In its new cover story on Meg Ryan, 39, PEOPLE gets the goods on her breakup with “Gladiator” hunk Russell Crowe, 37. By late December of last year, the magazine reports, colleagues and friends noticed a cooling of the couple’s public ardor. “I think it was your typical costar fling, destined to run its course and burn out,” says one crewmember of the couple’s movie, “Proof.” But in fact, says a friend of Ryan’s, Crowe’s affection was only burning brighter: “Russell wanted to marry Meg and have kids with her.” For her part, she adds, Ryan felt that Crowe’s attention and gifts — including a puppy and a vintage 1963 Buick Riviera — were “too much too soon. It was overwhelming.” In spite of having spent the Christmas holidays apart, Crowe still hoped to salvage the relationship, says Ryan’s friend. When Ryan turned down Crowe’s request to accompany him to the Golden Globes on Jan. 21, the surly star showed up late, left early and, reportedly ended the evening at the Hotel Bel-Air with Courtney Love. More disturbing to Ryan was his failure to publicly deny the Russell-dumped-Meg reports. “Nobody corrected the misperception,” the friend says. “He never came to her aid. It still works to humiliate her.”