Ali MacGraw in Huntsville: Note from a Fan

by Kimberly Blackwell

My father ordered a VHS copy of “Love Story” for me when “Titanic” was all the rage. He undoubtedly realized I was bristling with the first tinges of adolescent angst. My variety featured a hearty obsession with his generation's music, literature, and cinema. Love Story was a great fit.

Naturally I was hooked from the first line, a heart-stopping spoiler that demands attention for the next hour and a half. I declared it a Top 5 Favorite as I sobbed over the credits, destroyed by this pair of actors I had fallen in love with, yet secretly enjoying the huge emotional rush like any 14-year-old girl. I went on to watch it countless times throughout high school, reveling in the "verbal volleyball" dialogue, the New England aesthetic, the certain tragedy.

Many years have passed, innumerable films digested, and the barbs of countless cinephiles swatted. I still adore Love Story so much that it is difficult to watch without mouthing each line, and I have always considered Ali MacGraw an icon. The brunette Beatlemaniac in the library winning her dreamboat with wit and snark is something of a personal goddess for me. I was stunned to discover she was visiting Huntsville, urgent to have the opportunity to actually see her.

As I approached the table where she sat signing autographs, I felt a rush of nervousness unlike any I have encountered. "This is surreal," I said, blurting out the first thing that hit me. "I'll bet it is!" Her reply was perfect and delivered with a grin in a voice I know so well, it eased my nerves.

The meet-and-greet was held after MacGraw and Huntsville Museum of Art (HMA) Executive Director Christopher Madkour had a lengthy conversational interview in the Loretta Spencer Hall of the Huntsville Museum of Art. The discussion began with glimpses into MacGraw's youth and initial career in the fashion industry, to her first role in "Goodbye, Columbus" and a more recent foray on the stage. She spoke about the people who inspired her, from Diana Vreeland to François Truffaut, as well as her marriages to Bob Evans and Steve McQueen. Her dedication to community service and animal rights was evident throughout it all; at one point she noted the "real" pleasure comes with "bringing the egg salad sandwiches."

Her humor was the only thing slightly more outstanding than her grace, often eliciting waves of laughter from the crowd. Pondering the inevitable McQueen biopic, she asked, "Who will I be played by, Selena Gomez?" On the notorious "love means never having to say you're sorry" line, she said, "What the hell does that even mean?"

I was most struck by her obvious sense of adventure, her faith that there is beauty in the free fall. She remains unaffected by the "once a movie star" story, at peace with her past, and open to the infinite possibilities ahead. In the brief moment I had with her, I mentioned not knowing where I wanted to go next, either. We beamed at each other, agreeing that it was all very exciting. I felt ebullient, inspired by someone who had gone from a character I identified with to a woman with wisdom that spoke to me, wisdom I will revisit more frequently than any film.

The Huntsville Museum of Art featured MacGraw as part of their "Voices of our Times" series, which is in its second year at the Museum and was started by Madkour to share Huntsville with the speakers, and provide expanded programs for the Museum and its members.

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