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'Love Letters' Reunites Stars Of Iconic Love Story


"Love Letters" is a play about two people who meet as children and grow old together, but they never quite get together. It's a 1988 play by A.R. Gurney that showcased a lot of distinguished duos over the years. It is a little amazing that it's taken so long for some smart producer to put one of the most famous film couples of all into the play. Cue the music.


JOE KENNEDY ORCHESTRA: (Singing) Where do I begin to tell the story of how great a love can be?

SIMON: Ali MacGraw and Ryan O'Neal, Oliver the Preppy and Jenny the Baker's daughter, the 1970 film "Love Story." They now play Andrew Makepeace Ladd III and Melissa Gardner, who meet at a second-grade birthday party and never stopped caring for each other. This new "Love Letters" is directed by Gregory Mosher. And Ryan O'Neal and Ali MacGraw join us from our studios at NPR West. Thanks so much for being with us.

RYAN O'NEAL: Thank you, Scott. It's an honor to be here.

ALI MACGRAW: It really is. I love public radio.

SIMON: Really? All right, thank you. Is this the first time you've worked together since the terrible tragic death of Jenny?

MACGRAW: No, because we get periodically called together to do things like give Arthur Hiller his Oscar or...

SIMON: Yeah.

MACGRAW: ...You know, some sort of ceremonial thing, so - but it's the first acting thing that we've done.

SIMON: What attracts Andy and Melissa to each other, and, for that matter, what keeps them apart over the years?

O'NEAL: Well, from my perspective, he fell head over heels as a child...

SIMON: Yeah.

O'NEAL: ...And never got over it - never. And she was a little faster than he was, a little wilder, perhaps. He was - his feet were always on the ground. And that kept them from, actually, truly connecting for a long time. And by the time they did, it was too late.

MACGRAW: And I think chemistry attracted them. I think there's - when you read the specific backgrounds of each while they both came from the same general sort of Northeastern prep school environment, they had instant chemistry. She certainly wanted him.

And he was busy becoming, you know, ultimately, a senator and, who knows, maybe next to president, while she unraveled very slowly behind a wilder life, a more bohemian life.

SIMON: You've both had real lives over the past 45 years. You've loved. You've lost. You've lost people you've loved.

O'NEAL: Yeah.

SIMON: I'll, you know, let our listeners look up the details. Do those feelings well up within you sometime during this play?

O'NEAL: Hopefully (laughter).

MACGRAW: I think the more real things that one can really sit in in one's life, the richer the life is, for better or for worse. And I think that Pete has written such a delicate, you know, diary of a lifetime of people caring for each other that if we, who have also lived rather complicated lives, don't tap into some of our secrets, we're making a big mistake.

SIMON: I met a short list of some of the other famous couples who've done the piece - Colleen Dewhurst and Jason Robards. Timothy Hutton and Elizabeth McGovern - they were young lovers in "Ordinary People" - Larry Hagman and Linda Gray...


SIMON: ...From "Dallas." So it's OK for you if audiences see Ali and Jenny, too?

MACGRAW: Sure, whatever they see, I want them to pay attention to the words because it is such a delicate rehash of a whole - of two whole lives connecting, missing, wanting, missing.

O'NEAL: I don't know how different it would've been if we hadn't been in "Love Story" together, how our - if there would be the same - that word chemistry keeps being knocked around. I don't know. But I'm sure happy we did have that...

SIMON: Yeah.

O'NEAL: ...Prior experience because I never really recovered from it myself all those years ago.

SIMON: What, what - I'm sorry, what do you mean by that, you never really recovered?

O'NEAL: Well, you know, I lost her in the story, but I lost her in life, too. It was a double slap. And the idea that she's come back to me and we can work together and travel is thrilling.

MACGRAW: You know, I had a very short career. I did a few things. But this is probably the only thing that would've made me want to do this again, to work with Ryan. And we have a shorthand of all kinds of emotions and a tacit, you know, foundation. And it's moving and loving and fun.

SIMON: Do people come up to you and say, love means never having to say you're sorry?


SIMON: (Laughter).

O'NEAL: They come up, and they say, we saw your movie and we went out and got married.

MACGRAW: (Laughter).


O'NEAL: And we have children named Ryan and Jennifer...

MACGRAW: And Jennifer.

O'NEAL: ...And Ali.


MACGRAW: Well, they do come up, and then I say to them, always, respectful as can be for this wonderful experience, I have no idea what that means, but it's a crock, you know?

SIMON: (Laughter).

MACGRAW: And they're stricken because they think they've somehow worked these 45 years to weave that into a reality. What does it mean?

O'NEAL: I did.

MACGRAW: (Laughter).

O'NEAL: You mean it's a crock? Now you tell me.

SIMON: Ryan O'Neal and Ali MacGraw, they are in A.R. Gurney's "Love Letters." Thanks so much for being with us.

O'NEAL: Thank you, Scott.

MACGRAW: Thank you so much for inviting us. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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