When I started my Nieman f’ship, my favorite journalism professor—Tommy Miller was his name but we just called him Miller—gave me two books as a going-away gift. One was The Old Man and Lesser Mortals, by Larry King (no, not that Larry King; the better one, in Texas), and a first edition of Crazy Salad, by Nora Ephron. Miller, an old UPI and Houston Chronicle reporter and editor, loved Ephron. He thought she was tough and brilliant and funny, and she was, and I hate knowing she’s no longer in the world.
Crazy Salad contains 25 of her 1970s essays from New York magazine, Esquire and others. Here’s the opening of “Dorothy Parker,” from 1973:
Eleven years ago, shortly after I came to New York, I met a young man named Victor Navasky. Victor was trying relentlessly at that point to start a small humor magazine called Monocle, and there were a lot of meetings. Some of them were business meetings, I suppose; I don’t remember them. The ones I do remember were pure social occasions, and most of them took place at the Algonquin Hotel. Every Tuesday at 6 p.m., we would meet for drinks there and sit around pretending to be the Algonquin Round Table. I had it all worked out: Victor got to be Harold Ross, Bud Trillin and C.D.B. Bryan alternated as Benchley, whoever was fattest and grumpiest got to be Alexander Wollcott. I, of course, got to be Dorothy Parker. It was all very heady, and very silly, and very self-conscious. It was also very boring, which disturbed me. then Dorothy Parker, who was living in Los Angeles, gave a seventieth-birthday interview to the Associated Press, an interview I have always thought of as the beginning of the Revisionist School of Thinking on the Algonquin Round Table, and she said that it, too, had been boring. Which made me feel a whole lot better.
In that same essay she wrote, “I have spent a great deal of my life discovering that my ambitions and fantasies—which I once thought of as totally unique—turn out to be cliches.”
Nora, dude, you were no cliche.