With his cherubic face, blond curly hair and athletic build, Ryan O’Neal was cut out to fit the mold of a Hollywood engraver, and would not have been out of place between a Gregory Peck and a Rock Hudson. But he was born too late, during the Second World War, and his image of prince charming, madly in love with the melodrama Love Story (1970), would inevitably be overtaken by the anxiety of the times, this wind of questioning and skepticism which took over Hollywood in the 1970s.
In his most notable roles, the mask of his smooth beauty cracks under the onslaught of doubt and denial: as an upstart in Barry Lyndon (1975) by Stanley Kubrick, or as a crook in Cotton Candy (1973), by Peter Bogdanovich. He died on December 8, in Los Angeles, from a nagging combination of cancers, at the age of 82.
It was in the same city, and in the seraglio, that Charles Patrick Ryan O’Neal was born, on April 20, 1941, to the writer of Irish origin Charles “Blackie” O’Neal, an experienced screenwriter, and the actress Patricia O’Callaghan. The boy was first tempted by boxing and participated in two professional championships, in 1956 and 1957. Shortly after, he moved with his parents to Germany, to Munich, where the father was hired to write programs for Radio Free Europe, American branch established in the wake of the Liberation. His parents introduced him to the series Tales of the Vikings (1959-1960), derived from the film The Vikings (1958) by Richard Fleischer, which was then filmed in Europe, as an extra and stuntman. In the early 1960s, he returned to try his luck in Hollywood.
Like many actors of his generation, Ryan O’Neal made his debut on television, making appearances in popular series like The Untouchables, The Virginian , The Great Caravan or the legal soap opera Perry Mason . He hit the big time with the soap opera Peyton Place (1964-1969, 514 episodes), whose dazzling audience success propelled his career at the same time as that of Mia Farrow. At the end of the series, the transition to cinema is assured.
A foal of producer Robert Evans at Paramount, he was promoted to headliner in the rose-tinted melodrama Love Story, by Arthur Hiller. There, alongside Ali MacGraw, he forms a fairytale couple – he, a rich heir and brilliant Harvard student, she, a poor, sick Italian-American – whose tragic destiny will trigger a global tidal wave of tears. He will reprise the role of a grieving widower in Oliver’s Story (1978) by John Koty, without the same impact.
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