When Harry Met Sally…, Rob Reiner and Nora Ephron’s beloved romantic comedy, opened in theaters nearly 30 years ago (and is about to get a splashy new 30th anniversary edition Blu-ray, courtesy of Shout! Factory). We’ll (still) have what she’s having.
1. Harry and Sally were modeled after director Rob Reiner and screenwriter Nora Ephron—except for the falling in love part.
After 10 years of marriage, Rob Reiner and fellow actor/director Penny Marshall—who passed away earlier this month—divorced in 1981. When Reiner met with Nora Ephron in the mid-1980s, he pitched a number of ideas for movies, including a comedy based on his dating experiences. Ephron agreed to write it after extensively interviewing Reiner. The two had many discussions about how men and women view sex, love, and relationships differently.
2. Those sweet “How We Met” interludes are real love stories.
Reiner interviewed elderly couples about how they fell in love in preparation for the movie. He hired actors to re-tell their stories on the big screen.
3. Nora Ephron hated the title.
It was extremely difficult for Ephron to settle on a title for her screenplay. She tried several, including Boy Meets Girl, How They Met, and Harry, This Is Sally. Reiner eventually turned the naming process into a contest among the crew members. Whoever picked the title would win a case of champagne. We don’t know who came up with When Harry Met Sally…, but let’s hope he or she shared all that bubbly.
4. In the first draft of the script, Harry and Sally didn’t end up together.
Ephron felt that was the most realistic ending, but hey, this is the movies!
5. Rob Reiner fell in love while making the movie.
During filming, the movie’s cinematographer introduced Reiner to photographer Michelle Singer. The two married in 1989, the same year When Harry Met Sally came out. Reiner has said that finding his own happy ending helped make one for Harry and Sally more believable.
6. Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan weren’t the first choices for Harry and Sally.
Albert Brooks turned down the role of Harry, because he thought the movie was too reminiscent of Woody Allen. (Brooks also turned down the lead roles in Big and Pretty Woman.) Reiner initially wanted Susan Dey of the TV show L.A. Law to play Sally. He also considered Elizabeth Perkins from Big and Elizabeth McGovern from Ordinary People. John Hughes movie queen Molly Ringwald was nearly cast, but declined due to a scheduling conflict.
7. Molly Ringwald did eventually play Sally Albright, though.
In 2004, When Harry Met Sally… was adapted into an unpopular stage play on London’s West End. Luke Perry (yes, from Beverly Hills, 90210) and Alyson Hannigan from How I Met Your Mother played Harry and Sally in its first run and were later replaced by Michael Landes from Final Destination 2 and Molly Ringwald.
8. Meg Ryan sort of paved the way for Julia Roberts.
Meg Ryan’s first leading role would’ve been as Shelby in Steel Magnolias, but she turned down the part to play Sally instead. Another up-and-coming actress named Julia Roberts took her place and later starred in Pretty Woman—another part Meg Ryan turned down.
9. Billy Crystal and Rob Reiner have been good friends since 1975.
Reiner and Crystal met when they played best friends on All in the Family. Many conversations between Harry and his best male friend Jess, played by Bruno Kirby, were inspired by the friendship between Crystal and Reiner. So were the scenes in which Harry and Sally watch the same movie from different apartments.
Meanwhile, the late Carrie Fisher, who played Sally’s best female friend Marie, was BFFs with Reiner’s ex-wife Penny Marshall.
10. The split-screen scenes are an ironic homage to 1959’s Pillow Talk.
At the time Pillow Talk was made, the Motion Picture Production Code, also known as the Hays Code, set moral guidelines for all the films released by major studios. Movies weren’t allowed to show a couple in bed together, or any sort of sexual relationship between unmarried partners. (The code was abandoned in 1968.) Harry and Sally were kept apart to show how close they were as “just friends.
11. Reiner’s mother, Estelle, had one line—and it’s probably the film’s most memorable quote.
Reiner’s mom is the older woman who says, “I’ll have what she’s having” at Katz’s Delicatessen. The American Film Institute ranked it #33 in its list of the top 100 movie quotations. The famous line wasn’t in the original script. Crystal suggested it after he and Ryan improvised the entire scene. The two were originally supposed to discuss “faking it” without an actual demonstration.
12. Katz’s Delicatessen is proud of its famous scene.
There’s a sign above the table where the famous scene was shot.
13. Crystal improvised throughout the movie.
Watch closely at 0:29; Ryan laughs out of character and looks at Reiner off-camera. The director decided to keep the scene.
Crystal also improvised much of the scene when he admits he loves Sally, including the line, “When you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with someone, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible.”
14. The real-life bookstore where Harry and Sally meet for the third time inspired another Ephron movie.
Harry and Sally finally become friends when they spot each other at Shakespeare and Co. on Broadway and 79th. When the store closed after a Barnes & Noble opened on the Upper West Side, Ephron was inspired to write a romantic comedy around the David and Goliath struggle between local stores and large national chains. You’ve Got Mail came out in 1998, nearly a decade after when Harry Met Sally...
15. No one expected When Harry Met Sally… to be a hit.
The film was up against a number of summer blockbusters, including Batman, Ghostbusters II, Licence to Kill, and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. When Harry Met Sally… opened in just 41 theaters on July 12, grossing $1 million. It opened nationwide July 21. And the rest is romantic comedy history.
Additional Source: DVD Commentary by Nora Ephron and Rob Reiner