After graduating from Wellesley, MacGraw worked as Diana Vreeland’s gofer at Harper’s Bazaar and put in six years as a stylist and model before being plucked to star in Goodbye, Columbus. In 1969, she flew to L.A. to meet with Evans, then Paramount’s production chief, to discuss her role in Love Story, spent the night with him, and moved in, setting off a series of Ali-in-wonderland experiences that ultimately left her displaced and miserable. Ruth Ansel, a freelance art director who befriended MacGraw in the sixties, says, “She was this great beauty who staggered men. I think she thought, Oh, this is going to be easy.”
Watching the trajectory of today’s young stars, MacGraw says, “There’s a horror in seeing little girls becoming more famous without having a life, a craft. That wind blows quickly over you—you’d better have something of your own so you don’t feel, when they stop clapping, that you’re a cipher.” She did not take alimony from Evans or McQueen, a decision she now regrets. “I thought it was ladylike and honorable. I’m not sure I think that now.” She lives alone with a dog and a cat and explains that she is between romantic partners. “When I am on my own, it’s because I have some very specific growing to do, and it might be nice to spare somebody else that experience.”
Since moving to Santa Fe, she’s done various things to get by, from producing a yoga video to (briefly) selling a line of high-end pashminas in department stores. Three years ago, her retired agent, Sue Mengers, urged Laina Cohn, a manager at Evolution Entertainment, to take on MacGraw. “Sue told me that Ali was ready to work again—but I’m not sure Ali was ready,” says Cohn. To date, the actress has turned down the easy-money stuff like guest shots on sitcoms. “She wanted to do something smart.”
Unlike so many older actresses, MacGraw doesn’t seem vain, announcing with a wry smile, “I live in such a dry climate that my face is a road map. I’ve lived in my face.” She pauses. “In rehearsals today, Rufus said, ‘You suddenly look like an old woman.’ ” This wasn’t insulting? “No, it was a compliment. I knew what he was talking about. In this scene, it was not possible to look like a 45-year-old who had just gone jogging on the beach.” For MacGraw, it meant that she’s not just sliding by on her looks anymore—this time around, she’s acting.