Good Love Gone Bad: “Love Story” Turns 50

On December 16, Love Story starring Ali MacGraw and Ryan O’Neal had its golden anniversary, meaning that it was released fifty years ago. 

Have you recovered from the shock? Good.

As all Ivy-Style readers know, the clothing has held up. I recently wore the dark turtleneck, khaki skirt, and knee-high boots combo made iconic by MacGraw’s Jenny. If you don’t have a camel coat, don’t speak to me. Only the first jacket O’Neal is seen wearing as Oliver could be considered too “horsey.” I only give that example because it resembles a windowpane sport coat I tried and failed to sell during my time at The Andover Shop. I still disagree with that feedback. It too was from the era of Love Story, and its slim lapels aged well. 

Not so for the sport coat’s grotesque paisley lining, to which I’ll compare the film’s insipid plot. That is not to criticize the romance or even the melodrama of Love Story. Heroes were losing their heroines thousands of years before we’re told in the first few minutes of the movie that Jenny won’t make it to the end. What was irksome then, and still is now, is Oliver’s pigheadedness in not waiting to finish his law degree before marrying Jenny, cutting himself off from his parents’ assistance. Logic at least prevails in Harvard’s Financial Aid office, where “sticking it to my old man” does not equate to being “in need.”

The greater offense in Love Story is the musty smell that I haven’t been able to get out of my hair since watching it: how much things used to cost. In 1970, Harvard Law School’s annual tuition rates were raised from $1750 to $2100. Because Oliver is denied a scholarship, Jenny must support her tantrum-throwing husband with a teacher’s salary, $3500 per year. After paying $82.50 a month for rent, that leaves the young couple about $35 a month for utilities, food, and however much it costs to run a 1945 MG TC. Later when Jenny falls ill, Oliver begrudgingly requests and accepts a $5000 loan from his father for medical bills. Student loans are never discussed, nor are insurance copays.

Today Oliver would either have to swallow his pride and accept his father’s terms, or deign to look at a program elsewhere. The estimated budget for the 2020-2021 academic year at Harvard Law is $100,416. The median entry-level public school teacher’s salary in Cambridge, Massachusetts is $66,133. Their apartment building at 119 Oxford Street is about a ten minute walk from the Law School, and the off-market property is valued in the $3M – $3.25M range. According to Zillow, the monthly cost for a studio apartment in that area ranges from $2000 to $2500. Oliver’s New York law firm would definitely provide spousal insurance, even still his updated loan for paying off “a girl in trouble” has inflated to $33,534.66. 

These are objective figures, and of course prices tend to rise within half a century. Yet with Harvard Square being next to abandoned since the exodus of students and faculty last spring, it’s frightening to imagine what’s next to shutter its doors. Although the university and real estate continue to thrive, Boston is rolling back to a modified Phase 2, Step 2 for at least three weeks following a spike in COVID-19 cases. Cambridge is likely to follow suit. A bride with an Italian last name is less likely to cause such a stir these days, but one wonders how many love stories have already been stunted by plague and how many more never began due to skyrocketing financial disparity. What’s the point of saying sorry now? —ZG BURNETT

17 Comments on "Good Love Gone Bad: “Love Story” Turns 50"

  1. Accompanied by our mutual friend Mr. Twardzik, ZG visited me the other day, whereupon I christened her “Zigi.” Let it be known.

  2. Whether she’s Zoë, ZG, or Zigi, she’s always a pleasure to read.

  3. Vern Trotter | December 16, 2020 at 1:45 pm |

    Oliver is wearing the reversible raincoat that used to be a staple at Brooks And Press. The father is played by one of the all time great actors, Ray Milland. The roommate is Tommy Lee Jones, who in real life played football at Harvard. And of course, we all remember “Love means not having to say you are sorry!”

    I would like to see it again.

  4. I was a little thrown off when you said you wore the skirt the other day but quickly composed myself and really enjoyed your piece. Very well done.

  5. Nice one Zigi!

  6. Henry Contestwinner | December 16, 2020 at 3:26 pm |

    August_West, recall that that paragon of Ivy styling, Thom Browne, once a designer for Brooks Brothers, has had male models wearing skirt/dress-like objects on the runway, so before long, I suppose that skirts for men will be a staple of the Ivy wardrobe. The correct way to wear them will be sockless, of course.


  7. Charlottesville | December 16, 2020 at 3:27 pm |

    Great post, ZG. Love Story is not a favorite movie, but it has its charms. Those coats alone are worth sitting through the film.

    While we are on the subject of Harvard Law in the 70s, John Houseman certainly had the senior Ivy look down pat in The Paper Chase: . I may try to duplicate that one sometime soon. Unfortunately, Timothy Bottoms’ student wardrobe, while accurately reflecting the times, has not aged so well.

  8. Richard E. Press | December 16, 2020 at 6:09 pm |

    Leave us not forget a couple of Ryan O’Neal’s outfits were fittingly chalked and pinned on Dunster & Mt. Auburn by J. Press

  9. “Criticizing Love Story [is] like ‘criticizing a chocolate eclair.’”

    –Kurt Vonnegut

  10. “Grotesque paisley lining” is quite the appropriate signal for the pure polyester one would discover if “Love Story” were a clothing label. How could it be otherwise? Segal’s novel is a “grotesque” of romance melodrama. Regarding lwmarti’s summoning of Vonnegut: “Love Story” is a chocolate eclair with a chewed wad of bubble gum in the middle, placed there by an apprentice pâtissier undone by his unrequited love for the boss’s daughter. Yes, it’s shotgunning a guppy in a Dixie cup, but I prefer to paraphrase Oscar Wilde: one must have a heart of stone to watch the tears of Ryan O’Neal without laughing.

  11. NaturalShoulder | December 17, 2020 at 5:52 am |

    ZG – I do enjoy your writing and hope you will contribute pieces for IS.

    Charlottesville – I agree with you about Timothy Bottoms wardrobe not aging well; however, I prefer the wardrobe of Franklin Ford which has aged well.

  12. Whenever I hear someone mention LS I remember this essay with a play on the tag line:

  13. I actually remember seeing this movie in the summer of ’71 (not ’42) at a Saint Louis. Missouri area drive-in theater with my parents as a 4.5 year old. My sister and I eventually fell asleep on the unzipped sleeping bag in the back seat of the car. Whatever Disney feature preceded it — The Million Dollar Duck? — has probably held up better. Dean Jones and Sandy Duncan still strike me as a more likeable onscreen couple.

  14. If you were wondering, $2,100 of tuition in 1970 would now be $13,940.

  15. Another winner, ZG. Damn. I mean — damn.
    Are you working on a novel? (you’d better be).

    apropos this (superb) piece: A couple of years ago I found a shed weaver— in Scotland (of course). She, a longtime resident of a certain island, uses an old Hattersley loom, God bless her. I asked her to use Jamieson’s yarns to replicate one of the Oliver-of-Love Story (tweed) jackets.

    The check in question features a wee bit of oxbloody red that tends toward Cordovan — as in #8 shell (Alden/Horween). I sought a match, for the sake my 986’s. She suggested Jamieson’s ‘Ruby’:

    She obliged.
    It’s perfect.
    I am wearing it today.

  16. For those who would like to contrast the Paper Chase outfits referred to above:

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