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The Behind The Scene Stories That Made "When Harry Met Sally" Unforgettable
The 1989 classic, “When Harry Met Sally'', easily earns a spot on the rom-com Mount Rushmore, thanks to the collective genius of Nora Ephron, Meg Ryan, and Billy Crystal. However, the movie would very likely not exist without Rob Reiner. The titan of Hollywood teamed up with Ephron to mine his romantic experiences with ex-wife Penny Marshall and others to create the feel-good classic.
Crucially, Reiner also interviewed a number of elderly couples, ensuring a universal love story legible to the masses. We’d all like to have what she’s having and here’s how they got there.
Casting What Ifs
The “When Harry Met Sally” movie we all love and adore could have turned out very differently. For starters, Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal were far from the studio’s first choices. On the male side, they hoped to cast Albert Brooks, Tom Hanks, or Michael Keaton.
Brooks felt it was too similar to Woody Allen movies while Keaton’s hands were full with Batman. For Sally, Reiner hoped to cast Susan Dey, Elizabeth Perkins, or Molly Ringwald. As is often the case, scheduling conflicts gave us the dream pairing of Crystal and Ryan.
The working title of the film saw more than a few attempts, starting with “Boy Meets Girl,” “Harry, This Is Sally,” and “How They Met.” None met Ephron’s lofty standards which inspired Reiner to turn to the crew. The producer offered a case of bubbly to anyone who could top their list of lackluster titles. Eventually, someone came up with “When Harry Met Sally” and earned themselves an excuse to pop bottles.
Real Life Crossover
The essence of what made “When Harry Met Sally” great was its realism and true-to-life feel; critically much of that was by design. Ephron began her process by interviewing Reiner. As he recalled, “She was like a reporter, and I told her all these stories of different things that I had been through. And she wrote this stuff down.”
Another real-life relationship that helped lay the foundation to success? The bromance of Reiner and Crystal. Apparently, the two would spend many hours on the phone, which obviously helped bring to life the various friendships depicted in the movie.
Stranger Than Fiction
Of course, it always helps credibility when the principles have actually lived through aspects of the characters. For instance, Sally’s hyper-specific food orders? Apparently, that’s how Ephron orders in real life.
Amusingly, Ryan and Crystal diverge slightly when it comes to platonic relationships with the opposite sex. As Ryan said, “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, on the other hand, sees it through a male’s perspective: “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.”
“I’ll Have What She’s Having”
Obviously, the movie’s most iconic scene features Ryan faking an orgasm (at Katz Deli no less)! Amazingly, we may have never got that memory searing moment without Ryan or Crystal. Reportedly, it was Ryan’s idea to drop the Big O and Crystal’s off the cuff brilliance that spawned the unparalleled “I’ll have what she’s having” line. Fun fact: it was actually Reiner’s mother who delivered that famous line!
In the script, the pair were slated to just discuss the topic of fake orgasms. One person who especially enjoyed the scene was none other than Princess Diana, who attended the premiere. Later she told Crystal, “I’d be laughing a lot more, except I know everybody’s looking at me.”
Taking Down Tough Competition
Even though the movie raked in close to $100 million, all involved were on the edge of their seat come opening weekend. In fact, Crystal felt the movie was doomed, thanks to the lineup of heavy hitters it faced. “When Harry Met Sally” went up against the murderer's row of “Batman”, “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade,” and “Ghostbusters II.”
Thankfully, audiences couldn’t get enough of the palpable chemistry between Ryan and Crystal. As Ephron said, “it has no safety net… It entirely depends on your caring about those two people. There's no real plot. We were so lucky.”
Tags: Billy Crystal | Meg Ryan | Nora Ephron | Penny Marshall | Rob Reiner
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