From model to movie star, Ali MacGraw was Hollywood’s unstoppable heroine in the 70s

Model and movie star Ali McGraw

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With a flash of her radiant smile and the infectious spirit she brought to the screen, young Ali MacGraw captured hearts all over the world.

From her early days in fashion to her unforgettable roles in classic films, she is much more than just an actress. Stroll down memory lane and explore the beginnings and legacy of this Hollywood gem as well as her captivating early career.

Actress and model Ali McGraw around 1968

Elizabeth Alice “Ali” MacGraw, born April 1, 1939, is an American actress, model, author, and animal rights activist who emerged as one of the most memorable faces of Hollywood in the 1960s and 70s.

The path to stardom for MacGraw began in New York’s high-fashion universe. She cut her teeth at Harper’s Bazaar, not as a model, but as a photographic assistant, honing her skills behind the camera. This experience fostered an eye for style and elegance that would later become part of her on-screen charisma.

Ali MacGraw’s big break

Her transition to the big screen was swift, and her first significant role in “Goodbye, Columbus” in 1969 won her a Golden Globe for Most Promising Newcomer. This was a springboard for MacGraw, and she landed the iconic role of Jenny Cavalleri in the 1970 film “Love Story.”

The role was a sensation. Her portrayal of the ill-fated Jenny was touching and garnered her an Academy Award nomination, solidifying her place in Hollywood’s firmament.

Vintage 1970 movie Love Story

While the professional journey of Ali MacGraw is studded with landmark moments, her personal life was equally as riveting. Beneath the sparkling veneer of Hollywood fame, MacGraw grappled with tumultuous relationships and personal challenges.

Her high-profile marriages, notably to producer Robert Evans and actor Steve McQueen, were often splashed across media headlines, adding a layer of drama off the silver screen. Despite facing her share of personal trials, MacGraw demonstrated remarkable resilience, navigating through these experiences with an admirable tenacity that only added to her endearing appeal.

Actress Ali McGraw with her daughter (1971)
Actress Ali McGraw with her daughter (1971)

Ali MacGraw’s commitment to activism

Throughout her personal challenges, MacGraw remained true to her art. Even as her personal life made headlines, her commitment to her craft never wavered. Her roles in films like “The Getaway” and “Convoy” have further cemented her legacy in the annals of American cinema.

As an animal rights activist and author, MacGraw has used her platform for good, raising awareness for causes close to her heart. She continues to inspire many, not just for her contributions to the film industry, but also for her work off-camera.

Model-actress Ali McGraw (1970)

Looking back on Ali MacGraw’s career, it’s clear that she is more than just an actress. She’s a style icon, a devoted activist, and a woman who navigated the pressures of Hollywood with grace and perseverance. Her journey serves as a reminder of the timeless allure of genuine talent and personal integrity. Read on for an interview she gave Ladies’ Home Journal back in 1972 at the peak of her film career.

The private world of Ali MacGraw (1972)

This is an interview with film star Ali MacGraw. There is another Ali — the young woman who left her husband, and is dating Steve McQueen. But that Ali doesn’t talk to reporters. Yes, it sounds complicated. But so is Ali MacGraw.

The private world of actress Ali MacGraw-1972

by Gini Kopecky

At the age of 33, following the success of her first movie, Goodbye Columbus, and the overwhelming popularity of her second film, Love Story, Ali MacGraw is unmistakably a star.

“I love making movies,” she says. “It’s a fabulous job. But that’s all it is — a job. It’s not a lifestyle, not for me anyway. Making movies is challenging and fun, but it’s not my whole life. What I want to be and can be is something else.”

But it is unlikely that anyone who falls outside Ali’s tight circle of friends will ever know just what that something else is.

For movie-goers, there is Ali, the sweetly scrubbed college girl — an image unintentionally perpetuated by her genuinely youthful face and figure, and that smile punctuated by a perfectly adorable crooked front tooth.

Actress Ali McGraw in 1970

But for most other people, there is another Ali, one who wants very much to be liked, but who has learned to draw the line at how far she will go to win approval.

MORE: The Love Story movie broke box-office records in 1970 & is considered one of the most romantic movies of all time

Ali MacGraw’s personal life is her own

And when it comes to interviews, any frank discussion of her personal life falls on the wrong side of the line.

Ali refused to comment on the rumor that during the shooting of her latest film The Getaway, she became seriously involved with her co-star, Steve McQueen, and that she was contemplating divorcing her husband, Paramount Production Chief Robert Evans.

Ryan O'Neal & Ali McGraw

“That is the side of the movie business that sickens me and makes me very, very hostile,” she replied icily. “I’ve got a whole list of rumors like that with more people than you could possibly imagine.

“I don’t know what it is. People have this destructive fascination with a movie star’s private life. They have just got to learn to mind their own business.”

But a few weeks later, when Ali was safely hidden away somewhere in California, not talking to reporters, she did indeed file for divorce, stating the grounds as “irreconcilable differences.”

She hadn’t really lied during the interview — she did not, after all, categorically deny the rumor. Ali was simply protecting her privacy.

“I can think of no other profession, except perhaps politics, in which a person’s every private moment is someone else’s business,” she says. “And oddly enough, I think that’s what we get paid for. But it really makes you fight hard to hold on to your life.”

Ali had witnessed the consequences as other movie stars became involved with their images. “Their values become crazy and their reality is nonexistent.” And she vows it won’t happen to her.

Ali MacGraw on the cover of Ladies’ Home Journal, October 1972
Falling into a career Ali MacGraw style

Ali is sick of telling the story of how she tripped into the movie business in the first place. She was minding her own business, which at the time was being a photographer’s stylist and occasional model, when an agent saw her picture on a Chanel No. 5 ad.

“He asked me if I wanted to be an actress, and I said, ‘Look, I don’t think I’m beautiful, and I have no training. If you want to send me somewhere during lunch hours, okay, but I have to work. I have to pay my bills.'”

There followed a series of lunchtime appointments, along with thousands of other hopefuls, to read for parts that none of them were ever going to get. Finally, Ali decided the whole thing was ridiculous, and off she went to Europe with her boyfriend, to think about what else she could do besides modeling.

Ali MacGraw for Johnson's Baby Oil tan from 1971

MORE: Ali MacGraw shines in the movie ‘Love Story’ (1970)

“I always hated modeling,” she says. “It never taught me a thing. As a stylist, I had developed a good enough eye to know when I looked dreadful. So when people told me I looked great in an organdy dress with butterflies all over it, I knew that someone like me looked better in a man’s sweater than in an organdy dress with butterflies all over it.”

When Ali returned to New York three months later, having made no career decisions, she received a phone call to go read for the part of Brenda, the female lead in Goodbye, Columbus.

Actress Ali McGraw modeling clothing in 197o

For three months, she auditioned again and again and again, until finally six people were chosen to test; Ali was not one of them. “‘Fine,’ I thought. ‘Obviously, this was the last time I had to go through this nonsense, because obviously, I wasn’t going to get the part.”

Then, two months later, Ali received a phone call from the film’s producer, who by that time had become her friend. “He asked me to come read again. I said, ‘Really, this is silly. I’ve already done it a thousand times.'”

But she went anyway, and she ended up playing the role.

Actress Ali McGraw in 1971

Ali MacGraw is a choosy star

Almost two years after Goodbye, Columbus, Ali played the role of Jennifer Cavilleri in Love Story. “I am very, very fussy about the parts I play,” she says. “I wanted to do the film because the story touched me as it touched many people.” But Ali had no idea that the film would become a phenomenon.

“I thought it would be a lovely little movie.” Instead, the lines started forming, and suddenly Ali was in constant demand for appearances, interviews and photographs.

Looking back on it now, she thinks she was tremendously lucky that fame did not come to her before her thirties. “I’m sure that if any of this had hit me during my twenties, I would have completely lost control. I’d have taken it all very seriously and I would have totally messed up my life.”

Actress Ali McGraw in 1978
Actress Ali McGraw in 1978

Ali had met Bob Evans during the making of Goodbye, Columbus, but it was not until she returned to California to participate in the casting of Love Story that the two spent any time together.

It didn’t take them long to decide they wanted to be married — two months to be exact. Ali, who had been married briefly after college, and who had lived with more than one of her boyfriends during her 10 years as a stylist, couldn’t, or wouldn’t, single out what it was about Bob that made her want to marry him.

“I don’t know what the difference was,” she says, “though there very obviously was a difference. I only knew I wasn’t interested in living with Bob, nor he with me. I didn’t want this to be just another episode in my life.”

Ali McGraw in Ladies Home Journal in 1978

Shortly after the release of Love Story, Ali gave birth to their son Joshua. Ten, or even five, years ago, Ali doesn’t think she could have handled the responsibility of having a child. But at the age of 31, she welcomed nothing more.

“You have to be the most blase person in the world not to go absolutely out of your mind when your child is born.

“All of a sudden there’s this tiny, tiny child with perfect fingers and perfect toes and perfect everything — if you’re lucky. And when you look at him, you just have to believe in God. Nothing could convince me otherwise. I know man can’t pull that one off.”

Young Ali MacGraw as a model in 1970

Joshua is now 1-1/2 years old and, according to his mother, he is a beautiful, bright child. But Ali refuses to have him photographed.

“I just don’t want my son to become this little photographed creep. He is not a movie star, nor, I hope to God, will he ever become one; and there is no reason why he should become involved in the publicity. I mean, it’s not his job to sell magazines.”

Ali has a hard enough time dealing with the demands placed upon her. “Joshua was premature,” she says, “and I’m sure it was because I was absolutely run into the ground with appearances for Love Story>. That’s why film salaries sound so high. I don’t think there’s enough money in the world to pay for that.

“There’s not enough money to pay for some creep running out of a drugstore to photograph your kid.” Nor does she feel there is enough money to pay for withstanding the endless rumors that surround a movie star.

Actress Ali MacGraw

The endless rumor mill

“Ever since Goodbye, Columbus, there have been about two different rumors each week,” she says. “I’ve had to tell my parents and my brother that unless I say something to them, not to believe anything they hear.”

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Ali usually ignores the rumors, but sometimes they get to her. And even worse, sometimes they get to her friends. When that happens, the friendship is over. “Everyone else is always talking to the girl on the cover of Time magazine. A friend has to be someone who can talk to my insides,” says Ali.

“I have very, very few close friends. Mainly they are people I’ve known for the last ten or twelve years. One of my closest friends is an artist; another is an editor. When we get together, we talk about much heavier stuff than what any of us does for a living.”

Ali MacGraw: Living for the present

Right now, what Ali “does for a living” is make movies. Personally, however, she is interested in art. Her parents are artists, and Ali particularly loves to draw.

Should she quit the movie business, as she eventually expects she will — or should she be forced out (“I firmly believe that an actress is as popular as her last movie”) — she would probably fall back on art.

But Ali isn’t really very worried about the future. “It’s a very strange thing,” she says, “but I am totally incapable of knowing what I’ll be doing next month, let alone years from now.

“You see, I believe that you really have to live for the present — not the past and not the future. You’ve got to grab each day and live it and say, ‘Wow, what a funny day this one was.'”

ALSO SEE: What were the top movies of 1970?

Love Story actress Ali McGraw for Eastern Airlines (1967)

Young Ali MacGraw showed up in the front of this group of “losers” — apparently stewardesses who didn’t make the cut for Eastern Airlines. 

Love Story actress Ali McGraw for Eastern Airlines (1967)
Ali MacGraw in an Eastern Airlines ad during her modeling years (1967)

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