These Facts About When Harry Met Sally Make The Classic That Much More Endearing

When Harry Met Sally is arguably one of the most likable romantic comedies every produced for the big screen. It’s hard not to love cynical but loving Harry and the headstrong but charming Sally. However, the facts behind the making of the film are almost as fascinating as the movie itself. For instance, the characters we love so much were inspired by the filmmakers themselves. And while it’s hard to imagine a better cast, Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal weren’t the top picks to play the leads. It’s a good thing they did land their parts since many of their scenes were improvised to perfection. Read on to discover more facts behind this timeless classic.

Harry And Sally’s Characters Were Loosely Based On The Filmmakers

Rob Reiner sits and smiles with his leads.
Columbia Pictures
Columbia Pictures

Writer Nora Ephron makes writing a script seem easy when you consider how well done the dialogue is and how true-to-life the characters seem. Part of this may be because some of Sally’s character was based on herself, particularly her high maintenance food orders.

When it came to Harry’s character, she relied heavily on Reiner’s tough run with love. He told The AV Club that Ephron would take notes as Reiner expressed the ups and downs he’d experienced in his love life. This explains Harry’s fear of commitment in the film.

Harry Could Have Been Tom Hanks

Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan act in You've Got Mail.
Warner Bros.
Warner Bros.

Between Sleepless in Seattle and You’ve Got Mail, Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan seem like the most charming on-screen couple around. Now just imagine if, on top of those two hits, they also starred in When Harry Met Sally… together.

Considering the fact that writer Nora Ephron also wrote those two rom-coms, it should come as no surprise that Tom Hanks was up for the role of Harry. While it would have been nice to see the three in yet another collaboration, we’re happy the role went to Billy Crystal instead.

Sally Could Have Been Molly Ringwald

Molly Ringwald sits at a store counter in Pretty In Pink.
Columbia Pictures
Columbia Pictures

By the late ’80s, Molly Ringwald was on top of the world. She was already a crowd favorite thanks to films like The Breakfast Club and Pretty in Pink. As such, she was one of the top contenders for the part of Sally.

Ringwald had to turn down the part due to scheduling conflicts but ended up getting her chance to play the part years later. The film was adapted for the stage in 2004 and Ringwald played Sally opposite Michael Landes.

Billy Crystal Came Up With One Of The Movie’s Most Famous Lines

Estelle Reiner sits in a restaurant while filming When Harry Met Sally.
Columbia Pictures
Columbia Pictures

The line “I’ll have what she’s having” is the 33rd best movie quotes in American film according to AFI. However, the line may not have made it to the big screen if it weren’t for actor Billy Crystal.

According to screenwriter Nora Ephron, the famous line was all his idea. Another fun fact about this line is that it was delivered by the filmmaker’s mother, Estelle Reiner. She was a performer for decades and even studied acting with the famous Lee Strasberg.

They Filmed At A Real Restaurant

Harry and Sally sit in a restaurant.
Columbia Pictures
Columbia Pictures

One of the most well-known scenes in the film takes place at a restaurant where Estelle delivers her one-liner, “I’ll have what she’s having.” Rather than filming on a set, the cast and crew shot at an actual restaurant in Manhattan called Katz’s Delicatessen.

The restaurant has been around since 1888 and is known for its pastrami sandwiches. If you go now, you’ll see a sign that reads “Where Harry Met Sally… hope you have what she had!”

The Phone Scene Was Difficult To Take

Jess and Marie sits in bed and look at one another while each is on the phone.
Columbia Pictures
Columbia Pictures

In the movie, there’s a scene where all four lead actors are talking on the phone at once. Harry calls his friend, Jess, and Sally calls her friend, Marie. Since Jess and Marie are a couple and are in bed at the time the phone rings, two conversations happen at once.

The filmmakers brilliantly strung the lines together so that the audience sees both conversations as happening at once. However, weaving the lines together in such a way proved difficult to nail. It took sixty takes to get it just right.

The Couples Interviews Were Real

Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan pose for a promotional photo.
Columbia Pictures
Columbia Pictures

One of the most charming aspects of the film are the couples interviews woven throughout. While it was actors who delivered the lines, the interviews were real. Rob Reiner collected the lines from various couples who had told the story of how they met.

Reiner and Nora Ephron then adapted the transcripts into lines for the film. They used actors to relay the stories as though they were actually being interviewed about their love story.

The Title Was Not Easy To Decide On

Young Sally talks while driving.
Columbia Pictures
Columbia Pictures

After spending five years getting the script just right, Nora Ephron struggled to find the perfect title. Some of her options included How They Met, Boy Meets Girl, and Harry, This Is Sally. You can see that the last option is the closest to the title they settled on.

Desperate to find the right name, Rob Reiner decided to create a contest between his employees to motivate them to come up with the best title. They eventually chose When Harry Met Sally... However, Nora Ephron later admitted that she still would change the title if she could.

Parts Of The Movie Relate To Ephron And Reiner’s Later Films

Harry reads a book in a bookstore.
Columbia Pictures
Columbia Pictures

In one scene, Harry is reading the book Misery by Stephen King. While the book choice was obviously poking fun at Harry’s pessimistic character, it also ended up being made into a film the very next year. And guess who directed it? That’s right, Rob Reiner did.

Similarly, Harry and Sally meet at a local bookstore at one point in the film. The store was Shakespeare and Co. and went under after Barnes & Noble joined the neighborhood. Seeing this play out is what inspired Nora Ephron’s You’ve Got Mail.

The Film Could Have Been A Flop

Harry and Sally squat down next to one another in front of a window.
Columbia Pictures
Columbia Pictures

Around the time that the film came out, Batman, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, and Ghostbusters II were all hitting theaters. The studio made a wise move by releasing the movie to select theaters before going nationwide. This enabled some hype to spread, bringing in curious enthusiasts.

The cast and crew were also leery since the script broke certain movie norms. In particular, the only thing holding the two apart from one another is themselves, rather than some sort of antagonist or mishap. Despite the unusual plot and emphasis on dialogue, the movie raked in $93 million at the box office.

A Genuine Laugh By Meg Made It Into The Film

Harry and Sally joke around with a karaoke machine.
Columbia Pictures
Columbia Pictures

The actors collaborated with the filmmakers when it came to scenes and dialogue, throwing out ideas and occasionally improvising. In one scene, Billy Crystal cracks a joke about pecan pie that wasn’t in the script.

Caught off guard, Meg Ryan starts to laugh. She glances to Rob Reiner, who was off-screen while they filmed, and continues with the scene after getting his okay. The entire thing ended up making it to the final cut of the film.

Billy Crystal Improved The Opening Scene With Improv

Harry offers Sally some grapes while she drives.
Columbia Pictures
Columbia Pictures

Sally and Harry’s relationship, and subsequently the entire movie, all starts with a college road trip that the two unintentionally end up taking together. The scene sets precedence for how the two will interact for the rest of the movie.

Billy Crystal wanted to be sure that Harry came across as unappealing as possible to further emphasize the contrast between his character and the prim and proper Sally. To help Meg feel more authentically annoyed, he ate his grapes extra loudly and spit seeds out the window.

The Pictionary Scene Was Completely Improvised

Sally attempts to convey
Columbia Pictures
Columbia Pictures

For the scene where the cast plays Pictionary, Rob Reiner wanted the game to come off as authentic. Since the fun of the game relies on the players being in the dark as they frantically try to peice together what the phrase is, Meg Ryan was given the clue “baby talk” and that’s all.

None of the actors had scripted lines for the scene so that everything would happen naturally. Meg had to think on the spot how to draw something as ambiguous as “baby talk.” The unusual phrase was a perfect choice to keep things in the scene interesting.

The Soundtrack Earned Harry Connick Jr. A Grammy

Harry Connick Jr. sings and play piano onstage.
Rick Diamond/WireImage/Getty Images
Rick Diamond/WireImage/Getty Images

When Rob Reiner heard Harry Connick Jr., he knew that the artist could set the perfect mood for the film When Harry Met Sally... Though Harry is now one of the best-selling male artists in the U.S. along with being a renowned actor, at the time he was still young when the movie came out.

At just 22-years-old, the talented Harry got his big break, providing a soundtrack that included his rendition of classics such as “It Had To Be You.” The double-platinum album won him his first Grammy.

Rob And Billy’s Friendship Aided The Script

Rob Reiner and Billy Crystal stand at a podium onstage.
Frank Micelotta/ImageDirect/Getty Images
Frank Micelotta/ImageDirect/Getty Images

Rob Reiner and Billy Crystal had already been friends for years by the time they worked on When Harry Met Sally… together. Knowing Rob well assisted Billy in his portrayal of a cynical friend, since part of Harry’s character was based on his friend.

The two of them also helped Nora with her script. She integrated some of their bickerings into the lines. She also included scenes where Harry and Sally are on the phone with one another while watching the same thing on TV. This detail was borrowed from Rob and Billy’s real-life relationship.

Billy Crystal Intentionally Isolated Himself

Harry and Sally talk in the park.
Columbia Pictures
Columbia Pictures

Different actors have various ways of getting into character for a particular performance. One thing that Billy Crystal did to commit to the character of Harry was isolate himself while onset.

While he was able to draw from his friend and college Rob Reiner’s experience, to create the emotions inside of himself required creating some distance at times. He would keep himself in his hotel room, away from the cast and crew, to try and capture the essence of a lonely, divorced man.

No One Knows What “Auld Lang Syne” Means

Harry and Sally smile at one another in the middle of a crowd on New Year's Eve.
Columbia Pictures
Columbia Pictures

In the endearing scene when Harry finally professes his love for Sally, Harry quickly breaks the romantic moment with his usual chattering. He refers to the song “Auld Lang Syne,” which is playing overhead.

The tune is a familiar one since it’s often played at the turn of a New Year. However, as Harry mentions, it’s hard to wrap your head around the song’s meaning. The diversion may have been suggested by Rob Reiner since his former character, Mike, in All in the Family also questioned its meaning.

The Sally And Harry Interview Was Improved

Harry and Sally sit on a coach smiling while being interviewed.
Columbia Pictures
Columbia Pictures

In the final interview scene, Harry and Sally are the ones being interviewed. They mention that they were married three months prior and predominantly talk about the coconut cake they had with chocolate on the side.

If you ever wondered why this scene seemed so random, it’s probably because the entire thing was improvised. Like other improvised scenes, leaving it unscripted highlighted their chemistry and served to show how in love they seem regardless of what they’re talking about.

They Almost Didn’t End Up Together

Harry and Sally smile and embrace.
Columbia Pictures
Columbia Pictures

The filmmaker of When Harry Met Sally, Rob Reiner, was at the top of his game at the time. He had just put out two major eighties classics: Stand By Me and The Princess Bride. He had also spent almost a decade starring in the sitcom All in the Family.

While Reiner’s career was a success, his love life had tanked when his ten-year marriage to Penny Marshall ended. This may be why the original ending left Harry and Sally parting ways for good. Then a crew member introduced him to Michele Singer and the two have been together ever since. Their love inspired the charming ending we know today.

They Briefly Considered Doing A Sequel

Billy Crystal smiles at Meg Ryan for a promo photo.
Columbia Pictures
Columbia Pictures

Will all of the film’s success and its on-going fan base, it seems natural that the filmmakers considered making a sequel. Those who adore the movie would probably be happy to see more of the irresistable Harry and Sally.

The only problem is that no one could think of a good enough idea for a second film. On the bright side, the filmmakers have been sure to preserve the integrity of the classic movie, rather than rushing into a sequel that would tarnish the film. Billy Crystal has been credited with saying that that the movie. “makes you believe in happily ever after.”