Chaplin Award group shot. Photo by Godlis.

Over 2,000 people packed three tiers of the Avery Fisher Hall Monday night for the 41st Chaplin Award honoring director-writer-producer Rob Reiner. The annual event, which has honored the likes of Alfred Hitchcock, Billy Wilder, Federico Fellini, Elizabeth Taylor, Robert Altman, Martin Scorsese, Sidney Poitier, Barbra Streisand, and its namesake Charlie Chaplin, is a pinnacle springtime event here at the Film Society, and Monday's event brought out a typically high-profile guest list, many of whom joined the accolades on stage recalling Reiner's career behind and in front of the camera on both the big screen and television. Praise was abundant, but guests also shared fun insidery tidbits that perhaps fell a bit off script.

When Harry Met Sally… stars Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal had a reunion of sorts on stage, 25 years after their characters' on-screen romance became an instant classic. The duo joked that Reiner's famous nickname from his time starring in All in the Family traveled with him, even when he sought anonymity on a remote beach one time in Mexico. “Rob was still trying to live down that whole 'Meathead' thing and needed a break from that and went to Mexico,” said Crystal. “He was totally isolated—just sand, sea, and sky,” noted Ryan. “He was way, way down and at the far end of the beach there was a man saying, 'Hola, hola!' Cabeza de Carne, Cabeza de Carne [Meathead]!”

Rob Reiner arrives with wife Michele and their children at the 41st Chaplin Award. Photo by Philip May.

Crystal and Ryan were one of the evening's highlights. The famous “I'll have what she's having” line in When Harry Met Sally…, of course, received its due while the pair were onstage. Crystal said that Reiner actually sat across him on the table before shooting the scene—at Katz's Deli in Manhattan's Lower East Side—showing how it's done. “He wasn't [satisfied] with the orgasms, so he sits down across from me and now it looks like I'm on a date with Sebastian Cabot,” said Crystal. “He proceeds to have an orgasm and is pounding the table. He finished and was in a sweat. 'You don't understand, I just had an orgasm in front of my mother,'” he said. “It was one of the longest days for me,” said Ryan.

The pair were among a host of well-wishers that saluted Reiner at Avery Fisher including Michael McKean, James Caan, Michael Douglas, Barry Sonnenfeld, and Martin Scorsese. The Chaplin is also a major fundraiser for the Film Society, with this year's efforts garnering about $1.4 million. 

“Where's Sally?” Billy Crystal at the Chaplin. Photo by Philip May.

Sonnenfeld recalled an early meeting with Reiner's future second wife Michele at a New York restaurant, which received a big laugh from the audience, including Reiner himself who sat near the side of the stage while guests spoke on stage. Michele apparently lit a cigarette, which resulted in a bit of an exchange between the future spouses. “This was a time when you could still smoke in restaurants,” Sonnenfeld said. “And so Rob told Michele, 'You know, you really shouldn't smoke, it's not good for your health,' and then Michele responded right back saying, 'And you shouldn't be so fucking fat.'”

Fellow Chaplin winner Michael Douglas, who was accompanied by his wife, Catherine Zeta-Jones, recalled his earliest collaboration with Reiner in Summertree (1971), which the actor said was panned by The New York Times and had made “$632 at the box office.” “[But] those scenes together were the start of a 44-year friendship. We were the sons of very special fathers, something we didn't talk about much until recently,” said Douglas. “We got to work together in The American President and now it's 2014 and we're trying to work a little movie magic with And So It Goes.” A clip from the upcoming film, which stars Douglas and Diane Keaton, screened to laughs. The feature will begin hitting theaters in July.

Oh there she is… backstage at the Chaplin Award. Photo by Philip May.

“He inspires those who he works with and his concentration as a director is amazing,” said Douglas. “This is a man who is utterly focused on the task at hand and his vision of what he's brining to the screen, and that is why he is so deserving of this award.”

The Gala included a slew of scenes from many of Reiner's films, including favorites This Is Spinal Tap, Stand by Me, When Harry Met Sally…</em>, Misery, A Few Good Men, and more. Tom Cruise, who starred in the latter, joined the event via a pre-taped video, as did Morgan Freeman and Reiner's father, Carl.

The evening culminated with the award presentation, which Martin Scorsese, also a Chaplin Award-winner, gave with a bit of panache. ” It's 60 years as an actor, writer, producer, and, above all, a director,” said Scorsese. “He has really made history. Spinal Tap, Misery, When Harry Met Sally…, Stand by Me, The Princess Bride occupy a special place in our shared movie history and culture… I salute you as an actor, a creator, and as a friend.”

In his short speech, Reiner returned compliments to Scorsese, who recruited the man of the hour last year to play Leonardo DiCaprio's rambunctious dad in The Wolf of Wall Street. Reiner recalled a joke he told FilmLinc initially during a pre-awards interview about playing the actor's parent. “Which is more unbelievable, that Leonardo DiCaprio is a Jew or that I'm his father? Maybe I'm more good-looking than I actually am.” Reiner said it was at times nerve-racking to sit through the speeches and listen to the barrage of compliments amid the funny asides. “I mean, who likes everyone to sing happy birthday to them? It's the thing about taking a compliment. But I've had to learn that part of being an adult is allowing others the chance to give,” said Reiner, who thanked his wife and children and concluded the evening, adding: “I want to thank the Film Society of Lincoln Center for this. It's an incredible honor.”

Rob Reiner, Film Society Executive Director Lesli Klainberg, and Billy Crystal. Photo by Godlis.

Reiner greets the crowds and signs some autographs. Photo by Julie Cunnah.

Rob Reiner on stage at Avery Fisher Hall for the 41st Chaplin Award. Photo by Philip May.