While we were away for Passover, Jim Dwyer at the Times dished about his role in aiding the late Nora Ephron with what turned out to be “Lucky Guy,” a screenplay-turned-play about the life of New York journalist Mike McAlary. The play, which stars Tom Hanks and features Dwyer as a character, is being widely celebrated (and generating some controversy).
Here’s how he described one of the meetings:
At our dinner in 1999, Ephron did not touch her food. She had insisted that I order the veal chop, a bit bossy considering that we’d only met 90 seconds earlier.
She kept taking notes as I passed along McAlary lore.
At closing time in bars, McAlary would do actual cartwheels. In 1980, the first time he visited Elaine’s he spotted Jerry Brown, the governor of California, a man he knew virtually nothing about except that he had recently broken up with the singer Linda Ronstadt. McAlary fed $10 in quarters into the jukebox and played the same song 40 times in a row: the governor’s ex-girlfriend wailing, “Baby, you’re no good.” He was all of 22.
Yes, McAlary had a big ego, but he was not a prisoner of self-absorption: later on, a young reporter who’d been given some minor journalism honor might find a magnum of Champagne on the desk, wrapped by McAlary in the prizewinning articles.
It seems natural that Ephron was drawn to a character like McAlary, who seemed to do for young journalists for Ephron did for a generation of young writers. Writing for Tablet last summer after Ephron’s death, Rachel Shukert explained how Ephron had created a new kind of woman through her work.
Her favorite musical was My Fair Lady. It fits: To the women who loved her, she was both Henry Higgins and Eliza Doolittle. Expert teacher and eager student, she made us feel like us, in all our messy, capable, idiosyncratic, hilarious glory.
Reading Dwyer’s take on Ephron’s fidelity to her characters (himself included), it’s easy to see why.