Ali MacGraw’s Enduring Story
As Love Story turns 50, the iconic actress has redesigned her starring role
Some anniversaries simply don’t compute. When you see a radiant Ali MacGraw today — her alabaster locks a shimmering contrast to those familiar mahogany eyes — it seems unfathomable that this December marked 50 years since she swept us away in Love Story.
Now, at age 81, MacGraw’s raw glamour remains so real, so relatable, so beautifully wrinkle-welcome. Back in the 1970s, she made it look easy. Just part those straight locks down the middle, toss on a turtleneck, turn on a slightly pouty smile with barely glossed lips, flash a sultry side glance, maybe grin while scrunching your cute nose, and it was hard not to fantasize that you, too, could summon the Ali magic that landed her on just about every magazine cover, every red carpet.
Except, of course, it was never that easy.
MacGraw’s pared-down elegance and serious intelligence catapulted this Wellesley grad from a behind-the-camera job as a stylist for famed photographer Melvin Sokolsky to a career in front of the camera, first as a model then movie star. Then 50 years ago Love Story catapulted her into superstardom, and all the tabloid fodder that comes with it — romances, affairs, her headline-making marriage to (and, yes, headline-making divorce from) Steve McQueen.
“Unless you’ve spent your whole life wanting to be the center of attention, it’s terrifying. The thing I’m most proud of is that I’ve survived it,” says MacGraw, who, despite an Oscar nod and headlining one of the top-grossing films of all time, admits she “was never a good actor, but I’ve always had an eye for beauty.”
Today MacGraw proves she’s more than survived. She’s thriving. Having long ago traded the LA limelight for Sante Fe’s serenity, MacGraw is living out her deep commitments to be of service — with a soft spot for women’s issues and animal welfare — and to cultivating her eye for beauty, as a tireless volunteer and supporter of Sante Fe’s artisan community. And now as an ambassador and designer for the Charleston-based Ibu, the fashion icon is telling a different kind of love story. A story of love for craft and artisanship, a story that elevates women across the globe.
As the film’s golden anniversary approached, MacGraw asked herself what story needed to be told, and heard, in this moment in time. Her answer is spelled out in handcrafted beaded bags and pouches, bracelets, and other artisan-made items that beam the words “hope” and “love.”
“Hope is our story, I’m convinced,” she says. “Hope is what we reach for within ourselves when things are chaotic, confusing, even frightening. Hope is what we extend to one another, especially to those who have lost work, like many artisans, and don’t know where the next meal might be found.”
Hope is also the heart of what the Ibu Movement (“Ibu” means “woman of respect” in Malay) represents for women artisans of heritage and indigenous crafts from South Sudan to Peru to Pakistan — 130+ artisan groups in 35 different countries.
“Ali brings muscle and imagination to her designs, which are now employing women artisans and elevating them through economic empowerment,” says Ibu founder and creative director, Susan Walker. “She’s always been an icon of great style, simply wrought and divinely layered, but mostly Ali is an Ibu at heart, embodying compassion, humility, graciousness, generosity, and a conscious, well-crafted life.”
“When Susan asked if I’d be an Ibu ambassador, I immediately said ‘yes’ because this is so real, so important,” says MacGraw. “Together we are changing the lives of our sisters across the globe, and uniting our hopes and possibilities in this most difficult time. Plus, I’m having the most fun I’ve ever had, doing what I love to do,” says MacGraw of designing her signature styles. Her initial “Ali4Ibu” collection, a line of dresses, tunics and jewelry, debuted in spring/summer 2017. Women in Haiti, Rwanda, Guatemala, Bangladesh, Colombia and Kenya rendered Ali’s designs in their own traditional craft for her 2020 “Hope Story” gift collection (featured in our Very Special 2020 Gift Guide).
MacGraw is indeed an icon of hope — both for women artisans in developing countries, and for women everywhere of a certain age seeking alternative messages for what beauty means in a youth-skewed culture. Love Story, for all its romantic sap, was not a happily-ever-after tale, nor has MacGraw’s life been without its challenges and pitfalls. But by embracing creative, meaningful work and being of service to her community and causes she cares about, MacGraw celebrates this 50th anniversary with a starring role in an authentic love — and hope — story.
Nothing to have to say sorry about there.
Stephanie Hunt writes for numerous publications, with a focus on women’s issues, the environment, and the arts. Her work appears in Veranda, Coastal Living, The Washington Post, Orion.com, Hippocampus, and Charleston Magazine (where she serves as editor-at-large), among other publications.