Steve McQueen and Ali McGraw.
...Evans—the brash, handsome women’s-clothing executive and actor turned Young Turk producer who had been handpicked to save the sinking studio—was dubious. “The William Morris Agency had been everywhere with that script, and no studio, no independent, would buy it,” recalls Arthur Hiller, who eventually directed the film. People thought it “mawkish,” says Evans, but he was besotted with MacGraw.
He agreed to buy the script “because I fell in love with her.” He also seduced her into turning her weekend trip into a life with him in his eucalyptus-draped, rosebush-ringed dream house, right around the corner from the hotel. The movie she’d talked him into was Love Story.
Finally, this hotel is a stone’s throw from the cottage she moved to with Steve McQueen when—early in her marriage to Evans—they fell helplessly in love while making The Getaway. She was the biggest female star of the year; he was the biggest movie star in the world. She was a Wellesley-educated aesthete who fantasized about living in Paris and who, as a girl, had checked Nijinsky’s biography out of the Pound Ridge, New York, library 16 times.
He was a motorcycle-racing reform-school kid who had worked as a towel boy in a brothel, had spent 41 days in the brig as a Marine, and generally had the kind of street cred Jack Kerouac would have killed for. Theirs was one of the great love affairs of the past century. “It was very, very passionate, and dramatic, and hurtful, and ecstatic,” says MacGraw.
“It was pretty much a wipeout for both of us. But I think it’s safe to say it would have been impossible not to fall in love with Steve.” As for McQueen, the actor’s closest friend in his last years, martial-arts master Pat Johnson, says, “I have to be careful, because I still know Barbara [Minty McQueen, the last of Steve’s three wives], and he did love Barbara, but … ” He pauses, then out it pours: “Steve loved Ali MacGraw more than he loved anyone else in his entire life. Until the day he died”—in November 1980, of lung cancer, three years after he and MacGraw divorced—“he was madly in love with her.”
At the peak of her fame, MacGraw gave up her career for McQueen. But after four years of turbulent marriage, she didn’t get a dime’s worth of settlement. MacGraw’s romanticism has sometimes been “her undoing,” says Candice Bergen. The actress is rapturous about her friend—“You fall in love with her; she’s always been more alive than most others, so artistic and enchanted, with that refined, intellectual, bohemian glamour and a little bit of the Bedouin”—but she, like many other friends, worries that MacGraw always asks for less than what she gives, and accepts that skewed equation far too gracefully.
“Ali was a saint, Steve was a prick” is agent Sue Mengers’s typically blunt way of putting it. MacGraw’s generosity is constant, her friends say. “She takes a necklace off and says, ‘You’ll look great in this,’” says Ruth Ansel, a former art director of Vanity Fair and Harper’s Bazaar. Film producer Katy Haber adds, “When I’ve been through hard times and a check would arrive from her, I’d say, ‘Ali! You’re just as hard up as I am!’” Yet MacGraw insists, “Every life experience makes us who we are. I don’t regret anything.” That valuing of passion, integrity, and wisdom over security is so out of favor in today’s pragmatic world that we’ve almost forgotten its power.
I love that word, besotted. I'd be her friend.
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Shelia Weller on Ali MacGraw (March 2010) | vanityfair.com