17 Things You Didn't Know About When Harry Met Sally

Photo: Castle Rock/Nelson/Columbia/Kobal/Shutterstock.
In an alternate universe, When Harry Met Sally stars Tom Hanks and Molly Ringwald as Harry and Sally, and the movie ends with them parting ways forever.
That doesn't sound right, does it? When Harry Met Sally, which came out 30 years ago on July 11, is one of the most legendary rom-coms of all time. Had chance and the Hollywood fates not gotten involved, though, it could've been a far different movie.
In honor of the movie's 30th anniversary, we look back on the behind-the-scenes action that formed the version of When Harry Met Sally we know today. The movie's trivia is nearly as iconic as the movie itself. When Harry Met Sally was very much a group effort. Nora Ephron wrote the script, which she based on Rob Reiner's idea (and partially, his experiences as a divorced man). Stars Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal had input — as did Reiner's mom. Put such creative energy together, and you're going to get more than a few good stories.
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The more you know, the more you'll love When Harry Met Sally.
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Photo Credit: Andy Schwartz/Castle Rock/Nelson/Columbia/Kobal/Shutterstock
1. The characters Harry and Sally are loosely based on the movie’s creators.

When Harry Met Sally was born out of three lunches between director Rob Reiner, screenwriter Nora Ephron, and producer Andy Scheinman in 1984 at the Russian Tea Room. They talked about love, sex, and dating — especially since Reiner and Scheinman were both single. At the third meeting, Reiner proposed that the movie’s premise: A man and a woman who don’t want to ruin their friendship by sleeping together.

When creating Harry, Ephron drew from Reiner and Scheinman’s experiences as single men in New York. Reiner, especially, inspired Harry’s blend of charisma and melancholy. She infused Sally with her own traits, like her picky eating. In the movie, Sally justifies her very particular order with the line, “I just like it the way I like it." Ephron used that line way before Sally did.

Pictured from left: Billy Crystal, Rob Reiner, Meg Ryan
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2. Similarly, the movie’s couple interviews are based on real people’s lives.

Even when she was stalled on the screenwriting process, Ephron was productive. She interviewed people from film's production company, Castle Rock Entertainment, about their own meet-cutes. Their stories, rewritten and acted out by professional actors, are peppered throughout the entire movie.
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3. The movie almost had a different title.

Options included Playing Melancholy Baby, Boy Meets Girl, Blue Moon, Words of Love, It Had To Be You, Harry, This Is Sally, and How They Met. Legend has it that Reiner challenged the crew to a contest during principle photography: Whoever came up with the title won a case of Champagne. We don't know the winner, but we do know the title. Ultimately, Reiner settled on When Harry Met Sally.
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4. At first, Rob Reiner avoided casting Billy Crystal as Harry.

The reason was simple: Reiner and Crystal were best friends, and Reiner was scared of damaging their relationship (sound anything like Harry and Sally to you?) “I was nervous about doing this with my best friend. What if this doesn’t work? What is this gonna do?,” Reiner said on The Howard Stern Show.

Reiner’s first choice for the lead was Albert Brooks, who turned down the part because he believed it was too reminiscent of Woody Allen’s work. Reiner then went to Tom Hanks, who said the movie was "too lightweight." Then Michael Keaton, then Richard Dreyfuss, Ultimately, he went back to Crystal.

“Then I said you know something, Billy’s the best one and [he nailed it],” Reiner said. “And not only did he nail it, but he contributed like crazy.” Reiner said it made their friendship even better.
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5. Can you imagine Molly Ringwald as Sally? Because she almost was.

The ‘80s teen movie queen was Reiner’s first choice, but she declined the part due to scheduling conflicts. Reiner also went to Susan Dey, Elizabeth Perkins, and Elizabeth McGovern. According to Crystal, though, casting was over the second Meg Ryan walked into the audition room.

“It was like in a ’40s movie when someone says, ‘And then she walked in!’” Crystal said during a 30-year anniversary screening. Reiner added, “It was instant chemistry.”

In fact, Ryan had come this close to playing Crystal’s love interest in the 1987 movie Throw Momma From the Train. “I often wondered, would Rob have cast her if we had just played boyfriend and girlfriend in the movie before this? Maybe fate put us together for this movie,” Crystal said.
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6. Ringwald eventually did play Sally Albright.

Ringwald starred in a 2004 stage version of the film in London's West End. Before Ringwald, Alyson Hannigan played Sally on the London stage.
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Photo Credit: Castle Rock/Nelson/Columbia/Kobal/Shutterstock
7. The script changed throughout the process.

There are miles between the first draft of When Harry Met Sally and the movie that ended up in theaters.

“The script totally changed from what we had agreed to do,” Billy Crystal told Entertainment Weekly. “It kept growing and growing and growing. You had the guy point of view, and then you had [writer] Nora [Ephron] and Meg, throwing everything in it together, and that’s why I think it’s such a powerful screenplay.”
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8. The orgasm scene was all Meg Ryan’s idea.

Like so much of When Harry Met Sally, the scene was the byproduct of conversation between the movie’s creators and cast.

In the original script, Sally was just supposed to explain the fact that women fake orgasms to Harry. But that didn’t line up with Ryan’s perception of the character. “Sally is a behaviorally funny character. So it was logical that she’d do it,” Ryan told People. Ryan also thought to set the scene in a public place, like a restaurant.

The scene gets even funnier when you know the backstory. Though having a fake orgasm was Ryan’s idea, she was nervous to actually do it in front of hundreds of people. On set, Reiner demonstrated just how far he wanted Ryan to go with her fake orgasm – right in front of his mom, who had a minor (but important) part in the scene.

“Rob kept giving me sounds, ‘More, aaauuuuhhnnnnnn!’ All in front of Estelle,” Meg Ryan tells People.
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9. Rob Reiner’s mother delivers the movie’s most famous line.

After Sally fakes an orgasm at Katz's, a woman nearby says, “Waiter, I’ll have what she’s having.” Crystal actually came up with the line in rehearsals, which was voted number 33 on the American Film Institute's list of "Best 100 Movie Quotes in American Film.”

But who would actually say it? Reiner was looking to cast an older Jewish woman — so Crystal suggested Reiner's mom. "I don't care as long as I can spend the day with my son," Estelle said when Reiner proposed the idea.
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Photo Credit: DAVID HARTLEY/Shutterstock
10. Katz’s Delicatessen takes its place in movie history seriously.

The Lower East Side deli is a pilgrimage to movie fans. There’s a sign hanging right above the booth that says “Where Harry met Sally...hope you have what she had!” For the movie’s 30th anniversary, Katz’s will be hosting a reenactment contest for that scene. Get your pipes ready.
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11. In the original script, Harry and Sally didn't end up together.

When the the first draft was written, Reiner had been single for 10 years. If he wasn't going to meet anyone, why should Harry?

"The first draft of the script — or the draft we were going to shoot — Harry and Sally weren't going to get together. They meet each other years later and then walk separate ways," Reiner told Entertainment Weekly.
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12. Then, Reiner fell in love on set, and everything changed.

Reiner ended up meeting his future wife, photographer Michele Singer, on set. “I fell in love, and I said, I see how this works!" Reiner later said on The Late Late Show With James Corden. The movie ends with Harry and Sally getting together.

Pictured: Reiner and Singer in 2019.
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13. Crystal constantly improvised on set.

Sometimes, he was too funny. In the museum scene, Crystal ad-libs the line, "But, I would be proud to partake of your pecan pie." Midway through this clip, Ryan laughs out of character and looks off-camera at Reiner. He indicated she should keep going, and she jumped right back in. The scene made the final cut, hiccup and all.
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14. The Pictionary scene is also entirely improvised — and it shows.

Nora Ephron is obviously brilliant, but the phrase “baby fish mouth” probably only could come out of frenetic improvisation. In the scene, Sally is attempting to draw something for the clue “baby talk.” Harry, Alice (Lisa Jane Persky), and Jess (Bruno Kirby) all throw guesses.

“We improvised our way into the scene and were shouting made-up answers when Bruno Kirby hurled his three magic words: Baby. Fish. Mouth. It was like the heavens opened up to receive us,” Persky recalled to Vulture.
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15. Carrie Fisher and Rob Reiner went way back.

Fisher, who played Sally's best friend, was best friends with Reiner's ex-wife, Penny Marshall.

Pictured: Marshall and Fisher.
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16. Ephron was gathering material for another rom-com.

Early on in their relationship, Harry and Sally meet at the Shakespeare and Co. bookstore on New York's Upper West Side. Soon after When Harry Met Sally, Barnes & Noble moved to the neighborhood and put Shakespeare and Co. out of business. The incident inspired Ephron's 1998 movie You’ve Got Mail, in which Meg Ryan plays an children's bookstore owner going up against the big, bad Fox Books.
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17. Princess Diana was a huge fan of the movie.

Diana attended the London premiere. Reiner was nervous as the movie approached the famous Katz's scene. "We realized, 'Oh, my God, how is [Diana] gonna react to it?" Reiner told Extra. She reacted with glee — Diana laughed and told Billy and said, "I would be laughing a lot more, but I know that everybody's watching me." She later hosted a private viewing party at Buckingham Palace.
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