When Ryan O'Neal was 29 years old he appeared opposite a 31-year-old Ali MacGraw in what's been called the most romantic film of all time, Love Story.
Their chemistry was part of what made the movie unforgettable and led to both of them earning an Oscar nomination for their roles.
He's now 73 and she's 76.
And 45 years later they are reuniting for a different kind of love story, A.R. Gurney's Love Letters.
The duo star in the play opening Tuesday at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts, part of the Broadway Across America series. The Fort Lauderdale appearance opens a national tour, which will take the pair to Los Angeles, Detroit, Dallas, Boston, Baltimore, and Hartford.
The production, presented as a staged reading with two actors at a table with scripts in hand, was revived on Broadway last year and had a rotating cast of stars, including Candice Bergen and Alan Alda, Stacey Keach and Diana Rigg. Anjelica Huston and Martin Sheen as well as Brian Dennehy and Mia Farrow were supposed to take over on Broadway but the revival closed.
In the words of Gurney, the play "needs no theater, no lengthy rehearsal, no special set, no memorization of lines, and no commitment from its two actors beyond the night of performance. It is designed to be read aloud by an actor and an actress of roughly the same age, sitting side by side at a table, in front of a group of people of any size."
The piece is a series of love letters exchanged over a lifetime between two people who met in the second grade, went their separate ways, but corresponded over 50 years. O'Neal will play Andrew Makepeace Ladd III, a WASPy attorney who is eventually elected to the U.S. Senate. MacGraw is Melissa Gardner, an artist who drinks more than she should.
"He loves the artist, the woman who drinks too much," says O'Neal. "She's in love with a straight arrow."
Gurney told the New York Times that the idea for performing the play as a scripted reading started when he had to give a speech at the New York Public Library. He didn't like the subject he was assigned, so he decided instead to get a friend of his, actress Holland Taylor, to read "this thing I had written."
It opened in 1989 off-Broadway with Kathleen Turner and John Rubinstein; Rubinstein had starred in a pre-New York run in New Haven, Conn., at the Long Wharf Theater; Joanna Gleason played Melissa Gardner. There have been numerous incarnations since.
It didn't take much convincing for O'Neal and MacGraw to sign on to the revival and tour.
"I think it will be interesting to see Ali and I together again," says O'Neal. "It's a very well written story. It's certainly interesting to me. I think that audiences will be moved. That's my hope."
MacGraw says she can't imagine performing Love Letters with anyone else.
"(Ryan) is the perfect person for me to perform this with. We have some 40-odd years of history and that experience of doing Love Story together, which was one of those movies that was a freak success. No one knew that was going to happen and suddenly there we were. Every single minute (of filming) was fun and caring. And that doesn't happen. I did an awful lot of stuff afterwards, for which I had no real feeling in memory."
Gurney is excited about the two actors reuniting to bring his play to life on the road.
"It's toured before but not as magnificently as this. You see two first-rate actors and you see great acting on stage."
Love Letters, starring Ryan O'Neal and Ali MacGraw is at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts, 201 S.W. 5th Ave., Fort Lauderdale, Tuesday, July 21 through Sunday, July 26. Tickets are $30 to $70. 954-462-0222 or www.browardcenter.org.