'Love Story' Celebrates Its 50th Anniversary: Successful, Sentimental, Satirized The "unabashedly sentimental" romantic tearjerker was the highest grossing movie of 1970. Since then it's inspired countless ugly cries — and plenty of parodies, too.
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Successful, Sentimental And Satirized, 'Love Story' Celebrates 50th Anniversary

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Successful, Sentimental And Satirized, 'Love Story' Celebrates 50th Anniversary

Successful, Sentimental And Satirized, 'Love Story' Celebrates 50th Anniversary

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/948655542/949078425" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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NOEL KING, HOST:

The movie "Love Story" turns 50 years old this month.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "LOVE STORY")

RYAN O'NEAL: (As Oliver) I major in social studies.

ALI MACGRAW: (As Jenny) It doesn't show.

O'NEAL: (As Oliver) It's an honors program.

MACGRAW: (As Jenny) Listen, preppy, I know you've got at least a few brains.

O'NEAL: (As Oliver) Really?

MACGRAW: (As Jenny) Yeah. You're hung up on me, aren't you?

KING: He is, and she's hung up on him, too. Audiences stood in long lines to see "Love Story" in December of 1970. The entertainment industry was stunned that this movie and the book it was based on became such hits. Now, since then, "Love Story" has been the subject of critical and comedic examination, much of it asking, is this movie actually good? Here's NPR's Elizabeth Blair.

ELIZABETH BLAIR, BYLINE: Between Vietnam and civil rights, America was polarized in 1970.

FRANCESCA SEGAL: And along comes this love story telling us we can believe in the power of love.

BLAIR: Francesca Segal is a writer and the daughter of Eric Segal, who wrote the book and screenplay. He died in 2010.

SEGAL: It's unabashedly sentimental but entirely genuine and earnest. And I think it just - it struck a chord.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

BLAIR: Two college kids fall in love. Oliver Barrett IV, played by Ryan O'Neal, is a sensitive, rich Harvard student. Jenny Cavalieri, played by Ali MacGraw, is a sassy working-class baker's daughter who goes to Radcliffe. He plays hockey; she works in the library.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "LOVE STORY")

O'NEAL: (As Oliver) Look, we're allowed to use the Radcliffe Library.

MACGRAW: (As Jenny) I am not talking legality, preppy. I'm talking ethics. I mean, Harvard's got 5 million books and Radcliffe's got a few lousy thousand.

BLAIR: They spar, play in the snow, argue.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "LOVE STORY")

MACGRAW: (As Jenny) You're a preppy millionaire and I'm a social zero.

O'NEAL: (As Oliver) What does that have to do with going our separate ways? We're together now, aren't we? We're happy.

BLAIR: They are happy. And even though Oliver's patrician father disapproves, they get married.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "LOVE STORY")

O'NEAL: (As Oliver) Hey, Mrs. Barrett, guess what.

MACGRAW: (As Jenny) You got fired.

O'NEAL: (As Oliver) I got fired up. And guess where to.

MACGRAW: (As Jenny) Reno, Nev.

O'NEAL: (As Oliver) Paris, France. We'll be there Christmas Day.

BLAIR: Just as they start a new life together, Jenny learns she has a fatal blood disease.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "LOVE STORY")

MACGRAW: (As Jenny) I don't want Paris. I don't need Paris. I just want you.

O'NEAL: (As Oliver) Well, that you got, baby.

MACGRAW: (As Jenny) And I want time, which you can't give me.

SUSAN ELIZABETH PHILLIPS: "Love Story" was an ugly cry.

BLAIR: Susan Elizabeth Phillips is a best selling romance fiction writer. She was in her early 20s when "Love Story" came out. She says just about everyone she knew saw the movie after first reading the book.

PHILLIPS: I remember when I read it, of course, dissolving in tears. I read it to my boyfriend at the time, read it out loud to him, sobbing through the whole thing. We've now been married for 50 years. He says he doesn't remember this, so that's a blessing.

BLAIR: The film was No. 1 at the box office by a lot. Movie attendance was down in 1970. The Los Angeles Times wrote that the "Love Story" phenomenon was a boon to the embattled Paramount Pictures and evidence people still want to go to the movies in vast numbers. It was nominated for seven Oscars. Francis Lai won for original score.

(SOUNDBITE OF FRANCIS LAI'S "MAIN THEME (LOVE STORY)")

BLAIR: It also won five Golden Globes, including four acting for both Ryan O'Neal and Ali MacGraw.

MACGRAW: Everybody was completely flabbergasted when it had the reception that it had, which was right away.

BLAIR: MacGraw says people still ask her about it.

MACGRAW: Always somebody comes up and says, oh, you were in that movie. Why aren't you guys making another one? Of course, the fact that I'm dead and considerably older probably hasn't computed (laughter).

BLAIR: As for that very famous line...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "LOVE STORY")

MACGRAW: (As Jenny) Love means never having to say you're sorry.

BLAIR: MacGraw says even she didn't know what it meant and regrets not asking.

MACGRAW: It's an insane line, but I said it, and I live with it (laughter).

BLAIR: MacGraw also lives with the parodies "Love Story" inspired. Her personal favorite is by Carol Burnett and Harvey Korman.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE CAROL BURNETT SHOW")

HARVEY KORMAN: (As Oliver) I know you love me.

CAROL BURNETT: (As Ginny (ph)) I never said anything about loving you.

KORMAN: (As Oliver) But don't you understand? Love means not ever having to say I love you.

(LAUGHTER)

BLAIR: In an episode of "The Simpsons," Homer and Marge are big fans of the movie.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE SIMPSONS")

DAN CASTELLANETA: (As Homer Simpson, singing) Where do I begin to tell the story of how great a love can be?

JULIE KAVNER: (As Marge Simpson, singing) The sweet love story that is older than the sea.

BLAIR: "The Simpson" kids don't get it. Bart makes fun of another famous line.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE SIMPSONS")

O'NEAL: (As Oliver) What can you say about a 25-year-old girl who died?

NANCY CARTWRIGHT: (As Bart Simpson) I say bury her before she starts to smell (laughter).

KAVNER: (As Marge Simpson) Bart.

CARTWRIGHT: (As Bart Simpson) Well, the man asked a question.

BLAIR: A good number of the writers on "The Simpsons" went to Harvard, where the movie takes place. Harvard and "Love Story" go way back. It's where writer Erich Segal went to school. It's where he met Al Gore, Tommy Lee Jones and Watergate investigator Terry Lenzner, all of whom inspired the character of Oliver. And Harvard has returned the favor by lampooning the movie every year. Davis Bailey is a junior and president of Harvard's Crimson Key Society. He says the organization puts on a "Rocky Horror"-style screening of "Love Story" for freshmen.

DAVIS BAILEY: Basically, every 10 seconds or so, we have a line that collectively or individually some of us will shout out at the screen or we do something that we act out.

(LAUGHTER)

BAILEY: Because the movie itself is definitely very sappy.

BLAIR: Very sappy is similar to how some critics felt about "Love Story" back in 1970. They found it cliche and contrived. Others, like Roger Ebert, called it a three, four or five handkerchief movie.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "LOVE STORY")

MACGRAW: (As Jenny) It doesn't hurt, Ollie (ph), really, it doesn't. It's like falling off a cliff in slow motion, you know? Only after a while you wish you'd hit the ground already, you know?

O'NEAL: (As Oliver) Yeah.

MACGRAW: (As Jenny) B*******. You never fell off a cliff in your whole life.

O'NEAL: (As Oliver) Yes, I did when I met you.

MACGRAW: I was in room after room of huge gatherings, all deeply moved.

BLAIR: Then, as now, people needed a good cry. But Ali MacGraw wonders if today's audiences would have the patience for a simple story about love and loss.

MACGRAW: We're functioning as opposed to feeling, and I think there's a big difference.

BLAIR: A critic in the French newspaper Le Monde wrote that "Love Story" was a novel that no one dared to write but everyone was waiting to read.

Elizabeth Blair, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF FRANCIS LAI'S "MAIN THEME (LOVE STORY)")

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