose what I spend time on. Look at the situation in North Carolina. Forty four percent of the Black women who work are domestics. In the eastern part of the state some are making $15 a week and totin'. You know what that is? That's taking home roast beef and that's supposed to make up for the wages. We're talking about bread on the table. We're talking about women who are heads of households who can't get credit. They hook up with a man he signs the credit agreement they make the payments and in the end he owns the house. When things like this are going on in the country who's got time to get caught in the rock crushing at the national level. I'm just so amazed that these gals fight like they do. It's so enervating, she said.
Studs Terkel Enervating, she said. And ironic too of course.
Nora Ephron Yes absolutely.
Studs Terkel Enervating over what? Now, this is, I'm a guy a man a male and not putting down something but you have a sequence here on consciousness-raising sessions, rap sessions and you're implying here [a little self?] at times narcissistic.
Nora Ephron Yes I think., you know I went into consciousness-raising and and like a lot of people go into it I found it quite thrilling at the beginning because it's it's very voyeuristic and fascinating and it's always interesting to find out that as bad as whatever you think your situation is someone else has it worse. And I found that my own consciousness-raising group didn't work at all the way I supposedly consciousness-raising is supposed to. It's supposed to be this elevating thing about sisterhood and you know most groups without leaders are very dangerous little things and sometimes they work and sometimes they don't. And sometimes the thing that can happen is that you get a stake in people's situations being worse than your own. You really don't want them to change. It's so comforting to you that you've got it better than somebody else. And my own group became really an encounter group and at the point when they encountered me I thought I'd better get out of it.
Studs Terkel A group without leaders. What do you mean?
Nora Ephron Well I mean that I think that some therapy groups work very well for the people who are in them because they're controlled by a therapist or by two therapists who understand how to take an encounter and turn it to the effect of both people involved. I do believe this. This just didn't go on ; this is just this freewheeling thing where where all the women were married and they were all talking about their marriages and everyone was saying, Oh God you put up with stuff like that from that rat? I don't think that works.
Studs Terkel You know I'm thinking now there's a danger of my becoming Theodore White or Eric Sevareid and smiling patronizingly upon conscious-raising groups. There probably are I'm guessing--
Nora Ephron Well--
Studs Terkel As you say this narcissism.
Studs Terkel At the same time, there are certain this is a transition moment, isn't it?
Nora Ephron Well I don't you know I don't want to be Theodore H White either and I hope I make it clear that I'm really just talking about my own group. But but you know and I think obviously when a movement goes through the kind of true upheaval that I think the women's movement has caused in this country even for women who have no comprehension that it's affected their lives, there are bound to be excesses and I don't mean to be patronizing about that. I am disturbed about it. I think that it's a shame that the pendulum sometimes has to swing so far in the other direction to get real change to occur.
Studs Terkel Doesn't this happen though when there's a certain kind of breakthrough? There's a wild swing of the pendulum and it's a lack of humor perhaps at a certain moment of rage--
Studs Terkel And then, now, do you sense a change happening now? We'll come to another [thing?] in a moment.
Nora Ephron Well I really do. I think that the women's movement went through a period three or four years ago when it was all kind of public demonstrations and quite outrageous things were going on and there was a fringe that was dominating the scene and and making a lot of statements to disturbed those of us who are heterosexual and and so and so on. Now I think it's settled down to what the real business really always was which is getting women elected to office, and I mean the right women I don't mean any woman, fighting the legal battles that have to be fought and at the same time the something going on it's much quieter and less easy for the media to see which is that the message got through. And you go around this country and you speak as I occasionally do to women who you think would never have been affected by the movement and they have been and they're changing the way they live.
Studs Terkel [Seems to me?] you're talking about our society itself aren't you? When you talk about women you talk about men as well. Obviously.
Studs Terkel I mean you're talking about the right person [unintelligible] elected office [here at this?] same time there are two heads of government right now and Indira Gandhi and Golda Meir, aren't there?
Nora Ephron Yes, which brings us back to Teddy White doesn't it because because it's always amusing to me when I hear women in the movement saying that if only women ran the government we would not have war, and we don't have really great role models to draw that conclusion from, you know.
Studs Terkel And you have a sequence here and you were in Israel and Golda Meir, her whole approach is that which has been hitherto a very macho approach.
Nora Ephron Well and I think it's absolutely necessary given that she is the head of state of Israel. I don't know what would have happened to that country if she had been a pacifist. I don't think it makes any sense at all. But she isn't a feminist. You know Israel, it was a great shock to me when I went there to cover the war because I knew what most people know about it which is that they had at that time a woman as the head of state and they had women in the Israeli army. Well as it turns out Golda Meir is the only woman who has ever held cabinet rank in Israel. And the women in the Israeli army perform all the clerical tasks. They don't even drive to the front; they don't drive colonels around the way the WACs did during World War Two.
Dorothy Parker Much much less, and there is an entire system of social law like the divorce laws that are unbelievably discriminatory toward women. You cannot get a divorce in Israel without your husband's consent in any way. Your testimony in a court of law is meaningless. It's fascinating.
Studs Terkel You have a sequence--By the way there's a, your chapter on Israel is really fascinating. If a married woman and someone not her husband has a child he's a bastard, he/she a bastard.
Nora Ephron Yes, but if a married man has a child with a single woman it isn't. Am I my doing that right? It's late.
Studs Terkel Well unfortunately too right.
Nora Ephron Yes I mean it's it's quite it's quite a shocking thing and and it goes on all the time and they're always having to appeal to the head rabbis because because there are always cases of army officers who find out that, there was one a year before I was there of two, a sister and a brother in the Israeli army, who discovered that their mother had not had a legal--It wasn't exactly divorce as I recall. She had come to Israel as a refugee and thought her husband had died and had remarried and had these two children and then to her great surprise many years later the husband turned up and the two children were declared bastards and went through a terrible thing because you cannot marry in Israel if you are a bastard and a bastard only means that your mother was not married under in the eyes of the law.
Studs Terkel The reason I emphasize the your Israeli, Israel chapter, is that there's a myth involved, the legend you know that perhaps there are more, have more say and you're--Even there you see, or especially there. And as far as Indira Gandhi is concerned little comma is needed at this moment too. The idea of the woman in charge would lead toward peace and enlightenment.
Nora Ephron Yes indeed. And we've certainly found that out recently haven't we?
I think, there's a chapter here, one of your pieces. [I should?] this a collection of different works you've done for different magazines isn't that it?
Nora Ephron Yes mainly for "Esquire."
Studs Terkel "Esquire." There's one you have here and this is perhaps one of the most discussed. If I would choose a key chapter it's that. It deals with commercials, with vaginal spray. You have a long chapter on that. and I find this of interest because deals with commercials per se, but in this case it's especially you know obscene, the idea, why don't you discussed that.
Nora Ephron Well you know about a year after the feminine hygiene spray had been introduced as a product for the first few months I kept hoping it wouldn't catch on. And then all those ads got on to television because they managed to change all the restrictions about advertising the product and the product really caught on. And I said to my editor I wanted to do a piece about the selling of the feminine hygiene spray. And I had no idea at that point. I knew that it was an appalling product and that it took advantage of the worst kind of fears about natural odors you know. Ralph Nader has spoken a lot about this and he calls it the "why wash it when you can spray it" ethic, but I had no idea that I was going to run into this incredible hexachlorophene mess that happened.
Studs Terkel What is hexachlorophene?
hexachlorophene is a is a deodorant chemical that has been used for years and years in hospitals in a product called pHisoHex. And it's also the, it was the main ingredient in Dial soap and it's used, it was used in most deodorants. And of course deodorants that are used on parts of the body like the underarms you know it's not an equivalent part of the body to the genitals and genital area and what they found within a very short time was that women were coming into gynecologist reporting incredible irritations as a result of using these sprays. Finally the FDA managed to get hexachlorophene out of all products without you know non-prescription products but only as a result of a terrible mess in France where a number of infants were killed owing owing to the use of it.
Studs Terkel Now we're coming something even more, we'll come to the Nader quote in a moment, and that's the whole idea of the uncleanness.
Nora Ephron Well you know it was so fascinating was when I started working on it one of the first persons that I spoke to who was Leonard Lavin the head of Alberto-Culver here in Chicago who really considered himself some kind of savior of womankind for having introduced this product, justified himself by telling me that the use of this product went back to Biblical times and I could barely suppress a smile when he said this to me and I was very early in my research and of course I realized that he was absolutely right, that that primitive taboos about what you know women bleeding and what women smell like are as old as civilization and if you go back to the "Golden Bough" it says flatly that there is not one civilization that has not had taboos toward women. The Jews of course the Orthodox Jews still practice this by by insisting that after a woman's menstrual period she go to a ritual bath. An Orthodox Jewish woman is not allowed to sleep in the same bed with her husband while she's having her period but there are many other civilizations that do this. In Africa women who are menstruating are not allowed to look at cows for fear that they will stop giving milk.
Studs Terkel Not accidental that period is called period, a monthly, is called the curse.
Nora Ephron Yes well that's that's, I think that's something else. I don't think we can blame that on the feminine hygiene spray people. And I don't think by the way that you can, you know--You can say that they created a demand for this product which is a very interesting thing that a lot of American commercial enterprises do. You know we we certainly never knew we needed this until it came along. But they did not create the anxiety about it. That's that's very clear. And the unfortunate thing is that they played on something that that is absolutely ridiculous you know.
Studs Terkel See now, I'm a man reading your book and I read this sequence about the vaginal spray but I see the commercial as both the commercial, you see, as obscene, demeaning to both men and women, you see.
Nora Ephron Yes I think so to.
Studs Terkel You happen to be, you happen to have a dramatic case of this, but it applies to both doesn't, it you see?
Nora Ephron Yes it really does. And you know as as Nader says you know year after year in any industry the sellers become very acute in appealing to those features of the human personality that are easiest to exploit. Everyone knows what they are. It's easiest to exploit a person's sense of fear, a person's sense of being ugly, a person's sense of smelling badly than it is to exploit a person's appraisal or appreciation of nutrition, and shall we say less emotive and more rational consumer value.
Studs Terkel See now you're talking about the commercial. This applies to both men and women; the idea of the commercial. You happen to point out a dramatic case, see. In that, some, this is, I'm going to take you slightly to task if I may. There's one case where--
Studs Terkel You point out that, Judith Crist, unwittingly, her name was let, the movie critic very good critic.
Nora Ephron I don't say that but go on.
Studs Terkel No no, I'm saying that. And you see a professor selling scotch or a college president.
Nora Ephron Yeah. I don't say that.
Studs Terkel I'm saying that's equally bad.
Nora Ephron No. You know, it was fascinating to me because Judith Crist did an ad for one of these products, I think it was Pristine, which as I don't want to make a terrible mistake here but I I think it was the product that caused the most irritation among users. And I called her to ask her about it and she gave me an answer that I felt explained nothing at all, and I quoted it. And I thought I had put her away because I don't think there's any excuse for what she did and she subsequently wrote a letter thanking me profusely for quoting her accurately. So you know but I don't think that her excuse is anything at all.
Studs Terkel No I meant, what I meant was you know the, I thought it was you, it was she.
Nora Ephron No no, [unintelligible], you have to take it back.
Studs Terkel [Unintelligible] why should take it--Yeah. Now why should why should a college president--
Nora Ephron [Unintelligible].
Studs Terkel Endorsing a scotch be considered with more, you know, understanding?
Nora Ephron Yes.
Studs Terkel I'm saying he is equally guilty.
Nora Ephron She is yes. No she says she consulted some friends before doing it having been offered $5000 and her photograph by Richard Avedon. It's nice to know what someone's price is isn't it? One likes to think one would sell out for at least middle six figures but, she says, [reading?] "What did bother me was the idea of it being a vaginal deodorant. So I consulted some friends. They said, 'Boy are you ever being sexist. If it were Bon Bread you'd do it. College presidents do commercials for the right Scotch. Why because it is a feminine hygiene spray what difference is it a mouthwash from a vaginal wash. This is small unenlightened thinking if we're going to get silly about vaginas.'" She said, "Well to me the difference is so extraordinary the difference in the danger of the product is so complete." And I thought that quote hung her completely. But you know I have to tell you something. Last year I was up at the University of Rochester speaking where they have a very active women's group and one of the women asked me how I could write for "Ms." magazine when they took ads from cosmetics products. And I said that that didn't bother me that what made me glad about "Ms." was that they they didn't take ads from feminine hygiene deodorants. And this woman who asked me became absolutely furious and she said they're the same thing and I said they're not at all the same thing. You know no one no one is forcing you to use lipstick if you want to and but you know you if you use lipstick, whatever, whatever the implicit message is, and I think there is an implicit message in cosmetics that you don't look good enough yourself. If you use lipstick you do not get a serious infection; you do not get irritations. You do not get a sensitivity about probably you know the most sensitive area that a woman has.
Studs Terkel Nora I want to go a step further here and that's the point of, I perhaps have a hang up on commercials. And that is the question of being accepted, [unintelligible] something for and having a status symbol like a college president. I think he is equally as guilty selling the Scotch. This guy who was supposed to teach the young what life's about and values as she unwittingly involve with the vaginal spray.
Studs Terkel It's a [big?] hang up I have, that's what I mean.
Nora Ephron No I think so too. And listen you know I mean my heart sank when Euell Gibbons endorsed Raisin Bran or Grape Nuts or whatever it was. Euell Gibbons you know that the great forager for wild food you know endorsing this.
Studs Terkel We have one of the most distinguished actors in the world selling this selling that. But basically what is good about your book before we turn the tape over for [here?] the second half is that you hit these you hit the very tender spots and not just about women I think, even though the book is called "Crazy Salad," the Yeats quote; the subtitle, "Some Things About Women." I might add, and men by virtue of being about women. Knopf are the publishers and as I turn this tape continue the second half. We'll resume after this message. We resume the conversation when Nora Ephron and her book "Crazy Salad." [Unintelligible] you have a sequence here about yourself; you're a journalist. We hear a great deal about through the years object i ve journalism and as many objections by the traditional journalists who say that objective by some of these younger journalists who take positions. Now you're a feminist and a journalist at the same time. This creates something of a conflict doesn't it?
Nora Ephron It certainly does. You know I have to say that I've never believed in objective journalism and no one who is a journalist in his or her right mind does because all writing is about selecting what you want to use. And as soon as you choose what to select you're not being objective. But I think you know I've I've only been a journalist for 13 years and there have been some very big changes in that time because of the civil rights movement which certainly changed the way Black journalists covered events and then the peace movement which I think involved everyone. [break in tape] Women's movement and for someone like me who was sympathetic to the women's movement and was trying to cover it as a journalist I felt constantly in conflict between what my obligations were as a journalist which were you know to the truth really or to the truth as I saw it, I don't mean to be melodramatic about it, but that is what journalism is about. And that was in constant conflict it seemed to me with the women's movement because it always seemed that if I wrote the truth about the movement it would somehow hurt it. You know we were talking about the Democratic convention. If you write that the women spent the Democratic convention squabbling among themselves, aren't you giving people who want to put it down the ability to say, Oh those women you give them a little power and they just behave like you know cats and dogs toward each other. It happened constantly when books would come into the office for me to review because there's one book in particular that I talk about, a book called "Women in Madness" by Phyllis Chesler. This is a book which has a very very interesting valuable thesis which is that that the psychoanalytic profession has always been biased against women. Terrific thesis but you read the book, the book is sloppy. It's clear that the research is n 't as good as it should be. And yet you think, If I write this, doesn't that give people the right to say it's a lousy book, which isn't really entirely what you want to say.
Studs Terkel Well this is, here would come to it now don't we. This is one of the aspects that involves Black critics and Black books, involves everything. The time has now come hasn't it?
Well really, I mean it's really terrible I think because I did a piece on Pat Loud's book that's in my collection and I didn't like her book, and I thought it was an interesting book and worth writing about but I put it down. A couple of months later I was attacked in "Ms" for not being a good sister to Pat Loud. Well I don't believe this. I don't believe that I should condescend to women because I think that's what's implied here. I think they think we should baby books by women because the politics is good.
Studs Terkel Well I wasn't aware. I wished, I wish I were aware that "Ms" had criticized you for that because I'm, I was very furious and watching that incredibly banal program and shallow, "The American Family." The Loud family. He was horrendous and if I may say this, I might just offer my own thoughts here. And watching that program , [I thought?] this is exactly the opposite of--not what I would do--just the opposite of what is. Had nothing to do with possibility. Showed a banal family and I remember Margaret Mead and others saying this very important program. It was ridiculous.
Studs Terkel It was dull because had nothing to do with possibilities and no one, and no, not mean to demean the producer of it but it was horrendously dull and bad and I am astonished that "Ms." criticized your criticism of Pat Loud.
Studs Terkel [Unintelligible] person, nothing to do with that.
Nora Ephron But I don't mind criticizing the producer of the--
Studs Terkel No no I want to know why they did that.
Nora Ephron No, because they feel that that you put down any woman's book, I mean this is what this writer said, not "Ms." magazine--
Nora Ephron But this particular writer felt that if you put down a woman's book you're putting down women.
Studs Terkel You're talking now about more than women. You're talking now about the very nature of finally hitting, we're talking about standards now and values and I think we've come to a certain moment when standards, aesthetic as well as ethical [have to?] be hit.
Nora Ephron Well I think also you know it's political too. We've been talking about Israel. It's fascinating to me that if you go to Israel as I did and your reaction to it is complicated, and there's no way it seems to me for it not to be if you're a reporter there. And if you write at all about what Israel is like, if you pass as I did children's playgrounds and see little children climbing over tanks which are provided as playground equipment, now you understand that this is a country that is that has to be geared for war it has universal draft. It is in desperate danger. I am totally sympathetic to Israel and yet if you say that and if you feel about it as I do as a product of you know the Vietnam war I have a very very very ambivalent feelings about war at this point. If you say that--
Studs Terkel Why ambivalent?
Nora Ephron Well I mean that it's conceivable to me that I might hear of of something that I think is a just war. I have not heard of one in my adult lifetime but it's--
Studs Terkel World War II possibly.
Nora Ephron Well that wasn't my adult lifetime.
Studs Terkel Oh, your lifetime.
Nora Ephron You know that was my infant lifetime.
Studs Terkel I forget about generation gap.
Nora Ephron But you know it's conceivable that there might be something I think of as a just war so I have to leave room for that. But if you say--
Studs Terkel [Unintelligible]
Nora Ephron That that bothers you--
Nora Ephron You are deluged with mail from people who say that you are an anti-semite.
Studs Terkel By the way I just want to put a little covering thing for me. I said World War II a just war. I didn't for the moment even talk to what led to World War II which is something else entirely. The Spanish Civil War, [unintelligible] - -
Studs Terkel But coming back to Israel. I didn't know about little kids and tanks. Often we see and now and then something about China and there's good stuff but [unintelligible] say, look at those kids and those wooden guns. Look at those kids. And then you mention Israel which is rather interesting you see. I think double standard is rather interesting too.
Nora Ephron Yes is certainly is and it's also the other side that we were talking that is interesting which is that true believers don't like to hear any kind of complicated response to something.
Studs Terkel That's why of course your book is so good. Because it, as I say it is beyond the subject of women. You have a very fascinating sequence here called "The Hurled Ashtray." Perhaps you should tell that story. This is a funny one. At the same time rather revealing, so.
Nora Ephron Well--
Studs Terkel Why don't you tell that story.
Nora Ephron It's a funny story. Michael Korda who is a writer and editor at Simon & Schuster wrote a book called "Male Chauvinism" a few years ago and when it was being printed in a magazine, the magazine sent an episode from it to me for a comment. And the episode went like this: Michael Korda and his wife who is a very pretty woman and another woman went to a restaurant in London, and they were having dinner and there was a group of gentleman sitting--I shouldn't say gentlemen--a group of men sitting at another table who began trying to get their attention. And they began doing charming things like throwing bread balls at Mrs. Korda's back and she ignored them and after awhile they sent the waiter over with a little silver tray with a card on it which they delivered to Mrs. Korda. And the card said, "I would like to sleep with you. Please tick off your favorite love position from the ones listed below." And Mrs. Korda looked at this thing and showed it to Michael Korda who threw an ashtray at this table of drunken men. And the next thing Michael Korda said in the story, they were out on the street having a fierce fight. Mrs. Korda was furious at him for defending her honor. She said she was perfectly capable of doing it herself and that it had been sexist of him to take on the job. And that was really the sequence that was sent. And I looked at it and I thought, Oh my God, you know this is this is a fascinating episode for this time. And first of all, all these things leap to mind like, did they pay the check? How much did they tip? What kind of a head waiter was it that would deliver this tacky card? What was the other woman looking like? Was it raining that night? Were they in the bad mood? But beyond that I thought that basically Mrs. Korda had reduced a very complicated and interesting situation to a set of movement platitudes because the truth is that for me at least it's very confusing to know what you want from a man, given the women's movement. I want to be independent and I am and I want to be considered a person in my own right which I usually am, but I still have a lot of feelings about being taken care of by a man. I also feel that that that printed card was as much an insult to Michael Korda as it was to this wife and that for her not to recognize that was demeaning to him. I think that any woman who allows bread balls to bounce off her back doesn't have a lot of stature when she gets up and says, Why can't I deal with this novelty card, because she hasn't been dealing with the bread balls. But you know it's interesting because I think it will be a shame if what happens during the women's movement is reduced to little confrontations like this.
Studs Terkel What would you have done?
Studs Terkel Oh God I wish I'd known. You know I mean I think the ideal thing, the most ideal thing is to find yourself at that moment with Gary Cooper, which does not happen to be a fate that most of us--
Studs Terkel You really believe that?
Nora Ephron Well I think, yeah I do. I mean I would--Because I don't want to confront--
Studs Terkel [You like?] the strong silent macho man?
Nora Ephron Well you know first of all. I do like to be taken care of and I don't like having fights with people, I have to say that. But and the ideal thing obviously would be to have the man just stand up and by his girth or his height or something be able to make all those people leave the restaurant.
Studs Terkel But [you left out?]--
Nora Ephron But the truth is if it were a normal situation I think what I would do is look at the card and ask the waiter why he had delivered it and and go on with my dinner.
Studs Terkel I'm going to add one thing. Who were with the guys who threw it? Aren't they pathetic and sad?
Nora Ephron They're ridiculous.
Studs Terkel Now wouldn't you have gone over to say, Hey you guys are in trouble?
Nora Ephron No I don't think I would have bothered with them because I don't think that you can save them. I mean I think anyone who buys a printed novelty card is in trouble?
Studs Terkel Wouldn't that have ended it? Wouldn't that have ended it?
Nora Ephron I don't even think you have to confront them. I think that basically people like that get off from some kind of response that you make.
Studs Terkel No but since we're dealing with a world of people, then everybody is involved, even the guys who threw the bread balls is my point. And to me they're kind of pathetic and sad.
Studs Terkel So I'm not a woman, but were I, say I fantasize.
Nora Ephron But let's say you were the man at the table. What would you have done?
Studs Terkel I just said, You guys you got a problem. I don't know what I'd have said. You guys got a big problem. And all of a sudden everything is deflated because they're sad you see. iI you look upon them as sad, instead of menaces, then you have--I don't know-- This is,
Studs Terkel know-- Well I can't. This is, this is, I'm assuming now a great deal.
Nora Ephron I can't see them as menaces , I just see them-- W hat I do see them as is is are people who can ruin an otherwise pleasant meal not by the printed novelty card which I think is just a sophomoric joke but but by drunken behavior and throwing bread balls which I don't think is terrific.
Studs Terkel [We were?] talking about, your book [reaches?] all sorts of aspects of human behavior right now, in the year 1975-76 doesn't it, in a way?
Studs Terkel That's what the book is about.
Nora Ephron But you know going back to that just for a second. The truth is that they should have gotten off the ship when the bread balls were thrown, you know? And I have to tell you the other night I was at a restaurant in New York where I've never been to without a man. I went there with a woman friend of mine and there was no table and we went to the bar to have a drink. And the bartender said, Are you women unescorted? And I said, Yes. This restaurant is called Christ Cella by the way. I'd like to say that I hope none of you will ever go there. ANd--
Nora Ephron New York City. East 46th Street. And I said, Yes we are unescorted, and he said, I can't serve you. So I turned to the men to our right at the bar and I said, This bartender won't serve us unescorted. Will you do me a favor? And the man said, Of course I will. And that was all the bartender needed and he served us the drinks. Now, subsequent to this we have to wait 45 minutes for a table while men who come in later than us are being seated right and left. It's a kind of men's hangout. And I realized that I had lost my right to complain because I hadn't walked out when the bartender said that. And I feel the same way about the Korda's.
Studs Terkel Hadn't walked out. You could have sued, couldn't you? Now if you were Black they wouldn't try that on you now would they?
Nora Ephron No they wouldn't. But question what they do if you were Black and a woman? They probably would have called the police.
Studs Terkel [What?] would have happened? Maybe not. You see it's an interesting world we live in right now.
Nora Ephron Yes.
Studs Terkel And also fears the other side too aren't there?
Nora Ephron Yes.
Studs Terkel Yeah that's interesting. Maybe they're afraid that the Black'd be more would be more self-assertive perhaps you know. You see this is interesting isn't it? You also have sequence here in your book, "Crazy "Ladies," it involves a woman named Barbara Howar her book "Laughing All the Way," a Washington woman and Martha Mitchell, two crazy ladies as in Yeats again, Crazy Jane.
Nora Ephron Yes indeed. And crazy salad.
Studs Terkel But they're not crazy.
Nora Ephron Well you know I have to say that Martha Mitchell--I spent a week watching her do a television show in Washington and I thought she handled herself very well. It's the one piece in the book that I think I might be wrong about. I think she might really be wacko. I don't think Barbara Howar is it all crazy, I think that, but she, she has she had in the period that she was writing about a kind of syndrome that's very common in places like Washington where women exist through the men that they're with.
Studs Terkel Perhaps you could explain [a little?] about Barbara Howar. It's interesting because we're talking about something else now, that's power. Power and lack of power. And Barbara Howar wrote a book called "Laughing All the Way" and she had been a celebrated woman in Washington, that television program, a new--a president, but she thought she was powerful but she was simply being used wasn't she?
Nora Ephron Well I don't know if she was being used as much is is she just misunderstood totally what her worth was. She was just a kind of a you know a clown that they that they had amused people at a certain point and it never occurred to her that she could amuse them in her own right in some real way. I liked her book very much and I found it very moving and sad because because I think that what she went through is a very common thing.
Studs Terkel You know one of [the?] before, perhaps two more, one of your moving chapters to me is about Rosemary Woods, President Nixon's private secretary, 18 minute gap on the tape. Now here's a perfect case of sublimation of self towards someone else.
Nora Ephron Yes, and you know when I did this piece on Rosemary Woods which was right after the tape erasure, I went to talk to so many of her friends and they were all women like her: in their mid 50s, they'd come to Washington, they'd signed on in what they felt was the most extraordinarily glamorous job that any young woman could have which is to be a secretary to a congressman. And they had devoted their lives to these men Now it's bad enough when--to me--when a woman devotes her life to a congressman she's married to but to not even be the wife, to not even get to go anywhere. To get to Capitol Hill every morning at 7:30 and work every night till 10 o'clock. And, and unmarried, and I have no problem about being unmarried, I'm not married. But these women do. These women never meant not to get married and they live in these kind of tawdry little apartments that are either full of ceramic elephants or ceramic donkeys and it is just heart rending.
Studs Terkel [By the way?] I think that your chapter on Rosemary Woods, I think, may be the most important chapter in your book because here we have something that's been rarely touched upon. A woman of a certain age who's a secretary private sec--[conventional?] secretary, and the boss the boss is her life, and complete sublimation to it. And in every, you see these ladies, you see these women on buses, you see them, they're above typists they're in charge of the office it would seem and yet there is no it's a surrogate life.
Nora Ephron Yes it is. And she of course was quote luckier unquote than many of her friends in that her boss rose all the way. But you know it ended it ended horribly I think.
Studs Terkel This is by way of a very cursory conversation with Nora Ephron about her book. The book a combination, a collection of various essays, pieces that are very revealing indeed. I say to you [both? with?] men as well as women and perhaps again before we say goodbye, slight taking to task. Jan Norris--
Nora Ephron Morris.
Studs Terkel Jan Morris, English man, woman, who became a woman. You're very harsh it would seem in this case on somebody had a right to try to be what that person's psyche wanted him or her to be.
Nora Ephron Well I'm I can't tell you how much I didn't want to do that Studs. I first read about Jan Morris who as you know was as James Morris a famous English journalist who climbed Mount Everest with Sir Edmund Hillary et cetera, et cetera, and decided in his 40s to give in to what had been an almost lifelong obsession which was to be a woman. And I first read about this in "The New York Times Magazine" and found the story so moving I cannot tell you. Partly because I think that all of us have fantasies of some sort or another and most of them are unattainable. I mean they you know there's no way if my fantasy were to look like Elizabeth Taylor there isn't any way I can do that; there's no one I can pay to give me that. He had a fantasy that as he grew older became medically possible. And it fascinated me that his decision was to go with it, not to spend 30 years in analysis working out why he felt this way. So I immediately bought the book that -now we have to switch to the she--that she wrote. Jan Morris and I was very sad about it because it turned out that what James Morris wanted to be was not a woman but a girl and that his idea of being a woman had to do with having wine stewards bat their eyes at him and gas station attendants wink and have people change her tires and so on and so on, and you know, I think it is probably more interesting being a woman now than it has ever ever been and that Jan Morris doesn't know anything about that, you know.
Studs Terkel Perhaps this is the way. I haven't seen that aspect of it in your, and now I see what you're talking about. By this, but the last way to end it is just this. You are a young woman a gifted writer. Here is the latter third of the twentieth century being a woman right now I imagine is a very exciting moment.
Nora Ephron Yes it is. It's terrific. Absolutely true don't you wish you were one?
Studs Terkel Haha! That's interesting isn't it. Fantasies again. Well there is an androgynous strain on all of us.
Studs Terkel [That's interesting?]. At this moment you know I remember meeting a very very rich, he was a million-- Italian Communist millionaire. There are such a number in Italy and this guy was saying I wish I were not a millionaire, I wish I were a black peasant. I say, You're full of crap. What he meant to say was he thought that his particular class was dying another was coming up. He was over-romanticizing. In a sense the parallel can be drawn here.
Nora Ephron I suppose. I suppose. But it is OK being a woman now. I like it. Try it sometime.
Studs Terkel That's a good way to end this conversation. Nora Ephron and "Crazy Salad." Give us that Yeats quote again.
Nora Ephron "It's certain that fine women eat a crazy salad with their meat."
Studs Terkel "Some Things About Women" the subtitle. Knopf the publishers, Alfred Knopf and thank you very much.