Is When Harry Met Sally Based on a True Story?

Directed by Rob Reiner, ‘When Harry Met Sally’ is a romantic comedy film that revolves around the titular characters — Harry Burns (Billy Crystal) and Sally Albright (Meg Ryan). Their first of the many encounters occur when they graduate from the University of Chicago, and Sally gives Harry a lift to New York, making for a long and argumentative ride between the two. Once they reach New York, they both go their separate ways. However, over the next decade or so, they keep bumping into each other and form a close bond eventually.

Soon, they start sharing the intricacies of their lives — their hopes, dreams, successes, and failures — and slowly start falling in love. Despite the connection they find between them, it is not certain if that would be enough to sustain their new relationship once they sleep together. The movie might be a rom-com, but it follows quite a unique storyline altogether, keeping the viewers engaged and curious throughout. It is natural for you to wonder if the film is linked to reality or not. Well, we have all the information to put your doubts to bed!

Is When Harry Met Sally a True Story?

‘When Harry Met Sally’ is partially based on a true story. The inspiration for the two titular characters and their relationship primarily came from the characteristics and friendship between two of the most important cast members — the screenwriter Nora Ephron and the director Rob Reiner. As you might have guessed already, the character of Harry is loosely inspired by Reiner, while Ephron based the character of Sally on herself and some of her friends. When Reiner conceived the idea for the film, he, along with producer Andrew Scheinman, decided to put a couple of concepts in front of Nora Ephron.

While Ephron rejected the idea during their first meet, Reiner pitched it again the next time they met. His idea — revolving around sex coming in the way of friendship between a man and woman — caught her attention. Intrigued by the idea, Ephron interviewed both Reiner and Andrew to know about their experience with love and life as single men in detail. This was how she came up with the iconic character of Harry. Apart from the few characteristics of Reiner that Harry possesses, the former was also a divorcee (from Penny Marshall) back in the 1980s, just like the character.

As for the character of Sally, Ephron based the character loosely on herself and her friends. Resultantly, when the sunny and twitchy demeanor of Sally met with the endearing and pessimistic character of Harry, the premise for the film was birthed. What connects more of Reiner’s personal life to Harry’s on-screen one is the solid friendship the director and Billy Crystal (Harry) shared in real life. The split-screen scene where Harry and Sally watch TV together while being on the phone was inspired by Crystal and Reiner’s habit of doing so themselves.

Just as Reiner’s complicated love life inspired ‘When Harry Met Sally,’ the production of the film also helped him find love again — fun fact, this newly found spark inspired him to alter the original and sad ending of the movie. It all began when cinematographer Barry Sonnenfeld introduced Reiner to Michele Singer, who was a friend of Sonnenfeld’s then-fiancee. In an interview with The New York Times, Reiner confessed that he was attracted to Michele the first time he laid eyes on her when she visited the set of ‘When Harry Met Sally.’

The new romance changed Reiner’s perspective, which reportedly led him to change the ending of the film. In Ephron’s original script, the pair were meant to drift apart again only to bump into one another several years later, catching up on their lives before walking away. But then, the director and writer altered the ending to where they get together and live happily ever after. “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,” Reiner recalled. Thus, the real-life romance between Reiner and Michele had a major role to play in the movie.

When it comes to the couples’ interviews that feature in the film, they were not a part of the script originally. The idea for them came when Reiner visited one of his friends, Alan Horn, at his parents’ house. When Reiner asked Alan’s father, Sol, how he met his wife, Reiner was charmed with the story on the spot, and it became the first one that was used in the film.

After that, several stories were compiled by talking to some real-life older couples about their love lives. The recorded stories were then edited and later enacted by several actors on the screen. Interestingly, one of the stories is from Ephron’s parents, while another one is by the best man at Reiner’s parents’ wedding. So, keeping in mind all the real-life instances that played a huge part in the making of the rom-com movie, it would be safe to say that ‘When Harry Met Sally’ has many aspects rooted in reality.

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