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Nora Ephron Leaves Matisse Drawing to 'When Harry Met Sally' Muse

By James Fanelli | September 11, 2012 6:44am

UPPER EAST SIDE — Nora Ephron had true love for the real-life Harry who helped inspire "When Harry Met Sally."

The late screenwriter and director wanted Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen — the basis for Billy Crystal's nebbish character in the hit romantic comedy — to have her rare Henri Matisse drawing after she died.  

The gift was among a handful of bequests she willed to friends, family and employees before her June 26 death.

The "Julie and Julia" director left the majority of her $15 million fortune to her husband, "Goodfellas" screenwriter Nicholas Pileggi, and her two sons, Jacob and Max Bernstein, according to her will, which was filed in July in Manhattan Surrogate Court. 

She also left instructions for Pileggi to "distribute certain items of my jewelry among my friends and relatives in accordance with wishes that I have made known to him."

Ephron itemized some of those requests in her will in case Pileggi didn't survive her. They included giving Cohen, a longtime friend, a 1938 drawing by the French artist.

She also wanted her W. Eugene Smith photograph of a couple crossing a street to go to her friend John Lindley, a cinematographer who worked on her films "You've Got Mail," "Lucky Numbers," and "Bewitched."

Cohen declined to comment about the drawing, calling it a personal matter. After Ephron's death, he wrote how the two started out as enemies but developed a great friendship over four decades, and she even pushed him to become a columnist.

"Nora took my life and renovated it," he wrote.

In an interview with MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell,  another longtime friend, Sally Quinn, said she and Cohen were the basis for the movie's neurotic friends who make a belated go at romance.

"You never knew with Nora when you were going to end up in one of her movies," Quinn said.

"[Ephron] made a speech at the Washington Post — which stunned me — in which she said I was Sally in 'When Harry Met Sally.' That Richard Cohen, whose father's name was Harry, is Harry."

Cohen also reportedly came up with the memorable line "the first Jewish Kimberly," which Jack Nicholson's character says in Ephron's memoir-turned-movie "Heartburn" when he refers to his ex-wife.

Ephron's generosity extended to her employees, as well. She left $100,000 to her assistant, J.J. Sacha. She also gave $25,000 to Teodolinda Diaz, who worked for her for 27 years.

"I loved her very much, and she was one of the greatest persons I ever met," Diaz told DNAinfo.com New York.

Ephron's will, which was drafted two months before her death, also says that she wanted her sister Delia Ephron to have her 1948 watercolor by the 20th Century painter Milton Avery. She also gave Delia all future royalty payments from "Love, Loss, and What I Wore," a play the two sisters co-wrote.

Ephron, who mined her real-life romances and breakups for material, was married three times. Her second marriage was to journalist Carl Bernstein, with whom she had two children. "Heartburn" was based on their divorce.

The native New Yorker and Upper East Side resident died at 71 after battling leukemia.