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'Love Story' turns 50: Ali MacGraw and Ryan O'Neal look back at their iconic film

Maybe what love really means is never having to say that line again.
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"Love Story" stars Ali MacGraw and Ryan O’Neal reflect on the tragic drama 50 years after viewers first fell in love with them.Lee Morgan / Town & Country
/ Source: TODAY

Just say the words “Love Story” to any hopeless romantic, who also happens to be a classic film fan, and they’ll instantly hear a tinkling piano, imagine a pair of star-crossed lovers and recall the big-screen wisdom that dictates, “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.”

But for Ali MacGraw and Ryan O’Neal, who starred in the 1970 blockbuster drama, it brings to mind so much more.

Ryan O'Neal and Ali MacGraw in 1970's "Love Story." Courtesy Everett Collection

In honor of the film’s 50th anniversary, the actors are reflecting on their shared memories and that unforgettable line.

“It’s been a fast 50,” O’Neal, 79, said when the pair were interviewed for Town & Country magazine. “I don’t have those relationships with my wives!”

That’s because the drama that transformed them both from virtual unknowns to famous romantic leads has forever intertwined the twice-married and twice-divorced actor to MacGraw. And while that fame, and the Academy Award nominations that came with it, were something to cheer about, the movie’s tearjerker reputation affected the stars, too.

The tragic tale turned out to be a blockbuster at the box office.Courtesy Everett Collection

For the audience, the tears flowed due to the tragic tale of a young love and life cut short (um, 50-year-old spoiler alert!), but for MacGraw the waterworks began when she read the Erich Segal book the movie was based on.

“I cried, and I thought I was crazy,” MacGraw, 81, told the magazine. But that emotional reaction is what convinced her she was perfect for the part of Jenny.

As for O’Neil’s tears, those came on the set of the film, when he, as Oliver, witnessed his co-star’s deathbed performance.

“It all caught fire for me there,” he explained. “She put her arm around my head, my hair. I just couldn’t stop crying. I loved her. I knew this would soon be over.”

Even in recent years, the movie has continued to have an impact on the big screen — at least at Harvard, where the Ivy League romance is shown annually.

Actors Ryan O'Neal and Ali MacGraw walk on the campus of Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass., Monday Feb. 1, 2016.Elise Amendola / AP

“It’s a little bit like ‘Rocky Horror,’ where they scream, ‘Love means never having to say you're sorry!’ at the screen,” MacGraw said of the famous “Love Story” quote, which she now wishes she’d never said.

“It doesn’t mean anything!” she told Town & Country. “I’ve learned that we can make terrible mistakes with people we love. Try not to do it again — and try to clean up the hurt. It’s the truth.”

But that’s not quite as catchy.