Does it get any more classic than Love Story? With a name like that, the pressure was on – the movie had to be good. Luckily for everyone involved, it was. Heck, the 1970 film is still being quoted to this day (“Love means never having to say you’re sorry”).
Just say the two words, “Love Story,” to anyone over the age of 35 and they’ll instantly hear the tinkling piano, picture the young, pretty couple, and hear that famous quote. Okay, so the movie was a hit, but there’s a lot more to this love story than just a romantic movie with two good-looking stars.
Oliver and Jenny, Together Again
When the film turned 50 (in 2020), the movie’s stars, Ali MacGraw and Ryan O’Neal, reunited to talk about the film that pulled her out of obscurity and him out of television. “It’s been a fast 50,” O’Neal, 80, said. He added, “I don’t have those relationships with my wives!” (He’s been married and divorced twice, and that’s before his relationship with Farrah Fawcett).
Love Story turned the two into overnight stars who were virtually unknown before the movie. What did come before the movie, though, was the script (by Erich Segal) which was then turned into a novel.
His Tears, Her Tears
MacGraw was a huge fan. “I cried, and I thought I was crazy,” the 82-year-old said about reading the script the first time. After reading it, she was convinced she would be perfect for the part of Jenny. While MacGraw cried before the shooting even began, O’Neal’s tears came while on the set.
O’Neal revealed that when he witnessed his co-star’s (SPOILER ALERT!) deathbed performance, he was moved to tears. “It all caught fire for me there,” he shared. “She put her arm around my head, my hair. I just couldn’t stop crying. I loved her. I knew this would soon be over.”
Ali MacGraw Hates Her Famous Line
The movie made an impact in the U.S. But it especially made a lasting impression on Harvard. The Ivy League romance is shown annually at the university. The students love when it gets to the part with the famous line…
The whole audience screams “Love means never having to say you’re sorry!” at the screen. Funnily enough, MacGraw now wishes she’d never said that line. Why? “It doesn’t mean anything!” she told Town & Country. The truth is that line has caused quite a stir…
The Second Time Was More Moving
It’s one of the most-quoted movie lines of all time, but the meaning of the line is often debated. The quote actually comes up twice in the movie. The first time is when Oliver Barrett (O’Neal) gets upset when he can’t find Jennifer Cavalleri (MacGraw).
He apologizes, at which point she tells him, “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.” The second time is when Oliver repeats the quote to his father. His dad tells him he’s sorry when Jenny dies, and then it’s Oliver’s turn to say it. If there’s a next-best line from the movie, it’s the opening line…
The Time Babs Said It in a Movie
The movie begins with the line, “What do you say about a 25-year-old girl who died?” Still, it’s the “Love means…” line that stole the show. In fact, it’s been used and reused countless times, both seriously and in parody.
In 1972, O’Neal starred with Barbra Streisand in the comedy What’s Up, Doc? In the film, Streisand says the line to O’Neal, and he fires back, “That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard.” MacGraw said she’s “learned that we can make terrible mistakes with people we love. Try not to do it again — and try to clean up the hurt.” But, she added, it’s just not as catchy.
A Labor of Love Story
Love Story earned seven Oscar nominations, including best actor and best actress nods for MacGraw and O’Neal. MacGraw, who only had one starter film under her belt, shot to stardom. It’s only fair considering the movie was a sort of labor of love.
She backed the script through the long process of getting it green-lighted (it was rejected multiple times). Eventually, it was picked up by Paramount’s Robert Evans, who later became MacGraw’s husband. He was her second of three husbands – the one whom she left for Steve McQueen.
A Little Love Backstory
Evans had to be persuaded. He didn’t want to take on the project because he thought it sounded a little too sentimental. But, as he explained later, he decided to take it on because he fell in love with MacGraw. I guess Love Story has its own little love backstory.
Arthur Hiller signed on as director, but it took a lot of convincing. It served him well, too, as he earned an Oscar nod of his own and became known for the film. Evans said Love Story made Hiller “a millionaire many, many times over.”
The Shot That Took Months to Plan
MacGraw said she got the role of Jenny partly because it wasn’t going to be an expensive production. It was “a little movie, not a big risk. If it didn’t work and I was no good in it, it would be no big deal for the studio,” she explained.
MacGraw recalls how meticulous Hiller was when making Love Story. While she grew to adore him, he wasn’t the easiest to work with. The “harpsichord shot,” for instance, was a scene he planned months earlier.
She Learned a Little Piano
In this scene, Jenny is playing the harpsichord at a recital, and Oliver is looking at her with pride. Hiller didn’t want stand-ins to do the shot – he wanted the real deal. That meant that MacGraw had to learn a thing or two about pianos. So, she went to see pianist Laura Fratti in a studio at Carnegie Hall.
MacGraw recalled the two little couches covered in plastic, a “tiny icebox filled with a rabbit coat,” a baby grand piano, and a harpsichord. MacGraw managed to learn a little piano, but she “couldn’t do it now if you paid me a fortune.”
She Was “Death-Scene Ready”
MacGraw recalled the process involved in shooting the death scene. She said that she went into make-up, “and they looked at me and just sent me right onto the set.” The way she sees it, she looked so “horrendous without make-up” that she was “death-scene ready.”
Another memorable filming moment of MacGraw’s was when she and O’Neal were running around in the snow, “like kids in Central Park.” She had recently moved to L.A., but being from New York, she just loved being there in winter.
They Drove the Crew to Tears
MacGraw explained that while filming, they had absolutely no sense that the movie would be such a big hit. She did, however, note that there were certain moments durin the filming when they (she and O’Neal) would look up and see the crew crying.
It was Bob Evans who suggested to scriptwriter Erich Segal that he make it into a book (it became a best-seller). Segal wrote the 131-page novella in a mere month. As for the film’s royalties, there are none. “It’s too bad,” MacGraw said, “because Love Story is on all the time.”
Where Do We Begin?
What else is played all the time? The movie’s theme song. (Where Do I Begin?) Love Story by Andy Williams a song MacGraw says she hears all the time, and in every language, too. She shared that if she goes to a restaurant, “whoever is playing the piano that night plays it.”
The song was initially an instrumental theme in the movie, after Paramount Pictures rejected the lyrics that were written for it. Williams eventually recorded a new version with new lyrics and carried the track to number nine on Billboard magazine’s Hot 100.
Typical Guys for the Role
Ryan O’Neal wasn’t the first option for the character of Oliver as it was turned down by Peter Fonda, Michael Douglas and Jeff Bridges. Erich Segal recommended O’Neal, who hit it off instantly with MacGraw. Segal and O’Neal had worked together before the movie.
They were pals who would go running together, but Segal never mentioned the movie (Love Story) he was working on. Then one day, out of the blue, he called with a proposal. “We didn’t have to build chemistry. It was there, built-in,” O’Neal recently shared.
O’Neal said they were “lucky,” that he and MacGraw had natural chemistry. O’Neal shared that he couldn’t really build on it offscreen anyway, considering she was married to the president of the studio, no less.
“She had to go home to him at night, but I had her during the day,” he said. MacGraw attested to her former co-star’s stance on their chemistry. Although she never saw Peyton Place (the show O’Neal was on), she knew he was a “respected, popular and practiced actor-star” while she was “nobody.”
Life After Sudden Fame
The movie turned these two into overnight stars, so obviously it took some getting used to for them. O’Neal said he tried not to let his life change so quickly, “but of course, I got arrogant, naturally.”
As for MacGraw, within a few weeks of the film’s opening, their son Joshua was born. She suddenly understood what lack of privacy meant when she tried to go for a simple walk with her baby. It was something she had never had to deal with before (the baby and the paparazzi).
Oh, That Car…
Every time Oliver drove his sports car with Jenny, the audience held their collective breath. O’Neal was asked if it was in the script that he would drive so recklessly, or if that was all him. O’Neal drove that 1948 MG TC as he would any other time.
“I don’t know. I drive that way,” he said, mentioning that he was the driver in a movie called The Driver. “I was always in a bad mood, so I was shifting and driving and moving and shifting. I remember driving so fast that I drove right past Oliver’s house, and I had to back up.”
She Didn’t Need to Drive… Yet
Was MacGraw scarred for her life? No, but she was glad that she wasn’t the one who had to drive. And that’s because she didn’t know how. In fact, she only learned how to drive in 1972, when she got the part in The Getaway, which involved driving (hence the name).
The Getaway changed MacGraw’s life in many ways. Not only did she learn to drive, but she also started an affair with the film’s star, Steve McQueen. “He was recently separated and free” MacGraw explained, “and I was scared of my overwhelming attraction to him.”
More on their own love story, soon…
Desire Was Real for O’Neal
The film’s 40th anniversary was the subject of an hour-long episode of Oprah. That was when O’Neal admitted, for the first time, that he had had a huge crush on MacGraw while shooting the film. “We had all these scenes together, and they always seemed to play themselves, you know?”
He recalled how whether the cameras were on or off, there was always this “intensity, my intensity.” He admitted to having “just adored her. I walked into walls.” Then there came the time to make Love Story’s sequel…
Oliver Without Jenny
Not everyone knows that O’Neal filmed a sequel to Love Story called Oliver’s Story in 1977. He was honest in his thoughts about the movie: “I don’t have much thought, but I got a lot of money for that.” Just how much? He got $3 million to play Oliver again.
He was happy to end up in Hong Kong. “But I had no Jenny. I had no Ali MacGraw,” he stated. The actor who clearly adores MacGraw must have been happy to reunite with her in 2016 for the play Love Letters.
Oliver’s Story: A Sequel
It’s hard to come after Love Story, but they tried with Oliver’s Story in 1977. It was the continuation of Erich Segal’s original tale. Oliver’s Story begins with Jenny’s burial. Oliver went on to become a lawyer in a prestigious New York firm.
Candice Bergen played his love interest (which is amusing now, to be honest). Bergen was basically the opposite of Jenny, in both looks and personality. Her role was initially meant for Nicola Pagett, but the filmmakers weren’t convinced that O’Neal would go out with Pagett – someone “less beautiful” than Bergen.
He Lost Her
O’Neal shared his feelings about wrapping Love Story. He admitted that he cried when he first saw the film. He didn’t really understand what was happening to him at the time, until he realized that he was grieving MacGraw’s death.
“I lost her,” he told The Hollywood Reporter, as he got emotional. “We shot that hospital scene last, and I actually did lose her. She went home to her husband, and I went back to my wife.” He then noted how infrequently he gets emotional during a movie.
They Cheated a Little Bit
Because the movie was made on a relatively low budget ($2 million), they ran out of funds at a certain point, and as O’Neal pointed out, they “cheated a little bit.” He described how they put cameras in cars and walked down Fifth Avenue.
This was amusing at first as people were just walking around, with no idea that they were in the background. But O’Neal recalled a moment that proved a little more concerning. One night, he was walking down Fifth Avenue toward his hotel, and somebody was following him.
Ali Can Go Both Ways
Some “big dark figure” was following him, so he stopped. The figure came up to him and said, “I’ve been following you,” to which O’Neal said, “Yeah, I noticed.” The man told him, “I know who you are… You’re Ali MacGraw.”
O’Neal laughed and said, “Oh, you’re so close. I’m the other one.” The other man replied, “Oh, isn’t that funny? In my country, Ali is a man’s name.” Luckily, the odd fan turned out to be just that – strange – and nothing worse.
The Dialogue-Less Scenes
MacGraw has her own memories about the days of shooting with no budget. Evans had told her that they needed to shoot in Cambridge for three days with no permits, so she had to bring her own clothes.
They had a station wagon with a cameraman for them to shoot a bunch of “dialogue-less scenes.” MacGraw said they needed to duck under the backseat if somebody walked by them on the sidewalk when she changed her clothes. All those shots were eventually paired with the score.
Kicked Out of Harvard
Most of Love Story was shot in the winter of ’69/‘70 in Cambridge, and at some point, Harvard officials withdrew permission to film on campus. It was reportedly because of all the fake snow the production crew used, which damaged many trees on campus.
Filming then moved to NYC (the shots on Fifth Avenue) where they filmed a major scene at the Wollman rink in Central Park (a tiny set was constructed representing a rink-side cafe). Some buildings at The Bronx’s Fordham University stood in for Harvard in one scene.
She Could Have Stayed a “Little Actress”
MacGraw acknowledges – and is grateful for – just how much Love Story made her career, even though she didn’t get much of the limelight afterward (she’s something of a one-hit-wonder). She says that to this day, she’s privileged to be able to travel a lot, and people all over the world come up to her.
They ask her when she’s going to make another Love Story. Without Love Story, MacGraw said she “would have been the little actress who can’t get that break that gives them the run.” Perhaps being a sudden star after the film gave her a boost of confidence; enough to start an affair with her next co-star…
Little Did He Know
The irony is that it was Evans, her second husband, who led her to The Getaway. Evans apparently didn’t want his wife to be typecast as a preppy girl in Love Story; he liked the idea of her being cast in the 1972 thriller.
MacGraw played Carol McCoy, the wife of ex-convict and violent bank robber Doc (played by McQueen). Their affair began on the first day of filming. She ended up leaving her husband for him and marrying the great McQueen a year later.
Pangs of Jealousy
While they were only married for five years, their whirlwind romance was as Hollywood as it gets. Apparently, McQueen was a jealous man and made her give up her film career. A bummer for her, she signed a prenuptial agreement, which meant she was left with nothing after their divorce.
Speaking of jealousy, I’m sure O’Neal felt pangs of it when he heard that his former co-star ended up leaving her husband for her other co-star (as I’m sure O’Neal’s wife at the time felt the same way to hear about her own husband’s secret crush).
A Chemical Romance
MacGraw told People magazine that her relationship with McQueen was “chemical.” She explained (and honey, we get it) that McQueen was the kind of man who could walk into any room and “any man, woman and child would go, ‘Whoa, what’s that?’”
She found him “incredibly attractive” mostly, but he also had this “danger” to him – there was a bad boy in him. Their five-year romance was as chemical as it was wild. Sadly, McQueen died three years later, in 1980, from cancer at the age of 50.
They Didn’t Get to Grow Old Together
“I wish we had both grown old sober,” MacGraw said of her last husband. “There were wonderful days and dreadful days.” The actress, who never remarried, left Hollywood for New Mexico in 1994 for a private life away from the spotlight.
She has been sober for over 30 years after struggling with alcoholism. “I used to rewrite the past, fantasize about the future,” she shared. She and McQueen lived in a secluded Malibu home. They spent their days “half-naked on the beach” with “regular barbecues… endless beer and grass.”
A One-Hit Wonder
Back in 1972, MacGraw was voted the top female box-office star in the world. But famed critic Pauline Kael called her “a truly terrible actress.” I guess her Oscar nomination and her Golden Globe award for Best Actress didn’t mean much to Kael.
After Love Story, MacGraw was everywhere, at least for a while. She “exemplified this great American style,” Calvin Klein told Vanity Fair. The thing is her career floundered, in part because of McQueen, aside from the few films she was in.
A Little Film, a Little TV
She acted in Players (1979) and Just Tell Me What You Want (1980). There was even some TV time, such as The Winds of War and Dynasty. After that, she moved to Santa Fe and hasn’t left ever since. She’s actually become one of Chanel’s ambassadors.
“Chanel No. 5 really was responsible for me being in the movies,” she stated. In fact, MacGraw has a history in fashion. In 1961, she worked as an assistant for legendary fashion editor Diana Vreeland. “Girl! Bring me a pencil!” was the kind of stuff that was barked at her.
Her Wild Modeling Days
MacGraw lived a wild little life back in the ‘60s when she made some cash working as a model. In her 1991 autobiography Moving Pictures, she wrote about a cocktail party where she met guests Salvador Dali and his wife Gala. Dali proposed using her as his muse.
He told MacGraw that he wanted to sketch her. A few days later, she visited the hotel he was staying in and went up to his room. He then asked her to take off her clothes. She did so (it was a different era) and sat in a chair…
She (and Her Toes) Posed for Salvador Dali
As she sat there, nude, she figured she could knock him out if the need arose. Dali then crawled under the table between them, which is when she felt him start to suck on her toes. True story. “It was nauseating,” she explained.
Her thoughts were: “If he wants to do a drawing of me, maybe I could sell it? I wasn’t afraid. I honestly thought I could beat the sh*t out of him.” In the end, she didn’t beat him up. She did, however, quickly get dressed and leave.
From Waterfalls to Drugstore Windows
Dali later sent her flowers and – get this – a live iguana with pearls strung on its tail. Her days of modeling went on, and she eventually met the account executive representing Chanel. She did an ad for Chanel No. 5 bath oil under a Puerto Rico waterfall (of course).
The final product was displayed in fancy drugstores and caught the eye of an agent, who tracked her down and sent her on numerous failed auditions. In 1968, MacGraw was finally cast in an uncredited role in A Lovely Way to Die before getting her first real part in Goodbye, Columbus in 1969.
“I was afraid every breathing minute of my film career,” she confessed. On the third day on the set of Goodbye, Columbus, she had to do a scene where she ran up a flight of stairs and said one line: “Come on, I’ll show you to your room.”
But she kept freezing up, and they had to shoot it 31 times, until she assumed she would be fired. MacGraw had no training. Amazingly, she got good reviews for Goodbye, Columbus. Otherwise, she wouldn’t have landed Love Story the following year.
Staying Clean in a Dirty Industry
MacGraw moved to Santa Fe after her house in Malibu burned down in 1993. In 1986 she entered the Betty Ford clinic, after realizing that she had a problem with alcohol and other substances. She hasn’t had a drink ever since.
It’s not easy to keep clean in such a “dirty” industry. Take her King of Cool husband, for example, who she said was, “somewhat stoned every day of our almost six-year relationship.” But drugs and alcohol were only part of her worries.
Not So Cool, McQueen
In her book, she recounted a night when she and McQueen went to a party and “he began carrying on with two local beauties.” Believe it or not, he brought them home that night. MacGraw could hear them in the room next door.
Evidently, the King of Cool was pretty cold to his women. The morning after, he asked MacGraw to make him breakfast. “And the amazing thing is, I went in and cooked it!” she admitted. He would tell his wife, “You’ve got a great ass, but you better start working out now.”
A Woman, Obsessed
And so, she did. She worked out, made breakfast for him, stood by his side – did everything for the guy because she was obsessed with him. After their divorce, McQueen went to Idaho with Barbara Minty, the woman who became his third wife.
It goes without saying that McQueen wouldn’t have done so well in the Me-Too era. But McQueen wasn’t some unattractive producer who “greets you in a bathrobe and asks for a massage. That’s just disgusting,” MacGraw said. “I met one of those guys once,” she shared. She wondered why he was calling her back at 8 p.m. for a walk-on part. “I didn’t go into the room. I went home. In the rain.”
Yes, She Has a Bear
That’s right. MacGraw, an animal activist, flew to Vietnam because they were going to close a sanctuary. As a gift, they gave her one of the bears. She didn’t take him home or anything, though. But technically, he’s hers.
“In Santa Fe,” she explained, “we have a fantastically animal-conscious community, and I’m psycho about animals.” She may think she’s a psycho, but the woman is far from it. She’s come out of the other end of the addiction tunnel a better woman.
O’Neal’s Life Was Wild, Too
As for Ryan O’Neal, he had his own struggles. In 2001, he was diagnosed with chronic myelogenous leukemia. By 2012, he revealed that he was diagnosed with stage IV prostate cancer. He lost Farrah Fawcet to cancer in 2009.
O’Neal was involved with Fawcett from 1979 to 1997, and like MacGraw and McQueen, their relationship was tumultuous, too. O’Neal had a tendency to cheat and grow violent. Fawcett ended their relationship after she found O’Neal in bed with actress Leslie Stefanson.
Whirlwind Romances of His Own
O’Neal and Fawcett eventually got back together in 2001 (perhaps the diagnosis was the catalyst) and remained together until her death in 2009. Ironically, it was O’Neal who left his first wife because of HER behavior.
In 1966, he divorced actress Joanna Moore, whom he married in 1963, because of her alcoholism and drug abuse. As a result, he lost custody of their two kids. Then came his second wife, actress Leigh Taylor-Young, with whom he had a son. She was the wife he went home to after his days shooting Love Story.
“I got married at 21, and I was not a real mature 21,” O’Neal once said. “I didn’t discover women until I was married, and then it was too late.” He went on to have romances with Ursula Andress, Bianca Jagger, Anouk Aimée, Jacqueline Bisset, Barbra Streisand, Diana Ross, and Anjelica Huston.
What a list! His daughter Tatum O’Neal said her dad had an affair with Melanie Griffith, too. Anjelica Huston claimed that O’Neal physically abused her. Whether or not that’s true is up for debate.
Not Such Fans of Their Dad
For many years, O’Neal was estranged from his elder children, Tatum O’Neal, Griffin O’Neal, Patrick O’Neal, and Redmond James Fawcett O’Neal. “I’m a hopeless father. I don’t know why. I don’t think I was supposed to be a father,” he solemnly confessed.
In her autobiography, A Paper Life, Tatum O’Neal wrote that she suffered physical and emotional abuse from her father. His son Griffin revealed that his dad “gave me cocaine when I was 11 and insisted I take it… He was a very abusive, narcissistic psychopath.”
On that note, we wish O’Neal better health and happiness for his children…