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Ryan O'Neal, Ali MacGraw reunite for new romance in Fort Lauderdale

'Love Story' stars to perform in off-Broadway production of 'Love Letters'

Ali MacGraw and Ryan O'Neal attend a news conference on the eve of the premiere of their off-Broadway play, "Love Letters." The actors worked together in the 1970 film "Love Story."
Ali MacGraw and Ryan O'Neal attend a news conference on the eve of the premiere of their off-Broadway play, "Love Letters." The actors worked together in the 1970 film "Love Story."

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – Their characters fell in love 45 years ago. Beginning Tuesday, Ryan O'Neal and Ali MacGraw get to fall in love all over again during a six-day romance in Fort Lauderdale.

O'Neal and MacGraw, who became household names for their performances in the 1970 film "Love Story," reunite at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts for an off-Broadway production of "Love Letters," by A.R. Gurney, whose play receives a limited engagement run in South Florida before its Los Angeles premiere.

"Love Story" was the tale of two lovers whose affection overcomes their class and social differences, only to be dealt a challenge their love can't defeat -- terminal illness.

Based on the bestselling novel by Erich Segal, who also wrote the screenplay, "Love Story" is still considered the godfather of all love stories to appear on the silver screen. The film was nominated for best picture at the 43rd annual Academy Awards, while its principal actors were nominated for best actor and actress, respectively.

Now, O'Neal is 74 and MacGraw is 76, but their on-stage chemistry in "Love Letters" remains just as invigorating today as it did when their amorous characters first embraced in 1970.

MacGraw said so very confidently during a news conference Monday afternoon.

"It's great," MacGraw said, giving their chemistry two thumbs up.

"Love Letters" tells the story of Andrew Makepeace Ladd III (O'Neal) and Melissa Gardner (MacGraw), two people from similar backgrounds who take very different paths in life. Despite leading lives that shouldn't intersect, they can't let go of each other throughout their 50 years of friendship and marriages to others.

O'Neal and MacGraw know a thing or two about rocky romance. Both have been married and divorced five times between them -- O'Neal to actresses Joanna Moore and Leigh Taylor-Young, and MacGraw to her college sweetheart, Robin Martin Hoen, former Paramount Pictures film executive Robert Evans and actor Steve McQueen.

There was also O'Neal's high-profile romance with actress Farrah Fawcett, who split with O'Neal after a relationship that spanned three decades. The couple would later reunite, but like O'Neal's character in "Love Story," their romance was cut short when Fawcett died of cancer in 2009.

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O'Neal joked that MacGraw is one of the few women who will still talk to him.

After walking into the Mary N. Porter Riverview Ballroom assisted by a cane, O'Neal explained that he ruptured his Achilles tendon while chasing his dogs.

"I blame them," O'Neal said.

MacGraw said she wanted the opportunity to work with O'Neal again, which is one of the reasons for her decision to take on the role in "Love Letters." But she was also drawn to the story.

"It's a very, very touching piece of work," MacGraw said of the material.

Although "Love Letters" is not connected to the movie that launched them to stardom, O'Neal admits it does have certain characteristics as "Love Story."

"It's an extension of the film we did, in many ways -- for me it was," O'Neal said. "It was as if she didn't die, we've been together all this time and you get to take a look at what happened to us."

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MacGraw said she was already familiar with the play, having starred in it once before about 25 years ago.

"I don't think I can relate to it the way I do now," she said. "There's a certain comfort in knowing that this is a story about our generation."

Nowhere is that more evident than the form of communication their characters use.

"There was a time in America when people actually wrote letters to each other," O'Neal said. "And it was an art form."

O'Neal also said he found it difficult not to cry at the end.

"The last portion of this play, you have to bite your lip," O'Neal said. "It kills you."

"Love Letters" opens Tuesday night with performances through Sunday. Tickets vary in price and can be purchased on the Broward Center's website.

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