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I'll Have What She's Having

By Ashly Moore Sheldon • July 30, 2019

Literary Characters

It's arguably the greatest rom-com ever made! When Harry Met Sally, written by Nora Ephron and directed by Rob Reiner, first hit the screens 30 years ago! We decided to revisit some of the quirky characters and hilarious moments from this beloved film. Along the way, we learned some fascinating details about the lives of the talented people who created the iconic movie. Plus, a few of them—including the late, great Ephron, of course—are notable authors.

Carrie Fisher

I want you to know, I will never want that wagon-wheel coffee table.

She may be best known as Princess Leia, but her sidesplitting turns in movies like The Blues Brothers and Soapdish demonstrated that Carrie Fisher, who died of a heart attack in 2016, had huge comedy chops. The daughter of celebrities, Eddie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds, she wrote in her 2009 memoir, Wishful Drinking, about feeling like she had to compete with the audience for her parents' attention. Maybe that's a part of why she became such a riveting entertainer. As Sally's best friend Marie, Fisher scores some of the biggest laughs as she fumbles her way toward love with Harry's best friend Jess (played by Bruno Kirby).

Along with her work as an actress, Fisher was a prolific and renowned author of books and screenplays. She served as a script doctor for several hit movies, including Hook, Sister Act, and The Wedding Singer. She published her bestselling novel, Postcards From the Edge in 1987 and later adapted it to the screen in a 1990 movie starring Meryl Streep. The story mined material from Fisher's own life, including her struggles with drug use and her difficult relationship with her mother.

Fisher was always quite open about her personal issues, including addiction and mental illness. She was diagnosed with bipolar disorder at age 24 and became an outspoken advocate for other sufferers. Along with Wishful Drinking, she wrote several other revelatory memoirs about her life including Shockaholic in 2012 and The Princess Diarist, published just one month before her 2016 death, which revealed her affair with then-married costar Harrison Ford during the making of Star Wars. This feisty, funny woman lived a truly compelling life and, lucky for us, wrote some great books about it.

Billy Crystal

When I buy a new book, I read the last page first. That way, in case I die before I finish, I know how it ends. That, my friend, is a dark side.

As Harry, Billy Crystal makes an art out of being a lovable jerk. He is an outspoken, intractable womanizer, who seems to take pleasure in naysaying. But somehow we, along with Sally, fall madly in love with him. Obviously, a large part of this has to do with Crystal's "mahvelous" combination of intelligence and compassion. It has been reported that the actor improvised quite a bit throughout the movie, including the scene where he declares his love for Sally with the line, "When you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with someone, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible."

It shouldn't surprise us that Crystal is an excellent writer as well. His 2005 memoir 700 Sundays is a humorous and heartfelt portrayal of his youth and his complicated relationship with his father, who was an executive and producer for a New York record label. Prominent jazz artists were frequent houseguests and Crystal shares a memory of the first time he saw a movie as a young child—while sitting on Billie Holiday's lap.

A second memoir published in 2014, Still Foolin' 'Em, brings his trademark wit and heart to the subject of aging, highlighting the absurdities and indignities of growing older, like insomnia, memory loss, and leaving dinners with half your meal on your shirt. He takes a look back at his remarkable life as a comedian and actor, including his starring role in a certain quintessential film. And, if that's not enough, he's also written two picture books inspired by his experience of becoming a grandfather. Fair warning: I Already Know I Love You and Grandpa's Little One may leave you a bit verklempt.

Nora Ephron

I just want it the way I want it.

Nora Ephron passed away in 2012 after a six-year battle with leukemia. She stood out in a family of successful writers, including her screenwriter parents and all three of her sisters. The family philosophy, according to Ephron, was: Everything is Copy (the title of a documentary about the author made by her son). In an essay from her 2008 anthology, I Feel Bad About My Neck, Ephron writes, "When you slip on a banana peel, people laugh at you; but when you tell people you slipped on a banana peel, it's your laugh." This gets to the root of what made her so great. Her work was deeply relatable, painfully human, and always very funny.

Ephron has suggested that many of her characters, including Sally Albright, bear some similarity to herself. In a 1996 commencement address at her alma mater, Wellesley College, she said, "Above all, be the heroine of your own life, not the victim." Her 1996 novel, Heartburn, also a movie starring Meryl Streep (again!) and Jack Nicholson, was inspired by her own experience when, pregnant with her second child, she discovered that her journalist husband was having an affair. Here, like in all of her stories, she deftly portrays her character's vulnerability and heartbreak, but always with a rollicking sense of humor.

Ephron, who hid her battle with leukemia from even her closest friends, revealed a few clues in her 2011 book of essays, I Remember Nothing, particularly with a couple of lists at the end entitled "Things I'll Miss" and "Things I Won't Miss." Well Nora, we surely do miss you!

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