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Nora Ephron's Final Production: NYC Memorial Service Filled with Laughs and Stars

Nora Ephron - P 2012
Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images

Friends, family and show business luminaries came together to celebrate the life of the Oscar-nominated Hollywood trailblazer, who died in late June.

Even from beyond, Nora Ephron was busy and in charge, writing and directing and throwing the perfect party with utmost expertise.

Ephron, who died June 26 of complications from Leukemia, pre-planned her entire memorial service, which took place on Monday in New York; she selected the list of speakers and even assigned how much time they'd each have to talk. This provided laughs but nary a protest at Alice Tulley Hall, an unmistakable landmark that looms over and lights the Upper West Side’s skyline with the same allure and brightness that Ephron gave to the neighborhood’s myth.

Ephron's one mistake: though she once told her son that she wanted a funeral where everyone would be made "basket cases" by sadness, the late journalist, writer and director simply left too many great anecdotes for her selected speakers to share; reverence for her spirit staved off any sustained tears from those in the audience.

“I believe that when people pass, they zoom into the people that love them the most. So, if that’s the case, then all of us here have a piece of Nora,” Martin Short, the morning’s first speaker, said in a poignant moment. “And that's the way it should be. Because life would just seem all too mundane without her. And if she’s a part of us, we must be more like her: read everything, savor everything, talk to the person on your left, embrace laughter like it’s a drug, drink more pink champagne, and yes, brush up your style.”

She was the subject of countless wry anecdotes that she no doubt could have told with more verve and charisma herself, but the loving efforts drew plenty of laughs anyway. There was her sister Delia’s recollection of her first days in New York City, when Nora whisked her around the city in search of an apartment and resorted to kidnapping a landlord so that they could get the lease; Richard Cohen remembering that, when asked by Vanity Fair what Ephron would be doing if not making films, he answered, “That’s Easy. Dictator of Argentina”; her sons Jacob and Max lauding her quiet bravery as her long struggle with illness reached its final, painful days.

“She was the most fantastic blend of joy and cynicism. She was my best friend, my biggest cheerleader, and a total drill sergeant, which is basically what a great parent is supposed to be," Jacob added. "Some other things I will miss about mom: her roast beef with Yorkshire pudding, the way she kept at least 10 different kinds of jam in her refrigerator, how we wept and we cried together upon finding out that Pat Buchanan would no longer be a regular on Rachel Maddow... and the fact that we cannot discuss the breakup of Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes’ marriage, and the fact that she would have found that just as fascinating as the fact that John Roberts was the deciding vote on healthcare."

Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson provided a tribute to both Ephron and her husband, the author Nick Pileggi, putting on a sketch that lovingly juxtaposed the worldly Jewish Ephron and her excitable, Italian partner of 28 years, a team that Hanks and Wilson said seemed to have been lifelong soulmates from the moment they met.

Meryl Streep, who starred for Ephron in the films Silkwood, Heartburn and Julie & Julia, sounded a wistful tone, praising her good friend while almost shedding tears in thinking back to a particular conversation they had last winter.

"She really did catch us napping. She pulled a fast one on all of us. It’s really stupid to be mad at somebody who died but somehow I have managed it," the Oscar-winning actress sighed. "This winter, after I gave her the DGA honors, and she toasted me at the Kennedy Center, we promised each other that this would be the last in a long series of such events, and that we would never ever pay tribute to each other again. And she made me promise this, knowing that she’d already put me on this list."

She left her mark in New York as a young newspaper and magazine writer (and lifelong evangelist of the magic of Manhattan), and indelibly changed Hollywood with her three Oscar nominations and role as one of the industry’s trailblazing women directors, and so Ephron’s mourners poured in from around the country. Names such as Sen. Al Franken, Barbara Walters, Diane Sawyer, Martin Scorcese, Steve Kroft, Alan Alda, Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter, Rob Reiner, Jon Hamm, Jennifer Westfeldt and frequent collaborator Scott Rudin filed in respectively, laughing along and drinking pink champagne as the service ended.

It was a sunny day on New York’s Upper West Side, and there were conversations and lunches and memories to be made. And for those that needed a little help, Ephron included a different recipe from her personal collection in the little pamphlet given to each one of her friends.

Email: Jordan.Zakarin@THR.com; Twitter; @JordanZakarin