20th 2011
I miss Nora Ephron

Posted under: American history, art, book reviews, Gender, the body, women's history

Who else can turn out feminist commentary, pop culture awareness, and teh funny at such a clip?  I discovered Ephron as a teenager in the 1980s, when I came across copies of Crazy Salad (1975) and Scribble, Scribble (1978), two collections of her essays from the 1970s.  Reading her books made me want to learn more about that bygone era, and she taught me everything I know about some very 1970s things:  amyl nitrates, Jan Morris, and EST, for example–things that a sheltered midwestern suburban teenager in 1984 had no other way to learn about.  I thought that she was very smart, very funny, and an incisive critic of her era. 

I understood when she went Hollywood and decided to write and direct movies–it pays a hell of a lot more than writing for print or online publications, after all.  And lord knows, it’s not like Hollywood is glutted with working women writers and directors who want to produce something other than bam-bam/cops-n-robbers/blowemup movies.  But I miss the writing she did in the 1970s, which was of the moment and became an important work documenting the history of feminism in that era.

She’s got a commentary this week on The Daily Beast from the perspective of someone who was “an adult in the 1960s.”  Accordingly, she serves as an important feminist corrective and offers some words of caution about the Mad Men-ripoff, 60s nostalgia trap of The Playboy Club, which is apparently a teevee show now.  I would love to quote the whole article, but you’ll just have to click this link to read it.  Here’s a little flava:

Inspired by the success of Mad Men, it has gone back to the early 1960s, to that golden moment just before the women’s movement came along and ruined everything. It’s about several Bunnies, an ambitious Chicago lawyer, and the mob. The show (or at least the opening episode) is not unlike Playboy magazine in the early years: it has its moments, but it’s mostly an excuse to show women’s breasts, which (in this version, because it’s on a network) are usually encased in fabulous pointy period bras or shoved upward in satin-polyester Bunny costumes. Hefner doesn’t appear except as a shadowy figure, like a masked mafioso in the Federal Witness Protection Program. But he does provide a weird, creepy voice-over, on which he says that Bunnies “were the only women in the world who could be anyone they wanted to be.”

This of course is so preposterous on so many levels that it is almost not worth attacking. But I worry (as someone who was an adult in the 1960s) that young people will see The Playboy Club and think that this is what life was like back then and that Hefner, as he also says in his weird, creepy voice-over, was in fact “changing the world, one Bunny at a time.”

So I would like to say this:

1. Trust me, no one wanted to be a Bunny.

2. A Bunny’s life was essentially that of an underpaid waitress forced to wear a tight costume.

3. Playboy did not change the world.

Incidentally, the weird, creepy voice-over is probably my favorite thing about The Playboy Club, and I was disappointed to read that it might not continue after the first episode. Not that I am planning to watch it again. Although you never know. Before she became a feminist and did change the world, Gloria Steinem wrote a famous piece about being a Bunny, and made clear how shabby and pathetic life was at a Playboy Club. She recently called for women to boycott the show. I am currently boycotting so many television shows that I may not have time to boycott another.

I miss you, Nora Ephron!


10 Responses to “I miss Nora Ephron”

  1. Tenured Radical on 20 Sep 2011 at 8:38 am #

    I recommend to all of your readers the short documentary on HBO about Steinem, where she describes what difficult and ill-paid labor being a Bunny was.

    I taped the show last night, and you have moved me to watch it now: the previews suggested it wouldn’t be very good, and I was thinking of writing about it, but you scooped me Historiann!

  2. Perpetua on 20 Sep 2011 at 9:37 am #

    In contrast to the postfeminist offense that is the Playboy Club, the references to Steinem made me remember with great clarity watching the made for TV movie based on Steinem’s article, which aired in 1985. I have not seen it since, but almost 30 years later, I remember one scene where the Steinem character takes off her bunny custom to reveal the bruising on her abdomen caused by its extreme tightness. (Did I make that up? I really have not seen it since the 80s.) I was just struck by the contrast between the 80s approach – raising feminist consciousness! on network TV! – and 21st c false nostalgia trip. Sigh.

  3. Indyanna on 20 Sep 2011 at 9:53 am #

    Ephron descended from screen-writing parents, so I guess going (back) to Hollywood was a fairly natural thing for her. I read _Crazy Salad_, only in graduate school (off-reading list) and liked it. Maybe she’ll return more to the genre of the essay, a somewhat doomed art in the age of findusonfacebook and followusontwitter. Whooze us?

  4. thefrogprincess on 20 Sep 2011 at 10:35 am #

    So I read a lot of television criticism, and one of the interesting things is how one of my favorite critics, Daniel Feinberg, reports that the creators of this show believe that their show is a feminist one, an idea he takes great umbrage against. (He gets at some of this in his review. See )

  5. Kathie on 20 Sep 2011 at 11:44 am #

    The Los Angeles Times TV reviewer, Mary McNamara, also had a good review of this show, in which she referred to “the kitschification of sexism.” She often has thoughtful reviews; this one of “The Playboy Club” is found at,0,7099840.story

    And I also recommend the Gloria Steinem documentary, I thought it was very interesting.

  6. Tenured Radical - The Chronicle of Higher Education on 20 Sep 2011 at 12:29 pm #

    [...] got out of the salt mines early today, and the first thing I did was read Historiann, who made a great catch on Nora Ephron’s response to the new Mad Men rip-off, The Playboy Club (stay tuned for Pan [...]

  7. Historiann on 20 Sep 2011 at 5:26 pm #

    Kathie and Frogprincess: thanks for the other reviews. But I gotta say: TR’s review is a really funny takedown, so everyone should click on the link above and head over to her place.

    You will NOT believe it, but the Mattachine Society makes a(n incredibly awkward and improbable) guest appearance!

  8. Susan on 20 Sep 2011 at 9:34 pm #

    On the subject of people who were adults in the 1960s, my mother won’t watch Mad Men — she says she tried, but it was just too painful.

  9. Nora Ephron, 1941-2012 : Historiann : History and sexual politics, 1492 to the present on 27 Jun 2012 at 3:37 am #

    [...] Now I will really miss her. [...]

  10. Caturday Heroines « Sky Dancing on 30 Jun 2012 at 6:03 am #

    [...] Historiann on Nora Ephron…. I highly recommend clicking on the first link in her post, which I’ve linked here too for your convenience: Now I will really miss her. [...]

Trackback URI | Comments RSS

Leave a Reply