Life

When Harry Met Sally’s iconic orgasm scene almost didn’t happen

Posted by
Hannah-Rose Yee
Published
The diner scene in When Harry Met Sally

It’s almost the 30th anniversary of this legendary romantic comedy. And one of its stars just revealed that its most famous scene wasn’t in the script.

Katz’s Delicatessen, on the corner of Houston and Ludlow on New York’s Lower East Side, is famous for three things. 

First, its pastrami on rye on sandwich, a salty, fatty, vinegar-y poem of a meal that the deli sells 6,800kg of every single week. Secondly, Katz’s catch phrase: “Send a salami to your boy in the army,” which they debuted during the Second World War. (They still send gift packages to American troops, even today.) And thirdly, When Harry Met Sally

You may also like

Why You’ve Got Mail is still the best romantic comedy ever made

The most iconic scene of this iconic romantic comedy filmed inside Katz’s, cordoning off a few tables in front of the counter for stars Meg Ryan, Billy Crystal and a few extras, including director Rob Reiner’s mother Estelle. (More on her later.) 

Meg Ryan faking an orgasm in When Harry Met Sally
Meg Ryan faked an orgasm in When Harry Met Sally

Ryan’s character Sally and Crystal’s character Harry were having those aforementioned pastrami sandwiches and discussing Harry’s recent string of one night stands. “Why are you getting so upset?” Harry declares. “This is not about you.”

“Yes it is,” Sally shoots back. “You are a human affront to all women and I am a woman.”

From there, the scene evolves in the most delicious way, with Sally telling Harry that some of these disposable women he’s been sleeping with might be faking orgasms. Harry doesn’t believe that women can do such a thing until Sally fakes one right then and there at the Katz’s deli table, before returning sanguinely to her sandwich.

“I’ll have what she’s having,” Estelle Reiner says, eyebrow cocked. End scene.

In a new interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Crystal revealed that this moment between the two star-crossed friends wasn’t even in the original script. Two weeks before production on the movie began, Crystal recalled the film’s late writer Nora Ephron declaring that there was something missing from the movie. 

“Harry’s now been screwing around,” Crystal recalled Ephron saying. “He’s in revenge mode, and he’s this cocky little stud. Maybe we do a scene about how women fake orgasms.” 

“What are you talking about?” director Rob Reiner replied.

“Well, women fake orgasms Rob,” Ephron explained.

“Really? They never fake one with me,” he said.

Billy Crystal, Rob Reiner and Michele Singer
Billy Crystal, Rob Reiner and Michele Singer

The moment proved so funny that Ephron wrote it straight into the script, which was apt given that the Harry character was loosely based on Reiner himself. (At the time, the director of The Princess Bride and Stand By Me was reeling from the breakdown of his relationship with the late Penny Marshall. He met his current wife Michele Singer on the set of When Harry Met Sally.) 

Crystal also revealed that it was Ryan’s idea to fake an orgasm in the scene, while he suggested that it had to be in a public place, such as a packed restaurant.

“Nora goes wild. And then we’re all laughing,” Crystal told The Hollywood Reporter. “Then I said, ‘And then we’ll cut to an older woman who will say, ‘I’ll have what she’s having.’ And that’s how it happened. That’s how the movie got real, because of Meg and I and Nora and Rob sitting around, talking about ‘How can we make it better?’” 

Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal in When Harry Met Sally
Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal in When Harry Met Sally

Crystal also revealed that before When Harry Met Sally, movies didn’t really talk about orgasms. 

“Let’s face it, in the history of movies, except for porn movies, no one ever used the word orgasm,” he said. “No one ever said that. Bogart never said ‘You know Louie, this was a great orgasm.’ Gable never said ‘Frankly, I don’t give a damn about your orgasm.’ No one ever said it. And so it was shocking when it was out there and it was such a provocative idea.”

During test screenings of the movie in Los Angeles back in 1989, audiences laughed so hard that they drowned out the dialogue. 

“When she starts faking it, they go bezerk,” Crystal recalled. “You couldn’t hear any dialogue. They laughed through the next scene. The roar, it was gigantic. I realised that Rob and I were now holding hands. We were gripping each other because it was so momentous a laugh.”

Ah, When Harry Met Sally. They just don’t make ‘em like they used to. 

Images: Rex Features, Getty

Topics

Share this article

Author

Hannah-Rose Yee

Hannah-Rose Yee is a writer based in London. You can find her on the internet talking about movies, television and Chris Pine.

Recommended by Hannah-Rose Yee

Life

How Netflix’s Someone Great is completely transforming the rom com genre

Someone Great is the relatable story of how a breakup can help you fall in love with yourself

Posted by
Hannah-Rose Yee
Published
Life

The most toxic romantic comedy storylines of all time

Stalking, catfishing and not understanding that no means no: these are the movies that prove problematic upon second viewing

Posted by
Hannah-Rose Yee
Published
Life

Why You’ve Got Mail is still the best romantic comedy ever made

20 years since it first premiered, the movie has more than stood the test of time.

Posted by
Hannah-Rose Yee
Published
Life

Kristen Stewart might have found a co-star for her lesbian romantic comedy

It’s a classic tale of girl-meets-girl, with a bit of Christmas high jinks thrown in for good measure

Posted by
Hannah-Rose Yee
Published
Life

Is Rebel Wilson’s new movie going to be the best romantic comedy ever?

It skewers every rom com trope, has an incredible cast, and features a plus-size lead character. We're in

Posted by
Hannah-Rose Yee
Published