The True Love Story Behind When Harry Met Sally

Have you seen When Harry Met Sally? If yes, we are sure you thought if it was a true story. Well, the movie is not wholly based on a true story but is inspired by it. Behind the scenes love story that imbibed on the sets of When Harry Met Sally is fascinating, and it could be said that it played a big part in deciding the climax of the movie.

According to the original script of When Harry Met Sally…, the two lead characters Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal, were not meant to stay together at last. What changed the climax was the love story of Rob Reiner and Michele Singer that took place behind the set.

Billy Crystal / Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal / Meg Ryan / Billy Crystal, Rob Reiner and Meg Ryan
Source: Getty Images

The film’s movie director, Reiner, was aged 40 when this movie’s first seeds were sown. Reiner also acted as an actor in the movie All in the Family. However, he was more into the direction, and his first direction piece was a documentary named ‘This is Spinal Tap.’ This was in the mid-80s. After that, he wanted to direct a romantic comedy.

Was When Harry Met Sally based on Reiner’s life

It is said that his personal life inspired Reiner to an extent as he had multiple relationships in his life. In his words, “I was in the middle of my single life. I’d been out a number of times, all these disastrous, confusing relationships one after another. And I thought, ‘This is an area I’ve never explored. Of course, it’s been explored by everybody else. But what do I think about this? What would my take on this be?”

Billy Crystal and Rob Reiner attend an event.
Photo by Michael Loccisano/WireImage/Getty Images

Reiner was married in the 70s for a decade. He was then divorced and stayed single for another decade. You will know what happened next as you read further.

Nora Ephron’s Importance in Making the Film

Nora Ephron is the daughter of two great Hollywood screenwriters, Henry and Phoebe. Nora herself is a journalist and author. She had written one screenplay, Silkwood, when Reiner and producer Andy visited her for lunch with their film idea. However, she rejected their first idea of the film.

Nora Ephron during a press event.
Photo by Vera Anderson/WireImage/Getty Images

She was rather intrigued by the second idea based on ‘Does Sex Come In The Way Of Friendship.’ She interviewed both of them to know their experience with love. This was when she came up with the idea of an endearing and pessimistic character, Harry. Sally’s character idea was somewhere gained from Ephron’s life. In short, Nora Ephron turned to be the writer of the film.

Reiner and Michele Singer’s Played a Big Part in the Film

Michele Singer was a photographer and friend of Susan Ringo, who bought Michele the sets of When Harry Met Sally… one fine day. To become an essential part of the film story, Michele was the reality crossover the film needed to become a hit.

Rob Reiner and Michele Singer attend a premiere.
Photo by David Livingston/Getty Images

Both of them became good friends in the mid-70s. Their bonding also inspired them to provide reality scenes to the movie, like when Harry and Sally watch the television together. Also, the movie’s famous dialogue, “I’ll have what she’s having,” was the courtesy of Reiner and Michele.

The Film Also Helped Reiner Find New Love

When Harry when Sally… was based on Reiner’s troubled love life, the film helped Reiner find love again. Berry Sonnenfeld, or his fiancée, turned out to be the Cupid Reiner needed. Berry Sonnenfeld was the cinematographer of When Harry Met Sally… and Michele was the friend of his then finance Susan Ringo.

Rob Reiner and Michele Singer Reiner attend The Human Rights Campaign event.
Photo by Phillip Faraone/FilmMagic/Getty Images

“I know this girl. Her name is Michele Singer, and you’re going to marry her.” Said Berry to Reiner, to which Reiner replied, “What, are you nuts.” Berry and Susan married later on and are still a successful pair. Photography in New York began in October 1987, and that’s when Susan bought Michele to the set.

When Reiner First Met Michele Singer and Was Bewitched at First Sight

In an interview with New Your Times, Reiner once shared, “I’ll never forget it. It was a scene on a stoop in front of a brownstone. Billy and Meg are arguing. And I look over, and I see this girl, and whoo! I was attracted immediately. And Barry says, ‘That’s Michele.’ I said, ‘That’s Michele?’”

Reiner embraces Meg Ryan while on the film set.
Source: Columbia Pictures

He also recalled an exciting and hard-hitting conversation between the two when Reiner crashed into the group lunch of Singer. He threw a pickup line saying, “You know, you really shouldn’t smoke. It’s not good for your health.”. To this, Singer replied just as Crystal would have, “And you shouldn’t be so f***ing fat.”

How When Harry Met Sally… Ending Changed

It was Reiner who was influenced by his current love life that made him change the ending. The original script by Ephron was only seven pages long, according to which Harry and Sally were meant to meet each other by chance on the streets seven years later. They would catch up on their lives to depart again forever.

Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan in a scene from When Harry Met Sally.
Source: Columbia Pictures

But Michele’s entry into his life made Reiner believe that the ending could be changed. He said, “It wasn’t until I met Michelle that I thought, ‘Okay, that’s how it could work for me,’ and I changed the ending to where they got together.”

Rumor On Crystal Improvising the Original Lines of the Script

It was rumored that one of the famous fines of Harry that goes like, “I came here tonight because when you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible,” was Crystal’s original.

Harry and Sally, played by Crystal and Ryan, dance at the New Year's Eve party.
Source: Columbia Pictures

However, none of it was true as they were the original lines written by Ephron. Even the original script copy from August 23, 1988, mentions the same lines. It also mentions the directions of the scene, which read as, “She turns to go. She stops dead in her tracks. It’s Harry.”

Further Hints in the Movie Inspired by Ephron’s Habits

Well, if you have seen the movie, you very well know how the movie ended after their final meet. If not, we tell you the ending was something special and the most loved part of the film. The movie ended as both were seen getting interviewed and sharing their love story.

Harry and Sally are sitting down for lunch in a restaurant.
Source: Columbia Pictures

One of the scenes where Sally tells about the foods in detail was inspired by Ephron’s food habits. When Reiner first met Ephron and was impressed by how she ordered food, he immediately declared, “this has to be in the movie.”

The Original Idea Behind Couples’ Interviews

The couple’s interview at the end is the most instinctive idea and also the most loved part. It was not in the original script, and the idea for it again came from reality. When Reiner met his friend Alan Horn (at Alan’s home), the idea was imbibed.

An older couple sits on a couch as they are being interviewed in a scene from When Harry Met Sally.
Source: YouTube

Reiner asked Alan’s father Sol how he met Alan’s mother, and Reiner describes it as “Suddenly Sol came to life.” Sol recalled meeting his wife in a Horn and Hardart restaurant and how he remarked, saying he knew, “how he was going to marry that woman.”

The Other Couple Story Inspirations

Sol Horn’s name was also mentioned in the credits as ‘inspiration’ at the movie’s end. There is also an interesting story behind the other couple of story interviews in the movie. The filmmakers wanted to shoot the real-life couples telling their love stories, but they realized that would make people camera shy.

An older couple tells their love story in a scene from When Harry Met Sally.
Source: Pinterest

So, they instead recorded their stories and allowed actors to recite them. Some of these stories were personal, like Ephron’s parent’s love story, best man at Reiner’s parent’s wedding story, and others. The end was a hit in all prospects.

What’s With the Three Dots at the End of the Movie Name

The movie title When Harry Met Sally… is always accompanied by three dots, i.e., the ellipsis at the end.

A movie poster for When Harry Met Sally.
Source: Columbia Pictures

Ephron says that the movie is about a couple’s beginning, and it’s upon the viewer to guess the rest. Crystal once also mentioned to Ephron about the sequel, but they were always stuck at, “what are you going to do?” or “Where do you go?”

Are The Lead Characters Dating As Well?

It was not before the year 2014 the fans were able to see both the lead characters Ryan and Crystal together during the 41st Annual Chaplin Award Gala. Reiner was also honored for his masterpiece film.

Billy Crystal crouches behind Meg Ryan while posing for the press at an event.
Photo by Gregg DeGuire/FilmMagic/Getty Images

Both Ryan and Crystal started catching up through email when they were informed that Reiner was being recognized for the film. Ryan also went to Crystal’s home a day before the event. Crystal is one of his interviews, mentioned recalling the day, “It was like it had never stopped. We both went, ‘Isn’t this something?’ We just fell into each other all over again.”

On the Day of the Final Event

Finally, the final event’s day came a day after, and Ryan and Crystal met together after 25 years as a couple. They were welcomed on the stage to the tunes of the film’s opening track, ‘It Had to be you.’ In Crystal’s words, “Nobody had any idea we were together. They snuck her in and out of Lincoln Center!”

Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal speak onstage at the 41st Annual Chaplin Award Gala
Photo by Jim Spellman/WireImage/Getty Images

He also recalled the lovely moments spent on the event night, saying, “We just started talking, told stories, overlapped each other, giggled with each other.” When the crowd demanded the sequel, they answered, “For those of you who wanted a sequel all these years, well, this is it.”

What Happened Next

When they started to get off the stage, they could see the New Year scene from the movie playing at the back. Crystal recalls saying, “We just held hands and looked at it, and [my character is] telling her, ‘You’re the last person I want to talk to before I go to sleep at night…when you want the rest of your life to start right away — you know, all of those great lines.

Crystal, Reiner, and Ryan take a break on the set of the film.
Source: Columbia Pictures

He also added, “And we just looked at each other and just smiled and hugged each other. It was, like, perfect. It was perfect.” A week after the event, the true love story that brewed behind the scenes was also successful as Reiner and Singer celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary.

Wonder what the main cast of the When Harry Met Sally… movie is now? No worries, we got you covered

Meg Ryan (Sally Albright)

One of the mega role actor Meg Ryan is 59 now. She played alongside lead character Billy Crystal as Sally Albright. She was 28 when she was cast in the movie. She was nominated for the Golden Globe award for the film, which also helped her gain traction in her Hollywood career.

Meg Ryan attends a public event.
Photo by Pier Marco Tacca/Getty Images

Ryan did other popular roles in films like Sleepless in Seattle and You’ve Got Mail. She soon realized that it wasn’t the acting she was fond of but the direction. She directed her first drama in 2015, Ithaca. She is currently working on a comedy show, as per reports. She was last seen in a TV show in the year 2018 in Picture Paris.

Billy Crystal (Harry Burns)

Billy Crystal, the heart and soul of the film, is 73 years of age now. The beloved Harry from the film has been honored with numerous awards for his glorious presence in the film. He was also nominated for the Golden Globe award.

Billy Crystal attends an event.
Photo by Vincent Sandoval/Getty Images

He regarded When Harry Met Sally… as one of the most sought films amongst all the films he did. He labels it as a film that is passed on through the generations like a favorite book. After his role as Harry in 1989, he also became one of the favorite hosts for Award events. He has hosted up to nine Academy Award shows. He is also the author of five books. He also did a comedy show under his name, Spend the Night with Billy Crystal. In the year 2021, he worked in a TV series show Monsters at work. It is announced that he is currently working on Which Witch?

Carrie Fisher (Marie)

Carrie Fisher was 33 when she was cast in the movie without giving an audition. She played the role of Sally’s best friend, Marie. She gave a remarkable performance and was a key factor in bringing Harry and Sally together. Her other influential role was seen in Star Wars, where she acted as Princess Leia. Sadly, she passed away too soon at the age of 60 in the year 2016 due to cardiac arrest. She shockingly passed away a day after her mother had a fatal stroke.

Carrie Fisher attends the 54th New York Film Festival.
Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images

Her cast remembered her. On her passing away, Crystal remembered her saying, “She was brilliantly talented, a wonderful actress and an amazing writer. It’s a terrible loss.” She is survived by her daughter, Billie Lourd. She married Austen Rydell and had one child. Carrie was nominated twice in Emmys and won a Grammy award as well.

Bruno Kirby (Jess)

Bruno played the role of the boyfriend of Fisher as Jess. In the story, she was first set up with Sally. But on a double date, Jess finds himself in love with Fisher, and the connection between the two went well. Kirby was seen in films like City Slickers, Good morning, The Godfather Part II, Vietnam, and others.

Bruno Kirby speaks during a press conference.
Photo by John Sciulli/WireImage/Getty Images

He passed away in 2006 due to complications from Leukemia, just two years after he married Lynn Sellers, My Girl actress. He was 57 when he died. He was 40 when he was cast in the film when Harry Met Sally….

Lisa Jane Persky (Alice)

Alice played a red-headed married girl that counseled Harry and Sally in the film. The then 34-year-old Lisa was later cast in various other films, documentaries, and TV shows. Her first on-screen kiss was with Quentin Tarantino in Destiny Turns on the Radio, released in 1995. She also worked in Tv shows like the X-files, Private Eye, The Golden Girls, King of the Hill, and NYPD Blue.

Lisa Jane Persky attends the 22nd CDGA.
Photo by Stefanie Keenan/Getty Images

Her talent knew no bounds. She also was a fine art photographer and a journalist in New York City. She also worked as an editor and fine director for the Los Angeles Review of Books in 2010. She was also a big part of the documentary directed by Jeffrey Schwartz in the year 2013. She is now 66 years old.

Steven Ford (Joe)

Steven Ford played the character of Joe in When Harry Met Sally…. In the film, he was Harry’s neighbor and was later seen dating Sally five years after the road trip to New York. In real life, Ford is a powerful man. He is the son of former President Gerald Ford. His mother is a former First Lady, Betty Ford. He also played the role of Andy Richards in the CBS soap opera as a private investigator in the Young and the Restless, released in the year 1981.

A portrait of Steven Ford at home.
Source: Tumblr

He also appeared in other films like Starship Troopers, Eraser (1996), and Heat (1995). He studied at Utah State University. His last film was Transformers, released in the year 2007. He is currently 65 and is a major contributor to Gerald R. Ford Foundation as a board of Trustees.

Harley Jane Kozak (Helen)

Harley played the role of Helen. She was 32 when she was granted the role. Before this, she was cast in Arachnophobia (1990) and Parenthood (1989). She is from Pennsylvania and married and divorced Greg Aldisert and Van Saantvord.

Harley Jane Kozak poses for a portrait.
Source: Tumblr

She has three daughters, and the eldest was born in the year 2000. She has written four novels till now and has been awarded multiple awards for the same. She received Agatha Award and Anthony Award for her debut novel ‘Dating Dead Men.’ In the last year, she was seen in a TV Show ‘The Show Must Go Online. She has worked in multiple TV shows before as well.

Other Behind the Scenes Stories of When Harry when Sally…

The rom-com based on whether men and women can stay friends without intimacy screwing everything up has interesting behind-the-scenes moments.

Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal pose as Harry and Sally.
Source: Columbia Pictures

If you are a true fan of When Harry Met Sally… we bet you can’t miss out on these. Nevertheless, the more you know about your favorite film, the closer you feel to it. By now, you already know how the director of the movie and the writer threw some pieces of their life into the movie.

Princess Diana Attended The Film Premiere

The royalty that Princess Diana bought with her to the When Harry Met Sally… premiere made the film into royalty itself. In the year 1989, Princess Diana was one of amongst few special guests invited to its premiere.

Crystal and Ryan greet Princess Diana at the Premiere of When Harry met Sally.
Photo by Kent Gavin/Daily Mirror/Mirrorpix/Getty Images

Lady Diana was also seen in the most lighthearted mood. She was seen talking to Crystal, “I’d be laughing a lot more, except I know everybody’s looking at me.” Princess Diana also asked Reiner for a VHS copy as she wanted to watch it with her friends.

Ephron’s Comeback to Newsweek for Ill-Treating Her

The writer of the film, Nora, in the year 1962 applied at Newsweek as an aspiring writer. However, they refused to hire her as a female writer and instead granted her a job as a mail girl. She was brave enough to aside the voice against the indiscrimination.

Nora Ephron gestures while speaking during a 'Women in Literature' conference.
Photo by Jack Manning/New York Times Co./Getty Images

She, along with other female aspirations of Newsweek, filed a class-action lawsuit against Newsweek. Watch out for the Amazon show Good Girls Revolt to know the rest of the story. Ephron never looked back then and has a fantastic rom-com classic besides when Harry When Sally. Unfortunately, she died at the age of 71.

Billy Crystal and Reiner (movie director) were best friends in real-time

Yes, maybe that made the movie even better. As the story is based on Reiner’s love life, Crystal portrayed them as a big part of them even better. Some of the scenes of the movie were based on Reiner and Crystal’s friendship as well.

Janice Crystal, Billy Crystal, Rob Reiner, and date at a premiere.
Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./Ron Galella Collection/Getty Images

Crystal also mentioned in an interview that it was easier to play the role as he witnessed the divorce of Reiner firsthand. Not only this, but Carrie Fisher also (Alice in the movie) was best friends with Reiner’s ex-wife Marshall. Making this movie an adaptation of reality is not one but in many ways.

Deciding on a Title was Difficult Than the Script

More than deciding the script, it was the title that demanded more attention. The script was ready as well for the filming, but what about the title? There were many titles Ephron could think of. Her first choice was How They Met. She also had Boys Meets Girl, Words of Love, Just Friends, and the most popular Harry, this is Sally.

Ryan and Crystal are squatting on the floor in a scene from the film.
Source: Columbia Pictures

They were so confused that Reiner even held the title naming contest. Anyone who guesses the winning title would receive a case of champagne. Ultimately, they went for When Harry Met Sally with an ellipsis. By now, you know what those ellipses mean if you read this fully.

But Does Ryan and Crystal Agree to the Movie’s Central Question?

Can men and women be friends without getting sex in the way? As per Ryan’s interview with New York Times, “Yes, men and women can just be friends. I have a lot of platonic (male) friends, and sex doesn’t get in the way.”

Ryan and Crystal are sitting on a park bench in a still from the film.
Source: Columbia Pictures

Crystal is quite doubtful of the same and says, “I’m a little more optimistic than Harry. But I think it is difficult. Men act like stray dogs in front of a supermarket. I do have platonic (women) friends, but not best, best, best friends.”

Crystal Wasn’t Sure it Would be a Hit

When Harry Met Sally was released, it clashed with some popular films like Batman, Ghostbusters II, Indiana Jones, and the Last Crusade. Crystal was sure a rom-com would be the last in the mind of viewers with such movies in line.

A portrait of Billy Crystal.
Photo by George Rose/Getty Images

Luckily, it wasn’t true. The people wanted the breath of fresh air When Harry Met Sally… was. A story that looked like no fiction (which in most ways it was not). It was initially released in few theatres only. However, it was released across the country with word of mouth and made a whopping $93 million.

The ‘I’ll Have What She is Having’ Dialogue was Shot at a Real Restaurant

Remember the Meg faking it scene when Harry and Sally met in a restaurant. It was actually shot in an authentic restaurant. We know you just want the name of the restaurant. It was shot in Katz Delicatessen, a famous deli in New York City amongst the veterans.

Meg Ryan is making a scene in the deli in a still from When Harry Met Sally.
Source: Columbia Pictures

After the iconic scene, it has become more famous, and they even hold contests for When Harry Met Sally… enthusiastic. It was a big contest with hashtags like #katzsdeli #fakeitlikemeg etc. The deli owner chose not one but five winners who could match the Meg’s faking scene.

The Four-Way Phone Call Was Not Easy to Shoot on Those Days

Talking about the famous four-way phone call among lead casts Harry, Sally, Jess, and Marie, Reiner says, “On the surface, that scene looks like the simplest thing in the world.” They had to shoot for the whole day for a single scene of 2 minutes.

Carrie Fisher and Bruno Kirby talk on separate phones in a scene from the film.
Source: Columbia Pictures

They had to take long 61 takes before it was finalized. They had to record three separate scenes with three cameras on three sets all at once.

Reiner Made a Brief Appearance in the Film

Could you catch the movie director in one of the New Year’s Eve scenes? Not-so-famous lines, ‘Hey, everybody, ten seconds until New Year’ are actually said aloud by Reiner. Reiner, the movie director, was an actor previously and was cast in All in The Family.

Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal embrace in the final shot of the film.
Source: Columbia Pictures

In one of All In The Family episodes, he had the same dialogue as in the movie When Harry Met Sally… What coincidence.

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