Some people are only in the spotlight for a brief part of their lives, but they make such an impression in that time that it secures their legacy. Such was the case with Ali MacGraw. During the 1970s, MacGraw enjoyed four big hit films, but after that, her career fizzled and didn’t recover. Living with such a lopsided amount of success (as well as being married to one of the biggest film stars in Hollywood history) can be difficult for anyone, and MacGraw was no exception. Here are 42 exceptional facts about Ali MacGraw.
1. What a Joke!
Elizabeth Alice MacGraw was born on April 1, 1939, in Pound Ridge, New York. She was one of two children born to Richard MacGraw and Frances Klein, both of whom worked as commercial artists. Interestingly, MacGraw’s mother was nearly 40 when she gave birth to MacGraw.
2. Wild Triumph
We’ll just get this part out of the way now. MacGraw’s second feature film was the incredible smash hit romance film which went by the title Love Story. Released in 1970 on a budget of $2.2 million—$22 thousand of which went to MacGraw’s paycheck—the film made a whopping $136.4 million worldwide upon its initial release.
If you adjust that amount for inflation, Love Story is one of the 40 highest grossing American films ever made, even to this day.
3. Small Screen Too, Why Not?
As if that wasn’t enough for Ali MacGraw, Love Story quickly became the most watched film on television as well after it was first broadcast on ABC in 1972. Its record wasn’t surpassed until four years later by Gone with the Wind.
4. Knowledge is Power
Ali MacGraw attended classes at Wellesley College, found in the Massachusetts town of Wellesley.
5. Daddy Issues
MacGraw’s father, Richard, had a rather tragic origin story. Abandoned by his parents, Richard grew up in orphanages before running away and taking a ship to Europe. It was in Germany that he studied art and eventually returned to the United States. Sadly, Richard never let go of his anger and resentment at being abandoned.
Even though MacGraw was quick to describe her father’s handsome features and his possessing “a brain beyond brains,” she had to admit that he was very ill-tempered and prone to violence.
6. Better Than Nothing!
Ali MacGraw was nominated for an Academy Award for her acting in the film Love Story. It remains to be her only Academy Award nomination as of 2019.
7. Brief Fling
Shortly after finishing college, MacGraw married a banker named Robin Hoen, whom she’d dated for five years. Sadly, their marriage wouldn’t last as long; they were divorced after less than two years.
8. For the Critters
Over the course of her life, MacGraw has been a vocal supporter of animal rights and animal welfare. In the summer of 2006, MacGraw filmed a PSA in collaboration with the organization PETA and has served as an ambassador for the charity known as Animals Asia. Her tireless actions to defend and protect animals led to her being awarded the Humane Education Award by Animal Protection of New Mexico.
9. Starting Big
People tend to forget that Love Story was neither Ali MacGraw’s first film, nor was it even her first big success. That particular honor goes to Goodbye, Columbus, which came out in 1969. MacGraw stars as the female half of a young couple who face obstacles to their love affair—stop us if this is starting to sound familiar.
The film was meant to be a satire of upper-class Jewish-American families and was very successful both critically and commercially. It was also MacGraw’s big break, leading to the even bigger hit that was Love Story.
10. Forgotten First
Goodbye, Columbus is often listed as being MacGraw’s feature film debut, but this isn’t technically true. A year before her work on Goodbye, Columbus, MacGraw had a very small part in the film A Lovely Way to Die, starring Kirk Douglas and Eli Wallach.
11. Written in Stone
By 1972, Ali MacGraw had only appeared in three films, but she was already a highly celebrated actress. That year, she was granted the significant accolade of engraving her footprints and autograph outside Grauman’s Chinese Theatre.
12. Wedding in the Workplace
In 1969, Ali MacGraw married Robert Evans. In case you aren’t sure of who that is, Evans is a highly accomplished film producer whose resume includes The Godfather, True Grit, Rosemary’s Baby, and MacGraw’s own Love Story.
13. The Elephant in the Room
MacGraw’s mother, Frances Klein, was descended from Hungarian immigrants of Jewish faith. The disturbing part of this was that Frances never revealed her Jewish background to MacGraw’s father, her own husband. MacGraw herself mused that her father’s bigotry was the reason for the secrecy.
Ali MacGraw has one child with her second husband, Robert Evans. Josh Evans has followed both his parents into the film industry, having worked as an actor, director, writer, and producer.
15. My Story
In 1985, MacGraw came forward and spoke to People magazine about an important event which took place during her early 20s. At the time, she was in a relationship, but while she was taking birth control, the Pill managed to fail to work, and she got pregnant. After several long discussions with her partner, MacGraw decided that she was neither ready nor equipped to have children.
As abortions were illegal at the time, MacGraw had to go to considerable lengths to get the procedure done, which she described as terrifying due to the stigma of what she was doing, the internal struggle that she was going through, and, again, the fact that it was against the law at the time. Such was her fear that she didn’t even tell her mother about what she’d done.
Since that event, MacGraw became involved in the pro-choice movement, pushing for safe abortion options to be accessible to women.
16. Unique Skill
MacGraw specifically learned how to play the harpsichord in preparation for her role in Love Story. Sadly, we couldn’t confirm if she memorized any of Bach or Handel’s music during this time period.
17. The Brangelina of Their Day
In 1972, Ali MacGraw began filming the neo-noir crime film The Getaway alongside American screen legend Steve McQueen. The film’s production was quickly overshadowed, however, by the revelation that McQueen and MacGraw, both married to other people, had begun a love affair on set. This caused shockwaves in Hollywood, particularly because of MacGraw’s marriage to prominent Hollywood producer Robert Evans.
Two of MacGraw’s best friends in the film industry were writer Gloria Steinem and actress Candice Bergen. Steinem and MacGraw were briefly roommates during university. As for Bergen, one way in which she and MacGraw were connected was the fact that Bergen acted in the sequel to Love Story alongside Ryan O’Neal.
19. The Fashion World
Before her work as an actress, Ali MacGraw spent six years working as a photographic assistant for Harper’s Bazaar. She worked directly for the legendary Diana Vreeland. Additionally, MacGraw got work as a fashion model with Vogue.
20. What Was That for?!
If you watch The Getaway, you’ll notice a scene where MacGraw’s character is suddenly slapped in the face by the character played by Steve McQueen. Allegedly, this slap wasn’t planned at all. MacGraw’s reaction in the scene is a genuine one to being slapped out of the blue.
21. You’ll Go Far
Interestingly, it wasn’t just MacGraw’s career who was kickstarted by Love Story. The film’s cast also featured a very young Tommy Lee Jones, making his film debut! You might remember him from at least half a dozen films that you’ve seen in your life.
One aspect of MacGraw’s career which a lot of you might not be aware of is the fact that she helped popularize yoga in the United States. Having embraced yoga in her 50s, MacGraw produced a yoga video with Erich Schiffmann. In case you don’t know who that is, Schiffmann has been hailed as a yoga master, having spent decades teaching it to people and publishing a bestselling book on the subject.
MacGraw and Schiffmann’s video Yoga Mind & Body was released in 1994 and was very popular.
23. Classic Cougar
In 1991, Ali MacGraw was named by People Magazine as one of their 50 Most Beautiful People. She was around 52 at the time.
24. In Hindsight…
Given how much her social life overshadowed her actual work on the film The Getaway, it might sadden some of you to know that while MacGraw enjoyed working with filmmaker Sam Peckinpah, she loathed her own performance in the finished product. She had allegedly struggled with the role, which was quite different from what she’d previously portrayed in her first few films.
25. A Short Dynasty on Dynasty
In 1985, MacGraw transitioned (or downgraded, depending on who you ask) to the world of soap operas. Specifically, she co-starred in Dynasty as Lady Ashley Mitchell, love interest to protagonist Jeff Colby. She appeared in 14 episodes before she was written out of the show.
26. Out with a Bang
In case you’re wondering how Ali MacGraw was killed off of Dynasty, they went all out, even for a soap opera. The fifth season’s finale in 1985 was, like so many other finales, a cliffhanger. In this case, all the main characters are present for a big wedding in Moldavia when a terrorist group and everyone is shot down.
The following season, it was revealed that only two minor characters were actually killed off in the “Moldavian Massacre,” as it was called. If you think such a plot twist is tasteless, keep in mind that this took place during the 1980s, back when it wasn’t considered ludicrous for the show’s creator to describe the event as a “fairy-tale terrorist attack.”
We’re starting to see why MacGraw might not be sad to have been written out of that show!
27. Out with a Whimper
In 1980, after spending half the decade making hit films, MacGraw starred in the comedy film Just Tell Me What You Want. Directed by Sidney Lumet, MacGraw portrays the protégée of a wealthy corporate head who is also her lover. Contrary to MacGraw’s start into the film industry, Just Tell Me What You Want was a critical and commercial failure.
Unless MacGraw decides to headline a movie in the near future, this will remain the last time that MacGraw starred in a feature film which saw a major release.
28. Look at Those Chompers!
MacGraw earned a rather mean nickname by the cast and crew of Love Story due to her tilted teeth. As a result, she was named “Bucky Beaver,” presumably after they’d served the cast and crew corn on the cob for lunch one day.
29. Correlation or Causation?
Interestingly, Ali MacGraw’s relationship and marriage to Steve McQueen was bookended by films that she did with infamous film director Sam Peckinpah. MacGraw and McQueen began their affair while filming The Getaway, and after MacGraw divorced McQueen, she returned to film acting with Peckinpah’s 1978 action film Convoy.
Both these films were huge hits for both MacGraw and Peckinpah’s careers. Maybe they should have kept working together?
30. Theatrical Thespian
In 2006, MacGraw made her first appearance on Broadway. She starred in the play Festen, portraying the matriarch of a truly dysfunctional family.
31. Those Were the Days
For three consecutive years, MacGraw won a Golden Globe Award. The first one was the Most Promising Newcomer Award in 1970 for her work in Goodbye, Columbus. The next year, MacGraw got the Best Actress Award for Love Story. Finally, in 1972, MacGraw got the Henrietta Award for being the World Film Favorite.
32. Paying Bills Means Never Having to Say You’re Sorry
If you think we were being too harsh at MacGraw’s expense for her being in the soap opera Dynasty, don’t worry, because in 2011, she confirmed what so many of us would have suspected anyway. Her stint in soap opera was done purely for financial reasons rather than any particular affinity for that genre.
33. Lauded Material
In 1983, MacGraw joined the cast of The Winds of War. This ABC miniseries was based on the celebrated book of the same name by Herman Wouk. The story depicts the early part of the Second World War, from March 1939 until December 1941. MacGraw co-starred alongside such veteran actors as Robert Mitchum, Topol, and John Houseman.
Earning 11 Emmy nominations, and winning three of them, The Winds of War was arguably MacGraw’s last hurrah as a mainstream actress.
34. Nitpicking Fandom
Despite her accomplished work in the mini-series The Winds of War, her involvement didn’t come without some controversy. Fans of the book were adamant that MacGraw was too old for the character she was trying to play. She wasn’t the only one, however; several of her co-stars were also targeted by the fans for the age difference between them and their characters.
Whether that matters or not, you can watch the mini-series and decide for yourselves.
35. Rising High
Such was MacGraw’s success in the early 1970s (thanks to Love Story, The Getaway, and Goodbye, Columbus) that in 1972, she was voted the top female box office star in the world.
36. For Old Times’ Sake
In 2016, more than 40 years after they’d played love interests in Love Story, MacGraw and Ryan O’Neal reunited onstage. Fittingly, the play that they put on was Love Letters. Written by A. R. Gurney, Love Letters was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Given that the play follows fifty years in the lives of a man and woman who were romantically attached early in their lives, the casting of MacGraw and O’Neal was incredibly fitting.
37. You’re Cast! Nope, Never Mind!
As you can imagine, film producer Robert Evans was eager to provide roles for MacGraw when the two of them were married. When their marriage fell apart and they divorced, Evans was petty enough to take those film opportunities away from MacGraw as a result. In case you’re wondering, the roles being lined for MacGraw to take included Daisy Buchanan in the 1974 film adaptation of The Great Gatsby and Evelyn in the 1974 classic Chinatown.
38. Last Time I Saw Ali…
MacGraw’s final film performance can be seen in the 1997 experimental film Glam, which was the passion project of her son, Josh Evans. However, her final onscreen appearance was as herself in the documentary Get Bruce in 1999.
39. I Must Say!
The most famous line of MacGraw’s entire film career was the tearful statement “Love means never having to say you’re sorry,” which was during her film Love Story. As cheesy as that might sound to a lot of you, the American Film Institute listed that line as the 13th best of all time. Perhaps ironically, MacGraw had flubbed the line when shooting.
It was originally written in the script as “Love means not ever having to say you’re sorry.” Presumably, nobody was enough of a nitpicker to make her do the take again.
40. From Storm to Storm
After Ali MacGraw divorced her second husband in the aftermath of the scandalous affair between her and Steve McQueen, MacGraw promptly married the screen actor in 1973. During her marriage to McQueen, she didn’t act in any films. Aside from any other issues they had, MacGraw suffered a miscarriage during their time together.
The marriage ended in 1978, but sources close to McQueen adamantly stated that MacGraw was the love of his life, and he never got over his feelings for her.
41. The Production from Hell
Despite the wild success of the trucker film Convoy, the film was very unpleasant for MacGraw to have worked on. For one thing, she was making her comeback to film acting after six years of absence, so she was uncomfortable in front of the camera. While she’d enjoyed her experience working with Sam Peckinpah on The Getaway, she found this second collaboration to be so stressful that she developed fever blisters on her lip.
Worst of all, MacGraw was struggling with drug addictions, and once arrived on set so high on cocaine that she couldn’t act. The one silver lining of that incident was that it inspired her to put drugs behind her.
In 1991, Ali MacGraw released her autobiography. Titled Moving Pictures, the book bravely tackled MacGraw’s struggles during her life. Apart from her issues dealing with fame so soon in her life, she also had to overcome her addictions to both sex and substances. MacGraw even spent time at the Betty Ford Center for assistance in these struggles.