Remembering (or not) the creative act

This morning on NPR, Nora Ephron was remembered. Here are the opening lines of that report:

Nora Ephron brought us two of the most indelible scenes in contemporary cinema — and they’re startlingly different.

There’s the infamous “Silkwood shower,” from the 1983 movie, with Meryl Streep as a terrified worker at a nuclear power plant, being frantically scrubbed after exposure to radiation.

Then there’s the scene in which Meg Ryan drives home a point to Billy Crystal at Katz’s Deli, in 1989’s When Harry Met Sally. You know — the one that ends with “I’ll have what she’s having.”…

But here’s the thing. On the same radio station over the weekend, I heard Rob Reiner being interviewed on “Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me!” He directed “When Harry Met Sally,” and he said this about it:

GROSZ: You know, so many of your movies specifically have very quotable lines. From “I’ll have what she’s having,” or, you know, “turn it up to 11,” or, you know, how many times do you ask a waiter for something and he turns to you and he says “as you wish?”


GROSZ: I mean there’s so many lines from your movies that are quotable. Do you go for that? Do you grab the script and scream at the writer?

REINER: No, no, you know, you just make a movie and you put these things in. And you never know what’s going to – you know, “I’ll have what she’s having” was a line that Billy Crystal came up with in that scene. We didn’t – my mother, you know, is the one who delivered that line…

So which was it? If she were alive, would Ms. Ephron agree with Mr. Reiner’s memory? I guess when a lot of creative people get together and collaborate on something that works and is remembered, it’s sometimes tough to remember who did what.

I know I sometimes have trouble remembering, from my career, whether I came up with a particular idea — or even whether I wrote a particular editorial — because all I know for sure was that I was heavily involved in the discussion.

It’s funny the things you can’t remember, years later. For instance, when I mentioned the other day meeting Barack Obama, it got me to thinking about others I had met. And I remembered the first presidential candidate I covered. It was Jimmy Carter. I remember being excited to be there, not only because it was an exciting thing to be covering an aspect of a presidential election (it was a routine reception in Memphis), but because I really liked Jimmy, and was excited about his 1976 candidacy. I remember a number of details about the event — such as the Secret Service requiring me to take a telephoto lens I’d brought with me out of its cylindrical case, to make sure it wasn’t a weapon — but I realized I couldn’t remember whether I shook hands with Gov. Carter or interacted with him in any way.

Odd that I have no idea about that. Memory is a funny thing.

I was struck by this when I interviewed the late Ted Sorensen, JFK’s legendary speechwriter. In the video below, you’ll see him be unsure about who came up with a certain line, but generously and loyally giving the credit to President Kennedy…

25 thoughts on “Remembering (or not) the creative act

  1. Steven Davis II

    Before the media plastered her name all over the screen for being sick and later dying I had never even heard of this person.

  2. Lynn

    She was her generation’s Dorothy Parker. We’ve all lost a good girl friend. She even makes Joe Scarborough tear up.

  3. Brad

    Steven, I think you’ll find that most people on this blog knew who she was. Just because you — or I — happen to not be familiar with someone doesn’t mean they didn’t make a contribution to society.

  4. bud

    Brad makes a great argument why eye witness accounts are extremely unreliable. We depend on them way too much in court.

    Steven, Brad does pick and choose which celebrity to write about upon their passing. But it is his blog which makes him the alpha blogger.

  5. `Kathryn Braun Fenner

    Wow–Nora Ephron ought to be well-known to political junkies as Carl Bernstein’s ex-wife who memorably skewered him in Heartburn, also a well-received film, with Meryl Streep and Jack Nicholson.

    She wrote so many popular and well-received films–15 writing credits on IMDB–and at least six were big hits.

  6. Brad

    Thanks for clearing that up, ephron fan!

    It tends to support my thesis — that once you get a bunch of creative people collaborating, precise attribution is difficult.

  7. Steven Davis II

    Brad if that’s the case then you could go through the obituary of any given paper and write an article on random people. Just because we never heard of them doesn’t mean they didn’t contribute to society.

  8. Burl Burlingame

    Just saw an interview with Rob Reiner about that very scene. Turns out it wasn’t in the original script. Reiner thought there needed to be a bit in which women were shown to be liars about something, and Ephron said that all women lie about orgasms at one time or another, and Reiner didn’t believe her and went polling around his Hollywood office, and it turned out to be true. So Ephron knocked out that scene and they shot it the next day, the kicker line spoken by Reiner’s mother was indeed something they made up on the spot, along with some others, and it worked in editing, so it was left in. Did Ephron write that punchline? Technically, no. But it wouldn’t have been invented if Ephron hadn’t created everything that led to it, and she chose to retain it in the editing, so it was her call.

    Making films is a collaborative process, not a solo gig.

  9. bud

    SD IIs comments are a bit irritating but in an awkward way he’s making a useful cultural point. Brad doesn’t comment on all celebrity passings nor could he so he picks the ones that he feels are worthy of the honor. Absolutely nothing wrong with that. We’re all different and if we were the Alpha blogger I’m sure no two lists of celebrity posts would be the same. And that’s what makes this a great nation, diversity. Let’s embrace that diversity and not constantly put it down.

  10. `Kathryn Braun Fenner

    One has to wonder why SDII thinks we care to know about his ignorance. Of course, one bothered to comment, so, uh-oh, irony loop!

  11. Steven Davis II

    Interesting, bud and Kathryn consider me “ignorant”, whereas I find both of them to be the most ignorant people on this blog. Funny how things like that work out.

  12. bud

    Just for the record I called SD II irratating and not ignorant. And just for the record part 2 I was suggesting SD II had a point.

  13. `Kathryn Braun Fenner

    Um, SDII–you have confessed on this very thread to ignorance of Nora Ephron and Zac Efron. I think you think it’s humorous or otherwise salient to do so, but you did confess to ignorance.

  14. Mark Stewart

    I don’t know who Zac Efron is either. It doesn’t much bother me. Cultural fluency is essential, but not everyone is going to cover all the bases. As long as people can bring insight, perspective and newness to a conversation that works for me.

  15. Steven Davis II

    @Kathryn – Do you really think I don’t have access to Google and could find out who these people were if I didn’t know? Speaking of ignorance…

  16. `Kathryn Braun Fenner

    I was trying not to be too snarky and direct you, as I have in the past, to

    It seems to be a meme for you to scoff by asserting ignorance of something Brad or others posts, or a word used, something you could easily either learn more about by using the computer you are obviously reading it on, or simply let pass without comment. Then when someone, me, calls you on it, you claim we’re calling you names.



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