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“Love means never having to say you’re sorry.”

Love it or hate it, that line was everywhere in the early ’70s, thanks to the 1970 hit movie “Love Story,” starring Ali MacGraw and Ryan O’Neal. If you didn’t hear the moody, tinkling piano of the film’s instrumental theme, then you certainly heard Andy Williams’ vocal version.

Written by Harvard professor Erich Segal, “Love Story” was a Romeo and Juliet tale of wealthy Harvard student Oliver Barrett (O’Neal), who falls in love with working class Jenny Cavalleri (MacGraw), a Radcliffe music major. They “meet cute,” have snowball fights in photogenic campus winter scenes, and eventually marry, despite being cut off by Barrett’s megabucks father. Jenny falls ill and — after 46 years, we hope this isn’t a shock — dies of an unspecified disease.

High school and college girls copied MacGraw’s crocheted hats and peacoat, and dating couples flocked to the film, which predictably didn’t draw great reviews, but ranks highly in virtually every “Most Romantic Movie” lists.

But the popularity of the film — according to Box OfficeMojo, it’s one of the highest-grossing of all time — pushed O’Neal and MacGraw into the top rank of young actors in the early ’70s.

Segal wrote the screenplay first, and then, while the movie was in production, wrote the novel for publication in time for Valentine’s Day 1970, which helped build fan frenzy leading up to the film’s December release.

Even 46 years later, with memories of the film resonating mostly for baby boomers, its pop cultural significance reasserts itself at the strangest moments.

One such moment recently was during the mid-March Congressional hearings on the Flint water crisis.

Virginia Tech professor Marc Edwards, irritated at what he saw as a lack of remorse on the part of U.S. Environmental Protection Agency officials, remarked: “I guess being in a government agency means never having to say you’re sorry.”

Edwards was 6 when “Love Story” was released.

Both MacGraw and O’Neal disavow that line, by the way. “You always have to say you’re sorry,” MacGraw said, as O’Neal piped in his vigorous agreement.

— Susan Whitall

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