Thursday, June 4, 2009

Retro Active Appreciation: Ali MacGraw

If there's ever a question as to why someone would write a feature about Ali MacGraw, there are plenty of reasons for it. But here are three of mine: I deeply appreciate her as an individual, I appreciate her contributions to films (however few) and because who else will? 

Well. Of course they will. She'll continue to get an occasional mention in fashion magazines. And of course people will blog about her on occasion. (Note: since I first posted this, my friend Sheila Weller did write a great, in-depth piece on Ali MacGraw for Vanity Fair :))
Anytime crochet hats, 1970's prep school & hippie chic looks –– or straight, long, middle-parted hair –– are shown, (things Ali will forever be equated with and celebrated for), she'll be mentioned. Because she defined the look of the early 1970's. 

She will also be mentioned in reference to Steve McQueen as long as people continue to remember him. Or Robert Evans (though perhaps his legacy came full circle with the terrific 'The Kid Stays in the Picture', and there isn't a real likelihood of his pop culture resurgence.)

But this is solely about Ali, herself. I'd followed her career and life diligently for many years, valued her, on her own, apart from the men and the movies, her stint as a Chanel model, the fashion sense (although I am equally enamored of those aspects of her life.) She lived a life of obscurity for some time, only to be hurled into one of international fame rather suddenly. Hers is a story that can legitimately be called an 'overnight success' –– from her period of modeling, to having her first film role, to starring in 'Love Story' and receiving a best actress Oscar nomination for that year and landing on the cover of Time magazine. 

Ali MacGraw is now the subject of Retro Active Appreciation, and the first female to have the honor on my blog (of course, it's really an honor to honor her!) I've memorized every moment of her three most significant films –– 'Goodbye Columbus', 'Love Story' and 'The Getaway' –– all three of which I've owned and watched as often as I could. I've also read her autobiography, 'Moving Pictures' from cover to cover (in which she displays her considerable gift for writing.) I have found her ascent to fame, her personality and background each enthralling.
Here is a woman who graduated from Wellesley College, then worked as an assistant for the legendary Diana Vreeland at Vogue during the most exciting period of fashion (again, my opinion) –– in the swinging sixties and the time of Jean Shrimpton. Ali even recalls having had some item physically thrown at her by the Ms. Vreeland, only to flippantly throw it right back at her aggressor, even harder (no offense to Ms. Vreeland, but good for Ali!) She had it rough then, but struggled through, started to work as a fashion stylist –– and finally as a model before getting noticed by Hollywood. She appeared in several print ads of that time, for Chanel and so on, and even TV commercials. 

This is an adorable Polaroid commercial, featuring Ali.

From there, she was discovered for the lead role as the Jewish American princess, Brenda, in her first film, 'Goodbye Columbus'. And the rest is, of course, a somewhat forgotten history, brought back to life in Retro Activity.

Here's a trailer I made for 'Goodbye Columbus' –– because I couldn't find anything resembling a trailer for this great film. I love 'Goodbye 'Columbus'. It's a sweet and mellow time capsule of sorts, with charming songs by 60's pop group The Association, specifically recorded for the film sprinkled throughout.
If you've never seen or heard of 'Love Story', (and if for some reason you haven't, you should), it's about college preppie love turned quite tragic and it stars Ali and Ryan O'Neal. This is the scene that completely sealed it for me, of the love birds frolicking in the snow. I was a 'Love Story' believer from then on. The wonderful music (aptly called 'Snow Frolic') is by Francis Lai.
And I love this next one,' The Getaway', directed by Sam Peckinpah. Doc McCoy (Steve McQueen) has just been released from prison and reunites with his wife, Carol, played by Ali, who had (shall we say) 'compromised' herself for his freedom, only to embark on an assigned bank robbery and their consequent getaway.
Here she waits for him at the train station after she messed things up by being negligent with their stolen cash, and must be confronted by Doc for her previous lovelorn mistake.

My favorite is the final scene, with the old cowboy who helps them make the final sweep - it's the loveliest moment. And here are the final minutes of this entertaining, (somewhat edgy) romantic-adventure-heist film.
'Moving Pictures' is a book Ali MacGraw wrote about her life some time ago. It is worth a read if you're interested, as I was. I guarantee you will be fascinated and enthralled, especially if you have interest in her upstate New York upbringing, her stints in the fashion world, her marriages, her films, her style, her spirit, or her writing (since she is gifted at that.)
Somehow, I don't think I'd be the same without having had Ali MacGraw play a part in my life as a role model of sorts. I truly appreciate her. So, thanks Ali, for having been an awesome and stunning individual & someone I can continue to appreciate Retro Activite-ly.