Ali MacGraw "Knew" She'd Have Affair With Co-Star Steve McQueen: "I Was Obsessed"
The two stars had a short and tumultuous marriage after meeting on The Getaway.
According to Love Story star Ali MacGraw, her affair with actor Steve McQueen (who she eventually married) was almost inevitable when their paths crossed as two of the biggest screen icons of the early '70s. After a troubled childhood, McQueen had defied the odds to become Hollywood's go-to macho leading man, known for bringing his real-life passion for race car driving into roles like Bullitt and Le Mans. Meanwhile, MacGraw, the daughter of two artists, had emerged the breakout star of 1969's Goodbye, Columbus only to rise to even greater fame with her role in 1970's Love Story.
When the iconic bad boy and newly famous good girl met on the set of the film The Getaway in 1972, sparks flew. Read on for more on why the now-84-year-old said that she "knew" she and McQueen would become entangled and about the troubled years that followed.
She was married when they met.
When MacGraw co-starred with McQueen, who was 12 years her senior, in 1972, she was still in her second marriage. After a brief first marriage in the early '60s, MacGraw met producer Robert Evans when she auditioned for Love Story. He cast her in what would become her career-making role as ill-fated working-class student Jenny—and the two fell in love. With its tagline "Love means never having to say you're sorry," the film went on to become a blockbuster success earning more than $100 million worldwide and bolstering the floundering Paramount where Evans was head of production.
MacGraw married Evans in 1969, and they welcomed a son, Josh, in 1971. The next year, she was offered the chance to star as McQueen's character's wife in The Getaway. According to her 1991 memoir Moving Pictures: An Autobiography, she almost turned the role down. While this was ostensibly in order to spend time with her son, she was also struck by McQueen.
"The real reason I had hesitated was that I knew I was going to get in some serious trouble with Steve," MacGraw wrote. Despite being married to a successful producer, she found the charismatic star hard to resist.
"This was a man who could walk into any room and man, woman, and child all would go, 'Whoa, what's that?' And I was no exception," she told People in 2018.
She became "obsessed" with him.
Despite her hesitation, MacGraw ultimately signed on to the film—and her assumption proved valid. According to Vanity Fair, their affair "began almost as soon as they landed on location in Texas."
"I was obsessed with Steve from the moment he stepped into my world," MacGraw wrote in her memoir, as quoted by the magazine. "There was never enough air for me to breathe to change that feeling."
The relationship powered publicity for the film, which became a box office hit but is today regarded as one of director Sam Peckinpah's weaker efforts when judged against masterpieces including The Wild Bunch and Straw Dogs. "When news of their inevitable affair…hit, it helped to fuel interest in The Getaway with the public in a way not seen since Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton hooked up on the set of Cleopatra," noted The Spool in a recent 50th anniversary retrospective review of the movie.
They were married a year later, but the relationship was turbulent.
Before the end of 1972, MacGraw divorced Evans, an event later fictionalized in the Paramount+ television series The Offer. She and McQueen were married in July 1973.
McQueen insisted that MacGraw sign a prenuptial agreement stipulating that in the event of a divorce, she wouldn't seek anything, and she complied. He also asked her to stop working, and she left her career at the height of her fame to devote herself to raising their son. (McQueen also had two teenage children from a previous marriage to actor Neile Adams.)
"He was the biggest movie star in the world and he didn't want me to work," MacGraw told Closer Weekly in 2022. "So I essentially quit making movies and took care of my child." Or, as she put it in her memoir, "I played cook, cleaning lady, 'simple' woman to the hilt."
While MacGraw wrote that the couple was happy "for a while," there were dark clouds looming. McQueen was a heavy drinker and drug user, she wrote in her memoir. And, at the same time, MacGraw was struggling with her own alcoholism. Additionally, she told Oprah Winfrey in a 2014 interview that her relationships were plagued by her inability to be herself and to speak her mind, as she feared being abandoned if she did.
They split over her desire to keep acting.
According to Moving Pictures, McQueen eventually moved out of the couple's shared home and into a hotel suite in Beverly Hills. Around this time, rumors of his infidelity got back to her, MacGraw wrote, adding that she began to cheat as well soon after, seeking an escape.
The relationship already on the rocks, in 1977, MacGraw announced that she wanted go back to acting. "In that case we are filing for divorce," McQueen replied, according to 2011's Steve McQueen: A Biography by Marc Eliot (as quoted in Daily Mail). Despite his objections, MacGraw accepted a role in 1978's Convoy. Though the pair briefly reconciled, by 1978, she had had enough. They filed for divorce that year. McQueen died of lung cancer just two years later in 1980 at the age of 50.
McGraw continued to make movies and act, notably joining the '80s hit soap Dynasty for a 14-episode run in 1984. But she never remarried. Leaving Hollywood for Santa Fe, New Mexico, the actor has been sober for decades—something she wishes her ex-husband had been able to achieve as well. "I wish we had both grown old sober," she reflected to People in 2018. "There were wonderful days and dreadful days."
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