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Book Excerpt: You Talkin’ to Me?: The Definitive Guide to Iconic Movie Quotes by Brian Abrams

We are proud to present an excerpt from the new book about some of the most famous movie quotes of all time by Brian Abrams. Read the official description of You Talkin’ to Me?: The Definitive Guide to Iconic Movie Quotes below, followed by the excerpt, and get your own copy here.

This deep dive into hundreds of Hollywood’s most iconic and beloved lines is a must-have for every film buff.

"You Talkin’ to Me?" is a fun, fascinating, and exhaustively reported look at all the iconic Hollywood movie quotes we know and love, from Casablanca to Dirty Harry and The Godfather to Mean Girls. Drawing on interviews, archival sleuthing, and behind-the-scenes details, the book examines the origins and deeper meanings of hundreds of film lines: how they’ve impacted, shaped, and reverberated through the culture, defined eras in Hollywood, and become cemented in the modern lexicon. Packed with film stills, sidebars, lists, and other fun detours throughout movie history, the book covers all genres and a diverse range of directors, writers, and audiences.

When Harry Met Sally . . . did not originally include Meg Ryan faking an orgasm. Early drafts of Nora Ephron’s romantic-comedy script did, however, drop Sally Albright (Ryan) into several hot-topic conversations with Harry Burns (Billy Crystal) about the differences between the two sexes, enabling the title characters to bicker delightfully at one another and build up some of that signature Ephron tension. The movie itself seemed to ask repeatedly whether heterosexual men and women could maintain platonic relationships, a premise loosely based on the personal life of the film’s director, Rob Reiner, whose divorce from Penny Marshall, after ten years of marriage, sent him into a cynical spiral. And so, as Ephron was tasked with writing all of these discussions between the two lead characters, someone had suggested that the screenwriter have Sally explain the truth about the Big O. 

Ephron soon recognized the manna that the comedy gods had laid before her. During a production meeting at Reiner’s Castle Rock Entertainment in Beverly Hills, Ephron shared how it was not uncommon that women pretend to climax as a means to protect their partners’ fragile egos—or maybe just to get it over with already. (There are honestly so many possible reasons.) Reiner’s knee-jerk reaction was to deny that such a thing was possible—at least, not in his lifetime, as certainly any woman who entered this overweight Jewish man’s bedroom had experienced nothing but pleasure. To counter her claim, the All in the Family alum invited several female Castle Rock staffers into the meeting. A number of “totally cowed young women came in,” Ephron would recall, as she watched the insecure sex machine conduct his interrogation. Have they, too, faked orgasms? “They all nodded yes,” she said. “It was a shocking moment.”

Surprisingly, Reiner did not go to jail that day, but the dialogue inspired from the meeting was folded into the script. Later, at a table read between the film’s four stars (Ryan, Crystal, Bruno Kirby, Carrie Fisher) in New York, Ryan thought that the exchange should take place somewhere in public—like, say, a restaurant—and that her character should conspicuously fake an orgasm to end the argument once and for all. Crystal supported the idea and added that a woman at a nearby table should tell a waiter, “I’ll have what she’s having” to cap off the scene.

“And I know just the actor to play the part,” Reiner interjected. “My mother.”

Estelle Reiner was a gifted performer. This should not be attributed to her sixty-five-year marriage to comedy legend Carl Reiner, but rather, it was a skill set she developed on her own. The self-taught ukulele player and cabaret singer was known for shyness, despite childhood Saturday morning performances on the Bronx radio station WBNX and, as an adult, the occasional nightclub set. Estelle also championed her husband’s unpublished short stories before his TV career took off. She could identify the strengths in his writing, which he had often dismissed since he wasn’t part of any literary circles, and her encouragement arguably set him on a path to greatness.

Another unsung talent of hers was an ability to cook up zingers with adept timing. Steve Martin, a longtime collaborator of Carl’s, once humbly phoned Estelle for permission to put one in his modern remake of Cyrano de Bergerac. “It’s not the size of a nose that’s important,” Estelle had once explained to her daughter Annie, who was considering rhinoplasty for a sweet-sixteen birthday present. “It’s what’s in it that matters!” For those who haven’t seen Martin in Roxanne, Estelle let him use it.

Roughly around the same time that Martin had been tying up the phone line at the Reiner household, Rob called. He was shooting When Harry Met Sally . . . in New York. “Ma,” barked the forty-two-year-old as if he were still rehearsing sides for the role of Meathead. “You gotta fly here.” He explained the part: five words, five seconds of screen time. At first, she pushed back: “There are a million women in New York who can do that line!” Her son was adamant: “Nobody can do it like you, Ma.”

A reluctant Estelle granted her son’s wish (“As long as I can spend the day with you,” she conceded, “I’m happy”) and traveled across the continent to Manhattan’s Lower East Side. The waitstaff at Katz’s Deli had been granted the day off. This way Reiner’s cast and crew could comfortably siege the premises.

Estelle sat at her character’s assigned table. Whatever agita she may have had paled in comparison to Ryan’s. The night prior, the twenty-seven-year-old actor called her co-star to vent her frustrations. “The orgasm scene was worrisome,” Crystal wrote in his 2013 memoir, “because she would have to have one thirty or forty times that day. Which would have tied my all-time junior high record.”

During the first couple takes, Ryan’s apprehension was palpable. “No, Meg,” Reiner instructed, “you gotta go full out.” The director then had Ryan get up from the table so that he could take her seat and, applying his vast knowledge of female arousal, demonstrate how to fake an orgasm. With his mother stationed a few feet away, Reiner proceeded to moan Ooh, ohhh, oh god! and Oh yeah, right there! and Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! while pounding his fists into the table. Crystal, not exactly brandishing the hippest of pop-culture references, described the moment as if he were “on a date with Sebastian Cabot” or “watching Victor Buono eat Thai food.”

“He then had an orgasm that King Kong would have envied,” the actor wrote.

With such a traumatizing moment behind her, Ryan somehow managed to free herself from inhibitions and deliver one over-the-top fake orgasm after the next. A Cheshire cat grin was plastered on Crystal’s face as he watched his co-star completely dominate the sequence that would earn the film its R rating from the MPAA. Reiner fretted that such an animated Ryan might have robbed the oxygen from all the other players in the scene, particularly Estelle’s “I’ll have what she’s having.” That doubt was put to rest during a test screening in the Los Angeles suburbs, where Reiner and Crystal sat next to one another in the back of the theater. “When the line hit,” Crystal said, “the audience went nuts. We both threw our fists in the air.”

Excerpted from “You Talkin’ to Me?”: The Definitive Guide to Iconic Movie Quotes by Brian Abrams, copyright ©2023. Used with permission of Workman, a division of Workman Publishing Co., Inc., a subsidiary of Hachette Book Group, Inc.

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