Get to Know the Best Couples From ‘When Harry Met Sally’

By  · Published on July 14th, 2014

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc.

The story of Harry and Sally is fine and all, but there are better couples in Rob Reiner’s 1989 rom-com classic. And I’m not talking about Bruno Kirby and Carrie Fisher, either. For the 25th anniversary of When Harry Met Sally, I’d like to shine a light on the characters only credited as “documentary couples.” These seven pairs of adorable elderly folk are based on true stories, each one said to have been plucked from real people by screenwriter Nora Ephron. But we don’t know anything more about any of them. The actual couples don’t appear in the film but instead are portrayed by actors. Wonderful, old actors. Some of whom are still alive!

Before we get to know each of these actors, let’s watch their appearances in WHMS and once again enjoy the tales of fated spouses.

“Arthur, you see that girl? I’m going to marry her.”

The first husband is Kuno Sponholz (1911–1996), who also appeared in a couple Woody Allen movies, which is neat since WHMS is sort of a rip-off of Annie Hall. You might recognize him in another faux doc sequence in Zelig, playing SS-Obergruppenführer Oswald Pohl. His wife is played by Connie Sawyer (1912- ), a legendary comedienne who not only is still alive but is still working at age 101. You might recognize her from such films as Pineapple Express (as Faye Belogus) or Frank Capra’s A Hole in the Head. Recently she appeared on TV’s New Girl as “the Oldest Woman in the World.”

Connie Sawyer in Pineapple Express

Columbia Pictures

“We were high school sweethearts.”

The man in the little beige cardigan is Charles Dugan (1912–2008), who made his film debut in WHMS according to IMDb. He’s the father of actor-turned-hated-director Dennis Dugan (Jack and Jill; Grown Ups) and aside from being in one of the most beloved comedies of all time, the elder Dugan mainly appeared in his son’s movies, including The Benchwarmers, Beverly Hills Ninja, Brain Donors and a TV movie version of The Shaggy Dog. Ironically, his wife in the scene, Katherine Squire (1903–1995), made her last film appearance here. She’d been working since the 1920s, when she made her Broadway debut, and in movies then television since the 1940s. Almost two decades before WHMS she was already playing roles like “Old Woman” in movies such as Two-Land Blacktop.

Katherine Squire in Two-Lane Blacktop

Universal Pictures

“35 years to the day after our first marriage.”

The guy who married multiple women between his marriages to his true love is Al Christy (1918–1995), a former ad man and longtime friend of Robert Altman whose next most notable role is as the sheriff in In Cold Blood (learn much more from his Wikipedia entry). The wife is Frances Chaney (1915–2004), more famously the wife of two-time Oscar-nominated screenwriter Ring Lardner Jr. (Woman of the Year; MASH), a blacklisted member of the “Hollywood 10.” Her biggest role besides this was later in the Michael J. Fox movie Life With Mikey.

“Nine extra floors.”

Bernie Hern (1915–1997) is the man here, and other than a recurring role as a judge on TV’s L.A. Law and a few other bit parts, he doesn’t seem to have had much of a presence in the movies. The woman, though, was even less prominent. Rose Wright’s only IMDb credit is WHMS.

“I knew, the way you know about a good melon.”

This time it’s the actor playing the husband, Aldo Rossi (1926–1992), who’d only made this single movie appearance, according to IMDb. He is also the youngest of those cast for these WHMS segments. The actress playing the wife, Donna Hardy (1914–2011), had a decent run of roles from the mid-’80s to her death. She was in two Jim Carrey movies, The Cable Guy and The Truman Show, but her most memorable brief parts were in The Running Man and Superbad (“Enjoy fucking Jules!”).

“She lives in the next village.”

The Chinese couple is my favorite, so much that they were referenced in my wedding ceremony. Ironically the silent one of them has had the more noteworthy career. The husband is played by an actor named Peter Pan (1903–1990), the oldest cast as one of these spouses. He did feature in a number of movies through the ’80s, including Death Wish II, Protocol and The Hanoi Hilton. His wife, who “looked pretty good” is Jane Chung (1911–2012), who worked in Hollywood from the 1950s, which is also when her two children became extras, and continued into her 90s even while suffering from dementia. She was mainly just an extra all that time, though she can be spotted in the Marlon Brando movies Sayonara and The Teahouse of the August Moon, as well as Chinatown, Flower Drum Song and plenty others where there were Asian characters. She has a nice bit in a deleted scene of Gremlins, too. She especially can claim winner in the fame game of all of these actors, however, because there’s a documentary about her. It’s a short student film made by her great niece and pretty much just a family affair and therefore not always that substantial, but it does have some interesting moments. Watch More Than a Face in the Crowd on DramaFever to get to know her better.

Christopher Campbell began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called Read, back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials. He's now a Senior Editor at FSR and the founding editor of our sister site Nonfics. He also regularly contributes to Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes and is the President of the Critics Choice Association's Documentary Branch.