`Love Story' ends in tears for Al Gore

It was the perfect ruse for adding a touch of romance to a charisma- challenged Vice-President with higher ambitions, and for seven days it had all of Washington in a tizzy. Was it to take seriously Al Gore's claim, as reported by Time magazine last Monday, that he and his wife, Tipper, were the inspiration for Hollywood's most famous tearjerker, Love Story?

There were, after all, grounds for suspicion. Why had we not been fed this irresistible nugget before? Could it possibly have anything to do with the fact that Gore has suffered a string of political setbacks of late and is starting to worry about his prospects for filling Bill Clinton's shoes in 2000?

It was during a recent plane ride that Gore wandered into the press section and started reminiscing to Time reporter, Karen Tumulty. The Vice-President recollected making friends with Erich Segal, the author of Love Story, while he had been at Harvard in 1968. So did Tommy Lee Jones, who was Gore's roommate at Harvard and who, amazingly, went on to portray the roommate of the hero of the film.

But what caused all the excitement last week, was the notion that the film's central characters - Oliver Barrett IV, the waspy stud with a sensitive heart, played by Ryan O'Neal, and Jenny Cavilleri, the daughter of a baker who eventually dies, played by Ali MacGraw - had been directly inspired by Al and Tipper. Yesterday, at last, word came from Segal himself, tracked down by a reporter with the New York Times. Poor Mr Gore. While his version of what happened was not all fairytale, it was not altogether accurate either. When Segal saw the Time story, he was, he said, "befuddled" by it.

Segal said that one element of the Barrett character was indeed drawn from Mr Gore - his blue-blooded family background and the pressure he was under to follow in his father's footsteps. (Gore's father was also a senator). But the most attractive side of Barrett - the mix of macho and sentimental - came not from him but from Tommy Lee Jones.

Mrs Gore, meanwhile, is out of the chain altogether. "I did not draw a thing from Tipper," Segal told the Times. "I knew her only as Al's date."

What damage the weeklong episode will do to Mr Gore is unclear. His press office is suggesting that Ms Tumulty may have read too much into the original plane-ride conversation. "The Vice-President never mis-spoke," a spokeswoman insisted at the weekend. "He may have been misheard."

If that was the case, why, one wonders, did the Vice-President let the story run unchallenged for a week? Perhaps because this press was just too good to knock down, even if it was only a quarter true.

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