Al Gore vs. Terry Lenzner: Who was the real Oliver of ‘Love Story’?

October 10, 2013

Also in The Washington Post:

An intriguing tidbit in our colleague Rich Leiby’s profile of Washington private eye Terry Lenzner. Seems that he was the inspiration for Oliver Barrett IV, the Harvard ice-hockey player at the center of his friend Erich Segal’s weepy romantic novel “Love Story.”

Or, at least, one of them.

Ryan O’Neal and Ali MacGraw in “Love Story” (AP)

Consider: Lenzner, now 74, grew up with a wealthy, domineering father who pushed him to excel in prep-school sports and the Ivy League; he went to Exeter and Harvard, where he played football — and became good friends with Segal, then a tutor.

Segal went on to write “Love Story,” which was turned into the hit movie starring Ryan O’Neal and Ali McGraw, whose spunky bohemian character famously informs his smug preppy character that “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.” Not quite true, actually, but memorable. The character of Oliver was also a jock with rich but difficult dad, who went to Exeter and Harvard — and, notes Leiby, “in the book, his height and weight are exactly the same as Lenzner’s.”

Lenzner (Michael S. Williamson / The Washington Post)

To top it off, Segal wrote the following in a letter to Lenzner in 1996: “For the record, I hereby declare that you were the model for Oliver Barrett IV in Love Story.”

Case closed? But wait!

Tipper and Al with their young family. (Nancy Rhoda)

In 1997, then-Vice President Al Gore claimed that he and Tipper were Segal’s models for Oliver and his beloved, Jenny. Segal hotly denied that the Gore relationship played into his book in any way. (‘I did not draw a thing from Tipper,” he told the New York Times. ”I knew her only as Al’s date.”) He did, though, acknowledge that Gore — whom he also knew as a Harvard student — was a partial inspiration for Oliver, but really only the domineering-dad part.

Tommy Lee Jones in “Lincoln.” (DreamWorks / FilmFrame)

A stronger inspiration, Segal said, was Gore’s roommate at the time, future movie star Tommy Lee Jones, a soulful jock who was a star on the Harvard football team.

Lenzner’s name? It doesn’t seem to have come up at the time. But he’s still got that letter.

Segal died in January 2010. We may never know the truth.

Read more: Terry Lenzner, the private eye in Washington who has seen it all

More Reliable Source: Chelsea Clinton; Julian Assange; Marilyn Monroe; Michelle Obama; Jonas Brothers; Janet Yellen; Alan Dixon; Kris Jenner; Josh Duggar

 

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