A half century ago, Oliver and Jenny of Love Story fame enchanted a nation. And even the most stoic viewer shed a tear or two at the end of the movie.
It’s not much of a Love Story spoiler alert to say that Jenny (Ali MacGraw) died in the arms of Oliver, her handsome husband played by Ryan O’Neal, at the end of the movie. There even was a Love Story sequel, showing how Oliver had moved on from the tragic death of his young, beautiful wife.
But when O’Neal and MacGraw reunited for a stage play several years ago, it was if that make-believe movie relationship never ended. The two Love Story stars toured for the production of Love Letters from 2015-17. O’Neal appeared at a press conference to publicize the play.
“Maybe it is an extension of the film we did years ago,” O’Neal said at a press conference. “For me it’s as if [Jenny] didn’t die, and we’ve been together all this time. And you get to take a look at what happened to us.”
Years later, O’Neal went through a real-life Love Story ending with actress Farrah Fawcett. The two were together for 20 years. They broke up for four years, then reunited in 2001. Eight years later, Fawcett died of cancer.
“There was never a day I didn’t love her,” O’Neal told People in 2019.
Let’s drift back to 1970. O’Neal, thanks to the soap opera Peyton Place, was well-known in the United States. But he was looking to make the leap from day-time star to Hollywood leading man. He played an American marathon runner competing in the Olympics in the movie The Games. Erich Segal wrote the screen play. The movie didn’t break even, but O’Neal caught a big career break.
Segal also wrote Love Story. And he recommended O’Neal for the part of Oliver, a member of a very wealthy, influential family. As the movie opens, Oliver is a student at Harvard. He falls in love with Jenny, who is from a working class family. She was studying classical music at Radcliffe. Oliver had classic WASP looks in contrast to Jenni’s Boho vibe. Oliver’s parents definitely didn’t approve of their relationship and cut off the money.
Still, the couple got married as Oliver attended Harvard Law School. But their story was tragic. Jenny died of cancer when she was only 25. Despite the heart-breaker of an ending, the movie was tops at the box for 11 weeks. And it received seven Academy Award nominations. Both O’Neal and MacGraw received acting nominations.
Love Story also gave audiences a classic line that became entrenched in pop culture. It was said twice in the movie, first by Jenny, then by Oliver to his father.
So remember, “love means never having to say you’re sorry.” And since O’Neal and MacGraw reunited decades later, it’s like Jenny never died.