By Elizabeth Adams Lasser, 2014
On December 25, 1970, Hollywood’s maudlin film, Love Story made its New England debut at the Circle Theater in Brookline. The much anticipated film, starring heartthrob, Ryan O’Neal (Peyton Place), and the stunning Ali MacGraw (Goodbye, Columbus) became an overnight success. The movie was based on Harvard graduate Erich Segal’s similarly-named novel which spent over a year on the New York Times hardcover best-seller list.
Love Story tells the tale of star-crossed lovers, Harvard student, Oliver Barrett IV, and Radcliffe student, Jennifer Cavilleri. The movie chronicles their courtship and marriage in Cambridge and at the same time illuminates the socioeconomic divide between Oliver’s wealthy family and Jenny’s more humble origins. The film broke many 1970s box office records. It received seven Academy Award nominations and won the Oscar for best original score.
While the film is well-known as being one of the last movies filmed directly on the Harvard campus with the full cooperation of the university, most viewers do not realize that some of the movie’s key scenes are filmed along Oxford Street in Cambridge’s Agassiz neighborhood.
Throughout Love Story, viewers can glimpse Cambridge before urban renewal, before cell phones, and before personal computers. Much of the film’s visual honesty, however, comes from director Arthur Hiller’s portrayal of Oliver and Jenny’s newlywed life in the Agassiz neighborhood (before gentrification).
After being cut off by his stuffy father (Ray Milland), Oliver sets up shop as a newlywed and carries Jenny over the threshold at 119 Oxford Street. The couple pinches their pennies and dimes on Skippy peanut butter sandwiches while Oliver begins his grueling time at Harvard Law School. Hiller’s decision to film in the Agassiz area was no doubt influenced by a stingy $2 million budget and the area’s proximity to the law school. At the time, Paramount Pictures was on the verge of bankruptcy, and the movie was almost not made. Ultimately, it earned $200 million and put Paramount in the black.
One of Love Story’s pivotal scenes occurs on Oxford Street near the end of the couple’s time in Cambridge. After an argument with Jenny over Oliver’s strained relationship with his father, she runs out of their apartment. With the film’s haunting theme in the background, Oliver pounds the pavement in the Agassiz neighborhood as he desperately searches for her in the Gold Star Laundry (now the Oxford Spa Laundromat, at 102-104 Oxford Street)* and then past the old Agassiz School at the corner of Sacramento Street.
Oliver finally returns to 119 Oxford, where he finds a crying Jenny sitting on the porch. It is here that she utters the line “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.” This line ranks thirteenth on the American Film Institute’s list of all-time famous movie quotes. Eventually Love Story and its plot careen toward New York City and its tragic end, though not before a final aerial shot of the Agassiz neighborhood from a building crane, another cost savings the director used during filming. As they drive away, Jenny remarks, “It was a good apartment for eighty bucks.” Oliver replies, “Yeah, but our new garage will cost as much.” Times have changed.
* Today you can see the “Gold Star Laundry” sign hanging on a wall inside the Laundromat. The sign was hanging outside the building in the film. A fading sign also sits in the window of 102 Oxford and announces “This LAUNDROMAT WAS IN THE MOVIE…. Love Story.”