News & Politics

Sally Quinn Was the Inspiration for Sally in “When Harry Met Sally”

She says Richard Cohen was Harry. He says he wasn't.

In Richard Cohen‘s new book, She Made Me Laugh: My Friend Nora Ephron, he writes that he and fellow Washington Post writer Sally Quinn had a lot to do with Ephron’s script for the classic 1989 romantic comedy When Harry Met Sally: It’s true, he writes, that he and Ephron “had discussed the premise” of the film, which he describes as “whether a man and a woman can be friends–‘just friends,’ as the expression goes.” He continues:

It is also true that Sally Quinn and I had whipped up a four-page movie treatment about a relationship that went from friendly to sexual and had presented it to Nora at a lunch in Washington—and that Nora had based “Sally” on Sally Quinn.

Reached by phone, Quinn confirms this story (she told Andrea Mitchell she was “Sally” in 2012, adding that she “saw some similarities” between the character Meg Ryan played in the movie and herself). Asked what in particular, Quinn says it’s just that Sally in the movie is a “shiksa.” And the character of Harry, she says, is based on Richard Cohen.

In his book, Cohen says quite plainly: “I am not Harry.” And:

I need to say that because for a time–and continuing past Nora’s death–it was sometimes rumored that the Harry character in When Harry Met Sally…was based on me.

“Nora told me it was him,” Quinn says, adding that Cohen’s father was named Harry. She also says She Made Me Laugh is “fabulous. It’s really, really fun and it’s a total valentine. It’s a very loving book.”

Senior editor

Andrew Beaujon joined Washingtonian in late 2014. He was previously with the Poynter Institute,, and Washington City Paper. His book A Bigger Field Awaits Us: The Scottish Soccer Team That Fought the Great War was published in 2018. He lives in Del Ray.