Only in Hollywood

[Only IN Hollywood] Where do I begin about Ali MacGraw, 51 years later?

Ruben V. Nepales

This is AI generated summarization, which may have errors. For context, always refer to the full article.

[Only IN Hollywood] Where do I begin about Ali MacGraw, 51 years later?

ICON. Fifty-one years later since the release of 'Love Story' – Ali MacGraw in video conversation.

Screenshot courtesy of HFPA

'I certainly don't regret it,' says the actress of the iconic – and debatable' line from 'Love Story'

Where do I begin to tell this update on Ali MacGraw, 51 years since her Love Story became one of the highest-grossing films of all time?

“I live in a little village north of Santa Fe, New Mexico called Tesuque,” said Ali, who co-starred with Ryan O’Neal in Love Story, regarded as one of the most romantic movies by the American Film Institute.

Released in 1970, the tragic romantic drama earned $130 million at the box office, equivalent to about a billion dollars today. The tearjerker became Hollywood’s definitive love story. The preppy look of Ali’s Jenny and Ryan’s Oliver inspired a generation to adopt that fashion.

More than half a century later, ‘Love Story’ was reissued on Blu-Ray.
Photo courtesy of Paramount

To this day, Ali, who is turning 82 on April 1 (she was 31 when her memorable film was released) is still fielding questions about Love Story’s schmaltzy but very popular catchphrase, “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.”

The actress, beautiful and aging gracefully with grey hair, was matter-of-fact about that line.

“No, I certainly don’t regret it,” Ali declared in our recent video conversation. “I had no training as an actress. A normal, intelligent person would have said, now, wait a second, I’m not sure that sentence really is correct.”

“But it certainly worked because here we are, all these decades later, and everybody still asks that question. My answer for it really is that if we hurt somebody, we need to change our behavior.”

“Saying, oops, I’m sorry, is really not enough. I never thought of that, of course, 50 years ago.”

More than half a century later, Ali said Jenny’s background resonates with her. Written by Erich Segal, Love Story, simply put, is about a rich boy and a poor girl who fall in love and then tragedy strikes.

“There was so much about being in that environment that was emotionally very familiar,” Ali shared. “I went to school (Wellesley College) near Harvard. I spent a lot of time in Boston. I’m a New Yorker.”

“There was a lot about Jenny that was very familiar to me. I would have been the girl from the family with no money. I would have fallen in love with the man with all the money.”

“I don’t mean this negatively. It stuns me that here we are, 50 years later, with a new pressing of Love Story and an inordinate amount of publicity over the world all these decades later.”

Ali reflected on how her sentimental film ironically became phenomenally popular at a time when the Vietnam War and the civil rights movement gripped the world.

Ali MacGraw and Ryan O’Neal starred in ‘Love Story,’ which earned $130 million at the box office, equivalent to about a billion dollars today.
Photo courtesy of Paramount

“Certainly, none of us working on this little movie with an unknown – I was pretty much an unknown – and a big television star, Ryan O’Neal, could ever have imagined what that film became culturally.”

“I wonder if it’s that decade that we made it in, the early 70s, when there were huge, dark things going on the planet. There were atrocious problems racially, especially in our country, and then the Vietnam War.”

“We were at the tail end of this amazing decade where we were all believing that we were free, kind and loving and could do whatever we wanted.”

“Suddenly, the door was beginning to shut as the reality of how messed up our society was became clear. So maybe people were relieved to escape to this love story. I’m certainly grateful and stunned still, all these years later.”

Love Story, directed by Arthur Hiller after Larry Peerce and Anthony Harvey dropped out, pioneered the promotional concept of script first then the book.

Ali, fresh from the success of her first film, Goodbye, Columbus, read and loved the script. She championed the script at Paramount, which was run by her second husband, producer Robert Evans (with whom she had a son, Josh Evans, who is also a producer, actor, director and writer).

The studio was on the brink of financial collapse at that time.

“The book wasn’t written until after the script was written,” Ali pointed out. “It’s very funny. I went to a girl’s college where at the end of the year, there was a Shakespeare play. We had to go to Harvard University to get the men for the play.”

“One of the villains in the play I was in was played by a young man named Erich Segal, a brilliant scholar. We were civil to each other. Anyway, fade out to I don’t know how many years later.”

“There comes this script called Love Story to me from another studio with a ton of money attached.”

“Of course, I understandably owed Paramount for taking a chance on a complete unknown for Goodbye, Columbus. They could technically say, you are going to do this. I kept saying, I don’t like it.”

“So I read Love Story. I called Marty Davidson, who was a brilliant agent and was responsible for getting my career started.”

“I said, do you think Paramount would do this movie? Because I have read it twice and it touches me. I don’t know why.”

“I knew a guy named Erich Segal back in college but maybe it’s a very common name. It turned out to be the same guy, a very important scholar, who I understand was denied a really important professorship because he had written a bestseller.”

‘To everybody’s stunned amazement, that little movie saved Paramount at that time,’ said Ali MacGraw.
Photo courtesy of Paramount

“That’s really wretched because it didn’t diminish Erich’s brilliance in his field. Robert Evans was head of production and Goodbye, Columbus had been incredibly well handled by everybody involved. I thought, I want to work with those guys again.”

“Bob and his team said, yeah, this is a little movie and we will do this. Then he brilliantly said to Erich Segal, the writer, could you knock this out as a little book, by the way? Because Gulf & Western owned Simon & Schuster, as well as Paramount.”

“So, very easily, very quickly, and in multiple languages, Erich Segal knocked out Love Story. It went to all the bestseller lists. It was this big, like Jonathan Livingston Seagull – remember that?”

“People at the time were reading this book that’s on the bestseller list of The New York Times. It was just brilliant marketing. By the time the film came out, everybody had read it. And most people were touched by it.”

“I’m snobby and critical. I still find it amazing that that was the reaction – so universally (embraced) but it was. So we entered with a full movie that people were lined up wanting to see because they had read the book.”

Ali and Ryan, who landed the Oliver Barrett IV role after Beau Bridges, Michael York and Jon Voight turned the part down, became full-fledged stars.

(Where Do I Begin?) Love Story, the theme song composed by Francis Lai, who created the memorable score, and Carl Sigman, and popularized by Andy Williams, remains a favorite standard to this day.

Ali took the chance to clarify that, contrary to reports, she was in good terms with her parents, Frances and Richard MacGraw, who were artists.

“I adored my parents,” she stressed. “I had a great deal to do with them but I went away to college. Of course, I came home on holidays. Then my first job in New York City was, immediately out of college, as an assistant at Harper’s Bazaar because I thought I wanted maybe to be in the fashion business.”

“I was lucky to work in a very menial way but for probably the most iconic fashion editor, Diana Vreeland. Then I met Melvin Sokolsky who was a major fashion photographer in that decade. I worked with him for six years.”

Ali’s third and last husband was the late screen icon, Steve McQueen. The actress’ first husband was her college sweetheart, Robin Hoen.

“My relationship with Steve was very complicated,” admitted Ali, who had an affair with Steve on the set of their film, The Getaway. They married in 1973 and divorced in 1978.

She recalled listening to the radio interview with Steve before he died from lung cancer in 1980. The actor went to Mexico to undergo unorthodox cancer treatment by Dr. William Donald Kelley.

“I heard that heartbreaking speech,” Ali recounted. “I was driving up the Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu when Steve was on the radio asking for support for Dr. Kelley, this alternative doctor to whom he went.”

She opened up about her marriage to Steve, whose first wife was Neile Adams, a Filipino-American singer-actress from the Salvador showbiz clan in Manila. Steve’s wife at the time of his death was Barbara Minty.

“We were divorced by then but we had a very strong relationship in our hearts – I think forever. It didn’t work as a marriage but certainly, I know how I felt and how I feel.”

“I’ve heard that it was the same for him which doesn’t diminish in any way anyone else that he fell in love with because there were lots of us.”

“But he was complicated. He had an incredibly painful childhood. I guess there’s an American saying from some nursery rhyme which was, when he was good, he was very, very good, and when he was bad, he was horrid.”

“It was that simple but it didn’t diminish for me how much I loved him and how he was an extraordinary film actor. But he was a complicated person because he was the tough guy capable of cruelty, actually.”

“Then there was this incredibly vulnerable, sensitive soul. You never really knew who was going to show up that day. I don’t know that I was the ideal person to be married to him because he really wanted someone who was more at home and more family…I don’t know. It’s hard to say. It was a different time.”

The passionate animal welfare activist shared how she came to settle down in Santa Fe.

“I came to Santa Fe, New Mexico, after my house (in Malibu) burned in one of those annual forest fires in California which I’m afraid, from what I read, are going to be more constant with the global warming and the tremendous drought in that part of the world.”

“For a year, I tried to find another little place near the beach (Malibu) that my animals would be safe in. I could breathe that beautiful fresh air but I couldn’t find it.”

“I had helped a friend design her house in Santa Fe, New Mexico. I bought a tiny cottage there which is where I still live in the mountains, five minutes actually from where we’re doing this (Zoom call).”

“I love my life. I travel a lot. Of course, this is all on hold with COVID but my home is only now in Santa Fe. I knew nobody here. Absolutely nobody, except the woman who found the house.”

“I just wanted a cottage with privacy near the beach (in Malibu). Somebody said, but you have a cottage (in Santa Fe), and why aren’t you living in Santa Fe?”

“I said, I don’t know if I’ll like it. This was such an idiot answer. They said, pretty obviously, if you don’t like it, you don’t stay. I thought, what a great idea. That was 26 years ago.”

“I immediately got very involved with the community because it’s a very artistic community of many cultures. We have an amazing Native American culture. The Spanish culture that has been here for centuries is wonderful.”

“There is more cultural stimulation for me than I’ve ever found anywhere except in a couple of big cities around the world. The air is clean.”

An enduring style icon, Ali, decked in the Native American inspired jewelry that she collects, enthused about Ibu, which sells handmade products from women artisan coops.

“I’m very busy. I work all the time. I’m not making movies, blah, blah, blah but I work in the community. I did some design work a couple of years ago for a wonderful company called Ibu which supports about 200 women’s cooperatives all over the planet.”

“I love what they are doing. They wanted me to be part of that team. And I write and I paint. I have a wonderful life. I have animals.”

Looking back, Ali admitted, “Obviously, I made some very catastrophic mistakes. We all do but they are learning experiences. I’m grateful for every misstep I ever took.”

“I was married to three wonderful men. I certainly contributed to why those relationships didn’t work. It was so easy for me to pretend to be the good girl and they were the bad guys. That’s not the story at all.”

“So in investigating, in my 40s, why I was sadder than I pretended to be and why I was angrier than I wanted to be, I did a lot of the work. Maybe that’s not something that everybody has to do.”

“But the payoff has been incredible because I used to do drawings of how I really felt. I don’t feel like those drawings work at all anymore.”

“I start my day in gratitude and that there’s always something wonderful to look at.”

“I’ve learned and I don’t always do it but I understand that things happen but I have not much control about that. But I have a lot of control about how I’m going to react.”

“I guess it’s many decades of work but I’m grateful for it because I’m happy and I feel very grounded. I don’t feel frightened. I am certainly one of the luckiest people I’ve ever heard of.”

While she has been away from Hollywood for more than two decades, Ali was moved that she and Ryan received their stars on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame in honor of Love Story’s 50th anniversary last February.

Actor Ryan O’Neal, 79, visits his newly installed star on the Walk of Fame on Friday, February 12, 2021 in Hollywood, Calif.  Both O’Neal and ‘Love Story’ co-star Ali MacGraw were honored in the first-ever virtual double-star ceremony. 
Photo by Paramount Home Entertainment

“I was flabbergasted by it,” she said. “It probably seems I’m a Hollywood character but I’m not. It’s all kind of exotic to me.”

“It’s tremendously kind and dear – the people who do that Walk and Paramount Pictures to immortalize Love Story as they did with Ryan and me. So naturally, I’m incredibly touched by it.” (She and Ryan keep in touch after all these years.)

“But also, I do know that because at the time I was married to our son’s father, Robert Evans, who was the head of production in that incredible decade of Paramount. They were in trouble with their finances.”

“To everybody’s stunned amazement, that little movie saved Paramount at that time. So perhaps the Love Story thing is incredibly moving. That I am with those people is astonishing. That the movie is part of Hollywood history is true.” –

Add a comment

Sort by

There are no comments yet. Add your comment to start the conversation.

Summarize this article with AI

How does this make you feel?

Download the Rappler App!
Avatar photo


Ruben V. Nepales

Based in Los Angeles, Ruben V. Nepales is an award-winning journalist whose honors include prizes from the National Arts & Entertainment Journalism Awards, a US-wide competition, and the Southern California Journalism Awards, presented by the Los Angeles Press Club.