25 Things You Never Knew About 'When Harry Met Sally...'

Fun facts for the anniversary of the Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal classic.


More than 30 years ago, Columbia Pictures expanded the limited release of an unheralded romantic comedy to do battle against two big budget behemoths already in theaters: Batman and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. The little rom-com was garnering critical attention and strong word of mouth for its great script and universal central theme: Can men and women just be friends?

That movie was When Harry Met Sally... of course, and it would go on to become one of the surprise hits of 1989. It raked in over $90 million (on a reported $15 million budget) and snagged a Best Original Screenplay Oscar Nomination for writer Nora Ephron. 

25 Things You Never Knew About 'When Harry Met Sally...'

But what the movie really did was penetrate the zeitgeist at the time. It pulled no punches discussing sex and empowered its female characters to do it more. It was Seinfeld before Seinfeld, sociologically eviscerating dating and life scenarios into hilarious generalities. When Harry Met Sally... popularized the concept of the high-maintenance girlfriend and the rebound relationship, among others. It was frank, it was funny, it was true, and it resonated with audiences for all of those reasons.

It's been a quarter century since director Rob Reiner's little date night movie became a mainstream cultural sensation, but it's just as relevant and fun to experience today as it was then. Title stars Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal have glorious chemistry and even if you can't get down with the idea of a relationship movie, anyone should be able to appreciate the actors' subtle comedic performances and Ephron's sharp writing style. For those of us who love the film already, there's no better time than an anniversary to relive it all over again. And to get you psyched, here are 25 fun facts you probably never knew about the production, the filmmakers, and the actors themselves:

1. The very famous fake orgasm scene was filmed at Katz's Deli on New York's E. Houston Street. The table where the scene was filmed now has a sign above it that reads, "Where Harry met Sally... hope you have what she had!"

2. The woman who says, "I'll have what she's having" after Sally's fake orgasm is the director's mother, Estelle Reiner. The line was voted number 33 on the American Film Institute's list of "Best 100 Movie Quotes in American Film." It's the only quote on the list delivered by a non-actor and it was written by Billy Crystal.

3. The original script called for Harry and Sally to just talk about women faking orgasms until Meg Ryan suggested Sally actually fake an orgasm at the table. Reiner loved the idea and put it into the script. It was shot many times and Ryan had to fake orgasms for hours.

4. In an interview with National Public Radio on November 2, 2004, Ephron credited Ryan not only with the idea of faking an orgasm in the restaurant scene, but also with the idea of setting it in public in the first place. Reiner has admitted that, at a test screening, all of the women in the audience were laughing while all of the men were silent. 

5. The segments of married couples telling the stories of how they met are real stories Reiner discovered for the film. But the actors are actors, not the real people.

6. Harry Burns is based on Reiner. Ephron interviewed him before production and used his insights when writing the character. Reiner was coming out of a divorce and was depressed and loving it, like Harry.

7. While writing the script, Reiner once said, "You know how women have a base of makeup? I have a base of depression. Sometimes I sink below it. Sometimes I rise above it." Since Harry is based on depressed Rob, Ephron threw the line into the script, but it was cut somewhere along the line.

The late, great Nora Ephron at a screening of <em>Julie & Julia</em> on July 28, 2009 in Westwood, California. (Getty Images)
The late, great Nora Ephron at a screening of Julie & Julia on July 28, 2009 in Westwood, California. (Getty Images)

8. Sally Albright is based on Nora Ephron, who's optimistic, cheerful, a control freak, and the type of person who's "just fine" with everything.

9. Sally's picky eating habits are also based on Ephron. Years after the movie came out, the writer was on a plane and ordered something very precise. The stewardess looked at her and asked "Have you ever seen the movie When Harry Met Sally...?" Sally's picky eating habits were put into the movie after Reiner saw Ephron ordering food in a restaurant. When he brought it up, Ephron said, "I just like it the way I like it," a line which was put into the movie.

10. The film highlights the characters' lack of insight with meaningful locations. Harry and Sally are as blind to romance as they are to the love growing between them. The same logic was used for Harry's apartment. The windows overlook the Empire State Building and the view is either the most beautiful or most lonely in the world.

11. The line "But, I would be proud to partake of your pecan pie," was improvised by Crystal which made Ryan laugh and look to her right where Reiner silently prompted her to go with it and not break character.

12. Harry is shown reading Stephen King's Misery, which would become Reiner's next project.

13. The off-camera voice that says, "Hey everybody, 10 seconds until New Year," is Reiner.

25 Things You Never Knew About 'When Harry Met Sally...'

14. Albert Brooks turned down the role of Harry Burns.

15. Molly Ringwald was offered the role of Sally, but was forced to decline due to a busy schedule. She would later go on to play Sally in the stage version of the film in 2004 in London. Reiner initially envisioned actress Susan Dey for the role of Sally. When she declined, he considered Elizabeth Perkins and Elizabeth McGovern, but Meg Ryan convinced him to give her the role.

16. Ephron was happy with how the film turned out, but was never happy with the title. She said it was the one thing she would go back and fix if she could.

17. Working titles for the movie 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. Just Friends was settled on at one point before When Harry Met Sally... won out.

25 Things You Never Knew About 'When Harry Met Sally...'

18. The movie is ranked sixth on the American Film Institute's list of the 10 greatest films in the "Romantic Comedy" category.

19. During the last scene, Harry doesn't understand what the song "Auld Lang Syne" is about. Some years earlier, in 1971, Rob Reiner also questioned the meaning of the song when portraying Mike Stivic on an episode of All in the Family.

20. Director Rob Reiner and producer Andrew Scheinman are credited on some drafts of the script.

21. When posed the film's central question, "Can men and women just be friends?" Ryan replied, "Yes, men and women can just be friends. I have a lot of platonic (male) friends, and sex doesn't get in the way." Crystal said, "I'm a little more optimistic than Harry. But I think it is difficult. Men basically act like stray dogs in front of a supermarket. I do have platonic (women) friends, but not best, best, best friends."

22. In the first draft of the film, Harry and Sally did not end up together. It was only later, that Ephron and Reiner decided that Harry and Sally belonged together. Although, they've acknowledged it's not realistic.

23. In early 2004, the film was adapted for the stage in a production starring Luke Perry and Alyson Hannigan.

24. The When Harry Met Sally... soundtrack features a then unknown Harry Connick, Jr. Bobby Colomby, the drummer for Blood, Sweat & Tears, was a friend of Reiner's and recommended Connick. Reiner was struck by the pianist's voice and how he sounded like a young Frank Sinatra.

25. When Harry Met Sally... was the 11th most lucrative film of 1989, ahead of The Little Mermaid, Christmas Vacation, Uncle Buck, and Field of Dreams

Managing Editor, Zimbio — entertainment writer, critic, and reporter since 2011. Bay Area. Origin: Shark City.