Ali MacGraw, Ryan O’Neal mark long friendship with ‘Love Letters’

Ali MacGraw and Ryan O’Neal admire the official proclamation welcoming them to Baltimore. (Anthony C. Hayes)

For almost half a century, movie fans have known that love means never having to say you’re sorry. But for Ali MacGraw and Ryan O’Neal, love underscores a near 50-year friendship.

The iconic duo are currently in Baltimore to appear in a production of Love Letters. At 11:15 a.m. today, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and Ron Legler – President of the Hippodrome Theatre – welcomed the stars to Charm City, where the Mayor proclaimed an official “Ali MacGraw and Ryan O’Neal Day” throughout town.

Upon receiving the proclamation, O’Neal asked the mayor if this means they get a free meal?

Running June 7 to 12, Love Letters is the romantic story of two young people from similar backgrounds who take very different paths in life over the course of their decades-long friendship. The pair rose to stardom in the 1970’s classic film “Love Story” and are now reuniting to perform in the national tour of Love Letters.

MacGraw described the play as, “Very funny, real and ultimately for me, very heartbreaking.

Ali MacGraw. (Anthony C. Hayes)
Ali MacGraw. (Anthony C. Hayes)

“It’s a one act play, and we can’t look at each other. We’re working in a tiny area – a desk this size and two chairs. We’ve done it for quite a while now, so I think it’s safe to say we feel every bit of each other’s energies. Which is the fun of it, like a ping-pong game.

“This is perfect play for us to do, and I think that audiences, whether they are aware of it or not – most of the people seeing it have seen Love Story – are reflecting secretly over the last 45 years of their own lives; their love affairs and breakups and what choice they did make and what choice they didn’t make. While this has nothing to do with Love Story – it just happens that the name suggests so – these are two people over a lifetime; not that brief time in their twenties that we played so many years ago.

“It’s a beautifully written play and it’s been performed by many well-known and gifted actors. It’s just a joy to be on that list. I think we bring something different because of our 45-year relationship, and the chemistry we have together certainly doesn’t hurt the play.”

MacGraw said she would like to do the play for years and even take it to Europe, noting, “It’s done in other languages which is almost incredible to believe. (The author) has really written a wonderful play. We’ve performed it from Buffalo to Dallas. The play is good enough that it has touched 96 different audiences. Lucky Us.”

O’Neal seconded MacGraw’s belief that Love Letters is the perfect play for the pair to do, adding, “And we’ve done it 90 times. We’re pretty good at it now. We listen for the audience, and if the audience wants to laugh, there are places for them to get good laughs. So we push that. We’re not sure the author wanted it that way; in fact he had a list of rules. We’ve broken most of them.”

What kind of rules?

Ryan O'Neal (Anthony C. Hayes)
Ryan O’Neal. (Anthony C. Hayes)

“Rules like, ‘Don’t be dramatic’ and ‘Don’t ham it up’, which I’m pretty good at, I’ll tell you. The two characters are so much like the two of us from Love Story in many ways, and it has a tragic ending just like Love Story.”

MacGraw characterized the duo’s pairing in Love Letters as something which, “Just fell out of the sky.”

“There were no agent machinations, or ‘Who do I call?’. It was offered to us after the Broadway run, and they asked us both if we would be interested in doing the road company. Both of us said yes, but only if the other would agree to do it.

“I said, ‘Is Ali doing it?’ They said yes, I said, ‘Do we get paid?’ They saw a photograph of us together, which was taken about six months ago, and said, ‘Do you think they would like to do it on the road?’ They contacted us, and we were already packed.”

“’Oh them’,” said MacGraw, “‘They’re still alive?’ They dug us up.”

MacGraw initially demurred when this reporter asked if she and O’Neal would comment on their own true-life love stories and their corresponding feelings about love. (MacGraw was married to the late Steve McQueen; O’Neal was the long-time companion of Farrah Fawcett).

O’Neal laughingly offered, “We’ve done some real damage there. Personally speaking, anyway.”

“I’m an odd bird,” said MacGraw, “I don’t like to discuss my private life. But I think to answer your second question about love, it comes in all sizes and shapes, but it needs to be under every breath you take in your life behavior. Whether it’s the way you feel about your child or the way you wish somebody well respectfully, or if you have the ‘grand passion’. To not be open to love is to miss the whole point of being alive.”

“Well, then why do you still lock your door?” asked O’Neal.

“It’s to keep the mystery,” replied MacGraw.

Ryan and Ali at Hippodrome 004 resized

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Love Letters runs from June 7-12 at the Hippodrome Theatre. The theater is located at 12 North Eutaw Street, Baltimore Maryland. Tickets and other information may be found by visiting The Hippodrome online or by calling the box office at 410-837-7400.