When HARRY MET SALLY, arguably Hollywood’s best romantic comedy ever, premiered in L.A. on July 13, 1989, rom-coms were very popular, unlike today when they’ve turned into streaming content.
SALLY had everything going for it, including the right title. Rob Reiner, who directed & co-produced, made THIS IS SPINAL TAP. The screenplay was by Nora Ephron, who wrote HEARTBURN. And it had the perfect cast with Billy Crystal, Meg Ryan, Carrie Fisher & Bruno Kirby — plus Reiner’s mother, Estelle, in a bit part that made the movie memorable.
The Columbia/Castle Rock Entertainment film, which cost $16M, grossed a then impressive $93M. Ephron, who’d spent five years writing it, was happy with the movie but didn’t like its title. What to call it had been a question mark from the start. Reiner, Ephron & co-producer Andrew Scheinman came up with such possibilities as: “Harry, This Is Sally” “Boy Meets Girl,” “Just Friends,” “It Had To Be You,” “Playing Melancholy Baby,” “Words of Love,” “Blue Moon” & “How They Met.”
With any of those titles, the results might have been different. Many actors were considered for the roles that, fortunately, went to Crystal & Ryan. Tom Hanks reportedly passed on playing Harry because the movie seemed too lightweight. Bill Murray, Jeff Bridges, Michael Keaton & Harrison Ford were others who could be for Harry.
As for Sally, Reiner’s first choice was Susan Dey from TV’s THE PARTRIDGE FAMILY. When she passed, he approached Elizabeth Perkins & Elizabeth McGovern as well as Molly Ringwald, who was too busy then but wound up playing Sally in a 2004 stage adaptation at London’s Theatre Royal Haymarket.
Ryan as Sally is depicted in the movie as being very fussy ordering in restaurants, which Ephron modelled after herself. Long after SALLY had opened, Ephron was ordering very precisely on a plane when the frustrated stewardess asked, “Have you ever seen the movie WHEN HARRY MET SALLY?”
33 years later, SALLY’s still remembered for one brief scene in New York’s Katz’s Deli where Crystal & Ryan are lunching and talking about whether women can fake orgasms. Ryan proceeds to prove they can, attracting attention from everyone, including an elderly lady, played by Estelle Reiner, ordering at the next table, who says, “I’ll have what she’s having.”
The line originated as a suggestion by Crystal, according to Ephron, who credits Ryan for suggesting it be done as a restaurant scene with her actually acting out the orgasm. Katz’s still has a plaque on that table, which reads, “Where Harry met Sally…hope you have what she had!”
“Every woman on the planet has faked an orgasm, which was a shock to Harry and, believe it or not, it was a shock to Rob Reiner when I told him!” – Nora Ephron