Beyond ‘Love Story’: The Amazing Turbulent Life Of Ali MacGraw


A Humble Beginning

Not every celebrity’s career starts off with a big splash. In Ali MacGraw’s case, there was very little indication that she would go on to become a big star. In fact, she started off at age 22 as an assistant to Harper’s Bazaar editor Diana Vreeland and a stylist for Vogue. However, these modest jobs would help her spring off into a successful acting career.

Love Didn’t Last

Your first love is always a special thing, but these early relationships don’t always last. Ali MacGraw learned this after her marriage with college sweetheart Robin Hoen failed to work out. Robin was a Harvard graduate and successful banker, but their personal lives didn’t mesh and the two would ultimately get divorced after just a year and a half.

Catching A Break

It turned out that being a stylist for the photographers at Vogue was a great gig. The photographers quickly noticed that Ali MacGraw was a beautiful young lady and asked her whether she wanted to do some shoots, to which she said yes. Before long, she was modeling as a career. Her natural beauty and appeal made her a big hit with photographers at the time.

Ali Had Big Dreams

Although Ali MacGraw was pleased with the start of her modeling career, she had bigger aspirations than just being photographed. She wanted to act as well, and did so at first by landing roles in TV commercials for Polaroid and other brands. Finally, she got a tiny role in the 1968 film A Lovely Way to Die, which didn’t exactly launch her into stardom, but it was a start.

College Girl

Ali MacGraw didn’t get started on her path to stardom right at 18, because she decided to go to college first. She went to Wellesley College, which was also the alma matter of such famous individuals as Diane Sawyer and Hillary Clinton. Ali’s parents were both artists and while she was at school, she really decided to devote herself to the arts.

A Nervous Wreck

Ali MacGraw had a magnetic appeal on the screen, but her early days as an actress were marked by nervousness. “I was never trained as an actress,” Ali said. “It was frightening for me, every single, solitary, breathing second.” Despite her trepidation, audiences and critics liked her immediately. She won the 1970 Golden Globe for Most Promising Newcomer-Female for her role in Goodbye, Columbus.

In Love Again

Around the time that she filmed her award-winning role in Goodbye Columbus, Ali MacGraw fell in love again, this time with producer Robert Evans. The two hit it off very quickly and got married in 1969. They would also later have a son named Josh together. Not only was Ali’s personal life going well, but her professional life would benefit from the union, as well.

Love Story

In 1971, Ali MacGraw took a huge leap forward with her role in Love Story. Opposite Ryan O’Neal, Ali played Jenny, a music student who falls in love with a law student. The film was a great success and landed Ali a second Golden Globe award, this time for Best Actress in the drama category. She also earned an Academy Award nomination for her performance.

Not Such A Happy Childhood

Although Ali MacGraw would go on to find great success in acting and modeling, her childhood wasn’t always so happy. Her mother and father loved her but had their own problems that sometimes impacted her life. The family didn’t have much money and was cramped in a small home, while her father battled a substance addiction throughout her childhood.

Was Steve Her True Love?

As Ali MacGraw was married three times, it’s anyone’s guess as to who she would consider the love of her life. However, most would say it was actor Steve McQueen, who was her third husband after she split from Robert Evans. Tragically when Steve was dying years later after they divorced, he did not want to see Ali. His friends speculated that he could not bear to see her because his feelings for her were so strong.

The Getaway Almost Didn’t Happen

Ali MacGraw’s co-starring role with Steve McQueen in The Getaway very nearly didn’t happen. She did not like the script, but then-husband Robert Evans wanted her to branch out a bit and try new things. Ultimately, he convinced her and she decided to do it, which ended up changing her life quite a bit both professionally and personally.

Forbidden Love

There are many tales of actors and actresses falling for one another while on the set of an upcoming film. This turned out to be the case for Ali and co-star Steve McQueen. It wasn’t a good situation, as Ali was still married to Robert Evans and acting in a film that he convinced her to do! But she couldn’t deny her “overwhelming attraction to him,” as she would later describe it.

Headed For A Heartbreak

There was simply no way that a high-profile affair between stars like Ali MacGraw and Steve McQueen could be kept secret, and sure enough, the public soon found out about it. Ali would divorce from Robert Evans in 1972, having only been married to him for three years. It wasn’t just Ali who had little luck in marriage, by the way. As of 2006, ex-husband Robert has had seven marriages, all of which ended in divorce or annulment.

Back In The Saddle

In what certainly wasn’t the best decision, Ali MacGraw married Steve McQueen in 1973, just a year after her second divorce. Not only was it a questionable personal decision, but it was bad for her career, as well. Just a couple of years after she was called the biggest female box office star in the world, Steve asked her to put her career on hold and focus on being just a wife, and she did so.

Didn’t See It Coming

Ali was madly in love with Steve McQueen and therefore, never expected him to be a terrible husband. However, he immediately got into some bad habits after they were married, delving into substance abuse and regularly cheating on Ali. From the outside looking in, it seemed crazy for Ali to give up a successful career for such a difficult marriage.

A Controlling Husband

Ali found out the hard way that despite being a popular heartthrob, Steve McQueen was a controlling, manipulative husband. When Ali wanted to return to acting a few years after they married, Steve got mad. Even though they had no children together, he wanted her to continue to stay at home and be a housewife without any career of her own.

Sticking Up For Herself

Finally, Ali decided that enough was enough. Whether Steve liked it or not, she was going to return to acting. In 1978, she agreed to play Melissa in the Sam Peckinpah-directed action film Convoy. Steve’s position on the matter had not changed, however, and he made it clear that this was an unacceptable choice for him. In 1978, the two split for good.

Starting Over Again

It was no real surprise that Steve McQueen was not a very gracious person during their divorce. The nasty process included Ali being kicked out of their home and Steve’s newest girlfriend, Barbara Minty, being moved in. Steve and Barbara would later marry. Meanwhile, Ali had very little money to her name and had just recently restarted her career.

Turn For The Worse

What Steve McQueen didn’t realize was that he was actually very sick. In 1978, what seemed to be a persistent cough actually turned out to be cancer from asbestos exposure. In 1980, Steve died after suffering a heart attack while sleeping. Ali tried without success to meet with Steve in his last years to make peace with him, but Steve wasn’t interested.

Lost In The Flames

It was a sad time for Ali MacGraw, and things didn’t get better when a wildfire that was running out of control would ultimately burn down her home in Malibu. Although she wouldn’t have trouble replacing the home, there were many sentimental items throughout the home that she was quite sad to lose. It seemed like very little was going right for the former superstar.

Getting Out Of Town

The fire wasn’t the only problem that she’d been having while living in the Los Angeles area. As she got older and continued to be a mom first, actress second, she said it was difficult living in a city where you’re always judged based on your image. She took the wildfire as a sign that she needed to make a change, and she decided to move to New Mexico.

Rebuilding Her Career

While her personal life was tumultuous at the time, Ali continued to try to rebuild her acting career. After Convoy, she appeared in the films Players and Just Tell Me What You Want, as well as the TV miniseries The Winds of War. In 1985, she starred as Lady Ashley Mitchell in Dynasty, but critics were not fans of her choice to be on the evening soap opera, calling it an artistic flop.

Tough Times

Even as she tried to regain momentum in her acting career in the early 1980s, she was suffering from depression and turning to substance abuse to cope. “I spent hours every day scattered, a big waste of energy,” she would go on to say. She said that during that particular time in her life, she was “just holding on” and hoping to get through the rough patch.

Getting Much Needed Help

It was clear to both Ali MacGraw and her friends that she was in need of some help to defeat her substance abuse problems. Ultimately, she decided to go to the Betty Ford Clinic, later on realizing that it was the right choice and probably saved her life. Years later, in her autobiography Moving Pictures, she would describe the process in great detail.

Still Beautiful

Ali MacGraw’s acting career was once again put on hold in the mid-1980s, and she went seven years between the 1985 film Murder Elite and the TV movie Survive the Savage Sea. However, the world didn’t forget about her during this time. At 52 years old, she was even named to People magazine’s 50 Most Beautiful People in the World list in 1991.

A Yoga Icon

Back in the early 1990s, yoga was not nearly the huge craze that it is today and was more of a fringe activity known to a relative few. However, when Ali MacGraw discovered yoga, she decided to help make it mainstream with her special series of videos. They became best-sellers and helped make yoga a cultural phenomenon, according to Vanity Fair.

Starting Her Clothing Business

Ali MacGraw has emphasized her philanthropic efforts in more recent years, even starting a clothing line that helps women around the globe become self-sufficient. Her line is called ali4ibu, and it uses materials from 71 artisan groups representing 34 nations around the world. The word “ibu” means “a woman of respect” in Malay, the language of Indonesia.

Fighting For Animal Rights

Once she conquered substance abuse and acting took a back seat, Ali started to really spend time on animal rights activism. “I’ve always loved animals and I always thought that they were, if not better, then the absolute equal of any two-legged creature that God ever created,” Ali said. One of her efforts has been to encourage residents to plan for animal care during evacuations due to natural disasters.

The One That Got Away?

Although Ali MacGraw was married to producer Robert Evans at the time, she had quite a crush on Ryan O’Neal, her co-star in the film Love Story. Years later, she would reveal to TV host Oprah Winfrey that the two had a mutual crush on one another. O’Neal said the same, even pointing out that he was a little jealous of her husband from time to time.

A Lasting Friendship

Most fans would agree that Love Story remains Ali MacGraw’s best film. Both Ali and Ryan O’Neal were nominated for Oscars for their performances, and the two have remained friends more than 40 years later. In 2016, they even toured together as part of a promotion for the play Love Letters. MacGraw said that even after all the years, the two still had the same chemistry together.

Taking Some Of The Blame

Although Ali had a terrible marriage with Steve McQueen, she knows deep down that not all three divorces were the fault of her husbands at the time. “I was an atrocious partner,” she once said in an interview. “I had no room for compromise, and most importantly, I never told anybody who I was. I wanted them to read my mind about what I wanted.”

Good Friends

Although Ali and Steve McQueen’s split was quite contentious, Ali and ex Robert Evans had a good reason to stay on pleasant terms: their son, Josh. As such, the two have remained friends over the years and a have a good relationship. In fact, Ali joined Josh to celebrate when Robert got a star on the famous Hollywood Walk of Fame.

A Bit Old-Fashioned

It’s not surprising that Ali MacGraw is not a huge fan of the way that celebrity culture has changed with the advent of the internet and social media. She has said in interviews that she doesn’t like how people seemingly become famous for being famous. She said that culture prefers “pop stars over real actors,” (although she often referred to herself as a “pop star” in her younger years). “I’m waiting in terror for the inevitable Steve McQueen movie in which I will be played by, ooh, Selena Gomez,” she once said sarcastically. Ouch.

Is Kendall Copying Ali’s Look?

Considering that Ali doesn’t like that people are now famous for no good reason, it’s a bit ironic that Kendall Jenner, who is part of the Kardashian family, is often compared to her. Kendall has said that her mom’s friends always said she looks like a young MacGraw and that she was made to watch Love Story because of that. But she said she fell asleep during the movie, so maybe the dislike between the two is mutual?

Is He Ali’s Biggest Fan?

Ali has had many fans over the years, but none may be bigger than fashion designer Michael Kors. In fact, he once gushed over Ali in an interview. He said, “Ali MacGraw is proof that you can be a star but still be a real individual. She’s the quintessential American girl.” He also said that many of his designs are inspired by Jenny Cavilleri, Ali’s character from Love Story.

Down To Earth?

Ali MacGraw has given her opinion on many topics, including today’s film stars, who she thinks are more accessible than in previous generations and lack that “larger than life” appeal of Steve McQueen, Robert Mitchum, or Cary Grant. “There’s some other little piece that is missing for me,” she added, although she’s a fan of performers like Anthony Hopkins and Susan Sarandon.

Ahead Of Her Time

There are some hairstyles over the years that have been iconic. Some, like Farrah Fawcett’s signature waves, have come and gone through the generations. Others, like Ali MacGraw’s signature center-part, continue to be popular to this day. It’s a good choice for many young women because of the way it frames their faces and looks good for all occasions. In that way, Ali was really a style pioneer.

Deemed A Living Treasure

Many pop culture buffs would say that Ali MacGraw is a sort of living treasure, and the city of Santa Fe agrees with them. In fact, she is one of four individuals to be called “Santa Fe Living Treasures” for the good deeds they have done throughout their communities. Ali has said in interviews that she’s happy that her fame allows her to speak out on important issues, like animal rights.

What’s Ali Worth?

Ali has gone from being a model and actress to a woman who wears many different hats. For instance, she has moved on to become an author, designer, and an activist. Throughout all of her different endeavors and work as a spokesperson, she has been able to amass a very nice net worth of $6 million. It’s good to know that such a legendary individual in pop culture has earned the right to live comfortably.

What Matters Most

After nearly 80 years, Ali MacGraw has lived – and learned – a lot. Her life includes superstardom, motherhood, three marriages, and victory over substance abuse. Through it all, she said that the most important thing of all is “the quality of your friendships.” She said that ultimately, that’s what has mattered the most to her in her life.

What’s Ali Doing Now?

At 79 years old, Ali MacGraw has not slowed down a single bit. She continues to do yoga, promote her ali4ibu clothing line, and get involved in activism and philanthropic efforts. Meanwhile, she enjoys a great relationship with her son Josh, who is now 47 years old himself. Josh has become an actor, director, and producer with a career of his own.