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Launching butter pats across the Union, enjoying sex in the Widener stacks and screaming across the Yard the night before exams begin are all time-honored Harvard traditions.
But watching the 1970 movie "Love Story," a film that epitomizes the "Harvard experience," has become just as much a part of student lore in recent years.
Penned by Erich Segal '58 and later expanded into a novel, "Love Story" chronicles the tragic romance between straight-laced Harvard hockey player Oliver Barrett IV, played by Ryan O'Neal, and bohemian, bookish Radcliffe undergraduate Jenny Cavilleri, played by Ali McGraw.
Today, the Crimson Key Society sponsors semiannual screenings of "Love Story" accompanied by commentary rivaled only by that associated with "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" as a welcome for first-years and a farewell for seniors.
While "Love Story" audience participation does not include black leather attire and "Time Warp" pelvic thrusts, the Crimson Key's ribald remarks about McGraw's hair style and O'Neal's vacuous mannerisms have also hardened into student institutions.
When the movie was being filmed, however, students took it all quite seriously.
Of the more than 100 Harvard students who participated as extras during the filming, most recall their participation fondly but also remember the tedious hours that went into the making of the film.
"We cheered for the same damn play over and over...it was like watching Sisyphus do his labors," Dennis F. Gillespie '70 told The Crimson in December 1970.
The current director of health services at Dartmouth College, John H. Turco '70, was the extra who scored the winning goal during the hockey scene. Although he describes his experience with the movie as exciting, he says the filming had its tedious moments as well.
"For the amount of time that ended up in the film, there was an enormous amount of filming," he says.
Though O'Neal was a good athlete, his ice skating skills were virtually nonexistent--a fact Turco remembers vividly, because the scenes featuring Barrett as a hockey star had to be shot and re-shot.
Turco says the hockey fight scene between O'Neal and an opponent had to be filmed repeatedly because O'Neal could not stay standing long enough to skate toward the other player. A shot of the two actors nose-to-nose, rather than a dramatic approach, had to suffice for the final cut.
Because of the dedication of Harvard students to the project, Segal ensured that the world premiere of the film took place in Harvard's Watson Hockey Rink, the predecessor to the Bright Hockey Center.
At a later farewell dinner for the hockey players, Segal says, "I brought some clippings from the film and showed it to the drunken seniors."
But it was not just the extras and the actors who were working.
The director, Arthur Hiller, says he and seven other crew members pushed a station wagon along a sidewalk so that the camera operator could film O'Neal and McGraw walking in the rain while preventing exhaust from appearing in the picture.
According to Hiller, there was also a fair amount of spontaneous playing during filming. The director remembers yelling at McGraw and O'Neal to make "snow angels! snow angels!" following a huge snowstorm.
There was no snow scene in the script, but Hiller says the opportunity to film McGraw and O'Neal rolling in the snow was too good to waste.
The hours of work also paid off in the box office. The film was a smash hit, garnering nominations for Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Female Actor and Best Supporting Actor and winning Best Score at the 1971 Academy Awards.
"Love Story" also launched the career of one of today's most sought-after actors, Tommy Lee Jones '69, who has since appeared in such films as "The Fugitive," "Batman Returns" and "The Client."
In his debut film role as Barrett's roommate, however, Jones said little more than three lines.
Jones, a former Dunster resident and roommate of Vice President Al Gore '69, must have felt right at home during the filming, for the majority of it was shot on the Harvard campus, most notably in Tercentenary Theater, Widener Library, first-year dorms, Eliot House and Watson Arena.
But Jones was not the only star with close connections to Harvard.
McGraw explains that as an undergraduate at Wellesley College, she, like her character in the film, dated several Harvard men.
"My Harvard experience was weekends with my boyfriends, which was a party for the most part," she recalls.
As a student, McGraw also acted in plays with Harvard undergraduates. Segal and McGraw actually acted together in "All's Well That Ends Well" in the late 1950s.
Although McGraw says she has not seen "Love Story" in more than 20 years, she says she remains proud of her efforts.
From Nairobi to Hong Kong to Bangkok, "the film did touch millions of people in all different languages," McGraw says.
Learning the Part
The film certainly touches the thousand or so first-years who attend the screening each fall and the Crimson Key members who carry on the tradition.
According to Eryn E. Ament '95, a former Crimson Key member, the film was first shown in the early 1980s once it had "become a classic in the country's eyes and far enough outside the 1970s to be a source of great laughs."
Each fall, members of Crimson Key watch the film four or five times to come up with new lines and allow new members to learn the snide stand-bys.
As the script is memorized rather than codified, lines continue to evolve and only the funniest carry over from year to year, says Colbert H. Cannon '97, president of the Crimson Key.
At the beginning of every screening, the Crimson Key makes a disclaimer stating that this well-respected film is shown in the spirit of fun, adding that the humor is in no way meant to be offensive. But three years ago, as a result of student and administrative complaints, the Crimson Key had to curb their jokes about McGraw's struggle with cancer and ultimate death.
"Some of the death jokes were not in good taste," admits Ryan C. Kubacki '95, the Crimson Key's 1993 president. "I have had close relatives die of cancer, but I never felt uncomfortable by it because I knew that wasn't the point behind it."
Despite the minor controversy, the tradition remains strong.
"I think it sounds fabulous," McGraw says of the antics surrounding the film. "I think it sounds like an absolute trip."
But McGraw says she does not have to apologize for the bad clothes and the sappy lines. After all, loving the movie means never having to say you're sorry.
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