Ali MacGraw Is Iconic For Her Role In Love Story, But One Off-Screen Romance Almost Ruined Her

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Back in the 1970s, actor Ali MacGraw was huge. After appearing with Ryan O’Neal in the film Love Story she became a superstar, even appearing on Time magazine’s cover. But behind the scenes, her life was every bit as interesting and dramatic as her hit movies. She’s 80 now, and happy to talk about it.

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MacGraw was born in 1939 to parents Richard and Frances. She has mixed feelings about her father and the way she was raised. Although her mother was Jewish, she kept this quiet from her husband. In a 2010 piece for Vanity Fair magazine, she told the interviewer, “I think Daddy was bigoted.”

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In reality, in seems, MacGraw has very mixed feelings about her father. During the same Vanity Fair magazine interview, she described her dad as “my gorgeous father: a combination of Tyrone Power and a mystery, a brilliant artist and a brain beyond brains.” But she also talked about a childhood that was full of abuse by him.

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MacGraw said of her father, “Daddy was frightened and really, really angry. He never forgave his real parents for giving him up.” Richard had spent his childhood in an orphanage before running away as a teenager. As a parent he was prone to violent mood swings with his children in the firing line.

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According to MacGraw, Richard grew frustrated when he couldn’t make it as an artist, and took it out on his family. She recalled to Vanity Fair magazine, “On good days he was great, but on bad days he was horrendous. Daddy would beat my brother up, badly. I was witness to it, and it was terrible.” And, according to the star, her mother never tried to stop him.

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If that wasn’t bad enough, the family also lived in poverty. They shared a house with an old couple, and had no doors for privacy. As MacGraw grew older, she began adjusting herself to her circumstances. She explained, “I put all my energy into trying to correct the chaos in our life. I was the Perfect Girl – capital P, capital G.”

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As MacGraw got older, she realized her beauty could be a big boon to her. And it was. While at college, an attractive and wealthy young man, Robin Hoen, fell in love with the future star and proposed. Then, a friend of the Hoen family got her a job as an assistant to Diana Vreeland, fashion editor at the magazine Harper’s Bazaar.

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At that point, MacGraw’s looks started to catch the eye of some important people. Melvin Sokolsky, a photographer told Vanity Fair magazine in the 2010 piece, “Diana Vreeland had this beautiful girl for her secretary, who had legs that didn’t stop and a way-ahead intelligence and presence.” So he hired her.

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MacGraw then became a stylist, as well as a sort of muse for Sokolsky. She divorced Robin Hoen, having been with him for only a year, and got to work. As part of her new job she mingled with the upper crust of society and had flings with a few men. At one party, she met a lecherous Salvador Dalí, who ended up sending her a live iguana encrusted with faux pearls.

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Before long, Sokolsky began using MacGraw as a model. As she recalled to Vanity Fair magazine, “If Melvin had said, ‘Get me another piece of pale-gray silk,’ or ‘Finish ironing that dress,’ the story would be over.” But instead, “I went to Puerto Rico and sat under a waterfall. […] That picture was in every upscale drugstore in New York.”

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Thanks to that lucky break, people started getting in touch with MacGraw and asking her if she wanted to act. This led her to a small part in the 1968 film A Lovely Way to Die. She followed that the next year with a much bigger role in the romantic comedy Goodbye, Columbus, opposite Richard Benjamin.

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And after that, in 1970, came Love Story. After reading the script for the movie, MacGraw instantly knew it would be a hit, and promoted it all around Hollywood. Despite her enthusiasm, just one studio showed any interest. Paramount head Robert Evans eventually decided to take a chance on it. In later years, he would become the star’s second husband.

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In 2016, MacGraw looked back on Love Story for Town and Country magazine. She said, “Without it, I could have easily gone straight to oblivion. Because the size of the film’s success in countries all over the world… To this day, I travel a lot, and in India, Morocco, all over, people come up and say, ‘When are you going to make another Love Story?’”

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MacGraw went on, “I’m so grateful for it. Every single second of [Love Story] was a surprise. That said, it gave me a position in an industry that I was totally unprepared to be in. Some of it was scary – all of a sudden, they’re looking at you, every second. But I had amazingly sound, intelligent parents, and there was never a moment where I thought about behaving like a diva.”

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The star also formed a friendship with her Love Story leading man, Ryan O’Neal. In 2010 she said on The Oprah Winfrey Show, “First of all, he’s a great kisser. It’s a combination of somebody who’s incredibly sexy but funny. That’s just electrifying.” Both actors then confessed to having crushes on each other while filming.

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However, MacGraw found love with Evans, the man who produced Love Story… For a while, at least. She married him in 1969 and they had a son together, Josh. They pair were something of a supercouple in Hollywood while they were together. She was the beautiful and successful actor, while he was the man who produced smash hits such as The Godfather.

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But while still married to Evans, MacGraw began having an affair with Steve McQueen, her co-star in the movie The Getaway. And it had been the producer who encouraged his wife to do the movie in the first place. The star herself, having just become a mother, wasn’t sure if she should take the role or not.

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Once cast, though, MacGraw found herself extremely attracted to McQueen. During her Vanity Fair magazine interview, she recollected a time when he came to her and Evans’ house. The star said, “I remember sitting in the projection room and seeing Steve on the other side of the swimming pool, and you could see those eyes – the most extraordinary blue. I was just electrified. That’s scary. It’s very visceral. The brain isn’t involved in that moment.”

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McQueen was far from an ideal choice of partner, however, but MacGraw didn’t know that yet. Prior to herself, the actor had been married to Neile Adams but cheated on her multiple times. She, though, also was unfaithful. Upon learning of Adams’ affair, he allegedly held a loaded pistol to her head.

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Katy Haber, a friend of McQueen’s, recalled the affair to Vanity Fair magazine. Though it was “very evident that [the pair] were falling in love,” MacGraw was torn up about leaving her husband. Haber said, “She was in extreme conflict; her loyalty to Bob was strong – she went through hell and back.”

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In 1972, MacGraw divorced Evans and the following year, married her former co-star. But the relationship was far from rosy. McQueen allegedly stopped her from working, instead wanting her to be his housewife and get his meals to him at night. So, whenever acting agents called for his wife, he was rude to them.

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During MacGraw’s interview with Vanity Fair magazine, she called McQueen “very damaged.” The star went on, “I don’t mean that at all in a nasty way – he was a combination of incredible darkness and anger and mystery and almost child-like vulnerability. His mood swings were incredible.” But she also insisted, “I am 1,000 percent not a victim.”

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McQueen would cheat on MacGraw constantly, she’s said. In 2019 she did an interview with The Telegraph and remembered a night when her husband “began carrying on with two local beauties.” All night she heard them in the next room. The following morning, he asked her to cook breakfast. The star said, “And the amazing thing is, I went in and cooked it.”

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When The Telegraph asked MacGraw why she remained with McQueen, she answered, “Well I was totally in love with him, obviously. But I’ve also learned something very important in retrospect: It’s not about bad boy/perfect girl – that’s bulls***. If there’s something you’d really like to change, you have to have the courage to say, ‘Can we try and change it?’”

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But McQueen didn’t seem to change at all. Eventually his possessiveness became too much. One night, he saw MacGraw speaking to another man in Italian and accused her of flirting. As she recalled to Vanity Fair magazine, “He kept at it and kept at it and kept at it. It was terrible and frightening and catastrophic.” At which point, she left him.

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By 1978 MacGraw was officially divorced from McQueen, but her career had floundered. In 1983 she appeared in the miniseries The Winds of War, but got bad reviews for her performance. Two years later she joined the cast of the soap opera Dynasty, but she confessed later she did it only for the money.

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In 1985, MacGraw wrote a piece for People magazine. In the article, she revealed that she’d had an illegal abortion during her 20s. She wrote, “I had been involved with a lovely man for more than a year. My birth control method – I was taking the Pill – failed. It was not as if I was winging it or had forgotten to take the Pill and was hoping for the best. It just didn’t work.”

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The article provided a distressing look into what MacGraw’s early life had been like. She wrote, “I was making $80 a week before taxes. My parents had no money. It wasn’t as if I could call my father and have him take care of it for me. So there was this terrifying period of shock, fright and ‘Oh, God, what am I going to do?’”

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In the end, MacGraw ended up getting an abortion at “the filthiest, seediest building I had ever been in.” She wrote, “My imagination – which is overactive anyway – went berserk with possibilities. I was scared of the operation. I was scared I might die. I was scared I might be maimed. I was scared he might rape me. I was scared he would kill me.”

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However, luckily, and despite the unpleasant setting, the abortion took place with no complications. As MacGraw wrote in her People magazine article, “I didn’t then and still don’t feel any shame about what I did. But afterward, I was sad and often wondered if I had done the right thing in the eyes of God. I hoped so.”

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In more recent years, MacGraw said in her article, she opened up to her mother about the experience and was surprised at how supportive she was. The actor wrote, “Clearly I had underestimated my mother. It was so stupid that when I had my abortion, I hadn’t turned to the one person I should have.”

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MacGraw has also been through some other extremely difficult experiences in her life. In the later 1980s, having not worked as an actor for a while and feeling miserable, she turned to alcohol. Before long, she realized she had a drinking problem, and ended up checking into the Betty Ford clinic for rehab.

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In 1991 MacGraw told People magazine, “The worst stuff happened when I drank. I lost my judgment; I fancied other women’s husbands.” It was having a bad effect on her son, Josh, too, who was still just a teenager. For 30 days, the star stayed at the clinic and underwent some difficult group therapy.

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MacGraw recalled to People magazine, “Someone in the [therapy] group called me California Cuisine, like I was decorative but with nothing inside, and they were right. I have spent most of my life feeling like I had a shadow self. I wasn’t here, and I knew it.” But with the help from the clinic, she began to get better.

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But not long after MacGraw’s stint in rehab, she suffered another blow. A wildfire which spread throughout Malibu in 1993 destroyed the star’s house and everything in it. All sorts of irreplaceable items, including her own diaries, were suddenly gone. She had to simply accept it and carry on with her life.

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Now, MacGraw has stopped acting and has retreated from the public eye. She hasn’t actually played a character since 1997 – all television and film appearances after that had her playing herself, or narrating. However, she has been involved in activism. And in 2009 she filmed a PSA for PETA, telling people to take care of their pets during wildfires.

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But MacGraw is very happy with her life now, acting or no acting. She told Vanity Fair magazine she didn’t mind turning 70, saying “That’s another thing that getting older really cements: ex-lover, ex-husband, child, girlfriends, gay friends – that gaggle of human beings is a gift. Time is really precious now.”

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MacGraw went on, “I have too many books I haven’t read, too much music I haven’t listened to and too many long-distance phone calls with people I don’t get to see. So I get up very early, at 6:30. I am disciplined, in many ways. And – this will sound Pollyanna-ish – but gratitude is where I start.”

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The star did falter a little when she turned 80, though. She told The Telegraph in her 2019 interview, “In November I started to wake up in the middle of the night thinking, ‘Oh my God – the rest of the trip is so short compared to the one behind me, I’m going to be 80.’ I’d never felt like that before.”

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But MacGraw was able to overcome that fear. In 2019 she told The Telegraph that she finds herself at peace now, more than she ever has been. For a while, the star said, “I felt like the real me was standing like a ghost next to the person that was charming and well mannered, always said the right thing and dressed the right way. I’ve done a lot of – excuse the expression – work. But it’s paid off.”

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