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It’s been 44 years since an ethnic working-class girl named Jenny fell in love with a waspy “preppie” named Oliver. And yet, on a recent afternoon in Malibu, it seemed barely a day had passed since the stars of director Arthur Hiller‘s 1970 tragic romance Love Story — Ryan O’Neal, 73 and Ali MacGraw, 75 — had last shared the screen. The longtime friends reflected on the seeming impossibility of selling a terribly sad love story to the masses (especially one wherein it’s revealed in the first minutes that the leading lady dies), the film’s unique legacy in Hollywood and how O’Neal really felt about MacGraw — famously once the spouse of Hollywood legends Robert Evans and Steve McQueen — while they were making the now-classic tearjerker.
See the full list here: Hollywood’s 100 Favorite Films
How did each of you get cast in Love Story?
RYAN O’NEAL She married the head of the studio! [Robert Evans, then-chief of Paramount, was MacGraw’s husband before she married Steve McQueen.]
ALI MACGRAW I was sent the movie, read it and cried—must’ve been the full moon or something!
Did they make you do chemistry reads?
MACGRAW No. We had no chemistry. We just slogged through it as best we could. (Laughs.)
O’NEAL I never wanted it to end. I never wanted her to die!
MACGRAW Making it was actually unbelievably fun the whole time; I was stupid and new enough in the business to think it was always like that. Ryan had worked a lot; I hadn’t. Everyone on the crew cried periodically during filming. But even though we were setting up this heart-wrenching story, we laughed for three months, as well.
O’NEAL It’s the best time I ever had on a movie. And I’ve made thousands!
MACGRAW I’ve made six.
What do you remember about the weekend the film opened?
O’NEAL It was 1970.
MACGRAW Dec. 16. And just what you think happened, happened. It was an instant hit all over the world. I remember at the premiere, more interesting than watching the movie was listening to the audience blowing their noses and crying. Men and women. It was shocking! It was at the Loews theater on Broadway in New York, it was snowing. It was pretty magical, with everybody sniveling away. Especially [MacGraw’s former agent] Sue Mengers. Remember?
O’NEAL She cried like a baby.
MACGRAW To this day, I go to the strangest places—India, Africa, South America—and people know the movie. Maybe because there really wasn’t a lot of dialogue?
Love is universal, after all.
O’NEAL “Love does mean never having to say you’re sorry …” for goodness sake.
That, of course, is the most famous line from that film, which, in hindsight, is maybe not the best relationship advice.
MACGRAW It’s a crock!
O’NEAL You’d better say you’re sorry!
How often do you see each other now?
O’NEAL Ali moved away to the Wild West.
MACGRAW My house burned down in ’93, so I moved to New Mexico.
O’NEAL We don’t see each other as often as we should.
Your cozy rapport suggests otherwise.
O’NEAL I love her and have always loved her.
MACGRAW That’s very sweet.
O’NEAL She just didn’t love me!
MACGRAW There’s a line around the block of [O’Neal’s] broken hearts.
O’NEAL Once, I was driving and came to a stoplight. These guys in the next car asked me, “Are you Beau Bridges?” I said, “No, I’m Steve McQueen.” That’s as close as I ever got.
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