How Meryl Streep revived the love of her life just long enough

How Meryl Streep revived the love of her life just long enough Meryl Streep
  • Meryl Streep and John Cazale met in 1976 when cast opposite one another in the play Measure for Measure in Central Park
  • At the time, she was a 27-year-old rising star, while Cazale, 14 years her senior, was a legend among his peers
  • Soon after the relationship began, Cazale was diagnosed with lung cancer
  • Streep eventually took a leave from acting to spend her time with Cazale
  • Early on March 12, 1978, a doctor told Streep that Cazale was dead
  • In a spur-of-the-moment move, she pounded on his chest and revived him just long enough to hear him say, 'It's alright, Meryl'
  • She then watched him die before her eyes at the New York City hospital
  • Six months after Cazale's death, Streep married her current husband, Don Gummer, who she has four children with

Before Meryl Streep became one of the greatest actresses of her generation, she faced a tragic loss when the love of her life died of cancer.

When Streep met fellow actor John Cazale in 1976, she was a 27-year-old rising star, while Cazale, 14 years her senior, was a legend among his peers. They fell for one another instantly.

Little did she know, however, that two years later she would take a leave from acting to spend every waking moment with Cazale as his body succumbed to cancer, Michael Schulman details in his new Streep biography, Her Again.

After a doctor broke news to her that Cazale had died, in a spur-of-the-moment move, the 29-year-old actress pounded on his chest and revived him just long enough to hear him say, 'It's alright, Meryl' before dying before her eyes on March 12, 1978,

Meryl Streep and John Cazale met in 1976 when cast opposite one another in the play Measure for Measure in Central Park

Meryl Streep and John Cazale met in 1976 when cast opposite one another in the play Measure for Measure in Central Park

Little did Streep know, that two years later she would take a leave from acting to spend every waking moment with Cazale as his body succumbed to cancer
Michael Schulman details the tragic romance in his new Streep biography, Her Again

Little did Streep know, that two years later she would take a leave from acting to spend every waking moment with Cazale as his body succumbed to cancer, Michael Schulman details in his new Streep biography, Her Again

Streep and Cazale met in 1976 when they were cast opposite one another in the play Measure for Measure in Central Park.

Cazale at that time was regarded as a rare talent in the industry. He played Fredo in The Godfather and The Godfather Part II and had lead roles in The Conversation and Dog Day Afternoon.

All of the five films he starred in were nominated for Best Picture - three of them won.

Though she 'doesn't talk about it much' Streep's life was about to change forever after she met Cazale, Schulman said, according to the New York Post.

'That year was so wildly eventful and dramatic in her life. It was instrumental in shaping who she was as a person and an actor,' Schulman claims.

Once they were cast in the Central Park play, 'the only thing' Cazale would talk about was Streep, actor Marvin Starkman said.

Streep once explained her love of Cazale in an interview, according to the biography.

'He wasn't like anybody I'd ever met,' she said later. 'It was the specificity of him, and his sort of humanity and his curiosity about people, his compassion.'

 

While Cazale was making hit films, they couple were still struggling artists as they lived in their loft on Franklin street in Manhattan.

Cazale would take Streep to dinner in Little Italy, where restaurant owners would pay for their meals, often in awe of Cazale's presence in the room.

'They were great to look at, because they were kind of funny-looking, both of them,' playwright Israel Horovitz said, according to the New York Post. 'They were lovely in their way, but it was a really quirky couple. They were head-turners, but not because, 'Wow, is she a beauty'

Schulman wrote that that the beginning of their relationship was a whirlwind, adding that soon after the relationship began, they quickly moved in together to Cazale's Tribeca loft.

The couple were the talk of New York theater throughout their relationship.

But in May 1977, Cazale was feeling ill and had to miss previews for Agamemnon when legendary director Joe Papp became so concerned that he scheduled an emergency appointment for Cazale with his own doctor.

Days later, sitting in a doctor's office with Joe and Gail Papp, they received bad news: Cazale had terminal lung cancer that had spread throughout his body.

Gail Papp recounted the moment, saying they all just sat there, feeling 'like you've been struck dead on the spot'.

Streep and Cazale appeared in The Deer Hunter together after he was diagnosed with terminal cancer. Streep said she took the role only to be with Cazale

Streep and Cazale appeared in The Deer Hunter together after he was diagnosed with terminal cancer. Streep said she took the role only to be with Cazale

'John fell silent,' Schulman writes. 'For a moment, so did Meryl. But she was never one to give up, and certainly not one to succumb to despair . . . She looked up and said, 'So, where should we go to dinner?' '

Cazale immediately dropped out of his play, but Streep, who was starring in the musical Happy End, carried on and castmates saw no sign of grief, the biography says.

Cazale would visit her at the theater, still smoking cigars, but Streep didn't criticize; she instead made her dressing limit off-limits for smokers.

'She had a kind of tough love about it,' actor Christopher Lloyd said 'She didn't let him malinger.'

The couple kept quiet about how severe Cazale's cancer was. His brother didn't realize how bad it was until he saw Cazale spit up blood on the sidewalk of Chinatown.

Cazale's good friend Al Pacino would take him to radiation treatments as he insisted he would get better and fought to get back to working in acting.

He was cast in The Deer Hunter, where he starred opposite Robert De Niro.

Though insurance costs would be through the roof, filmmakers fought to cast Cazale as the production company, EMI, tried to get him fired.

'I was told that unless I got rid of John, [they] would shut down the picture,' director Michael Cimino said later. 'It was awful. I spent hours on the phone, yelling and screaming and fighting.'

Streep, desperate to be close to her love, took a part she loathed. Her character was just 'the girl' in the film whol was 'essentially a man's view of a woman,' Streep said, according to the New York Post. 'She's extremely passive, she's very quiet, she's someone who's constantly vulnerable.'

Streep later said that De Niro covered Cazale's insurance costs, but the famed actor has never confirmed or denied the story.

'He was sicker than we thought,' De Niro later said, 'but I wanted him to be in it.'

As the couple continued to struggle with medical bills after filming for The Deer Hunter was over, Streep reluctantly took a lead role in the nine-hour TV miniseries Holocaust.

Because the series was filmed in Austria, Cazale was too weak to travel with Streep. She, however, never complained and took on a 'cheery professionalism', Schulman claims in the book.

It was shot on an actual concentration camp, and Streep later said 'the material was unrelentingly grim'.

In all, she spent two-and-a-half months in Austria as her boyfriend lay dying in the United States.

'I was going crazy,' she later said. 'John was sick, and I wanted to be with him.'

'She was very anxious to do her very last scene and then zip back out,' director Marvin Chomsky said. 'I mean, I don't even think we had a moment to say goodbye.'

Cazale was at his worst that Streep had seen him when she arrived back to New York.

As Cazale's medical bills racked up, Streep took a lead role in the nine-hour TV miniseries Holocaust
Because the series was filmed in Austria (pictured), Cazale was too weak to travel with Streep

As Cazale's medical bills racked up, Streep took a lead role in the nine-hour TV miniseries Holocaust (pictured right). Because the series was filmed in Austria, Cazale was too weak to travel with Streep

She dropped everything and for five months, concentrated solely on the love of her life, who was growing weaker every day as the cancer spread to his bones.

Streep went to all of Cazale's doctor's appointments and radiation treatments.

'She was always a strong-willed, persistent, hopeful person, and I think she just applied all her spirit and strength to taking care of him,' Schulman says in his book.

'She wasn't one to create drama around it or draw attention to herself. She just bore down and did what needed to be done,' he adds.

Streep later said that spending all her time with Cazale gave her a sort of protection from what was actually happening.

'I was so close that I didn't notice the deterioration,' she said.

During that time, she wrote to her former drama teacher at yale, Bobby Lewis, of how she was handling Cazale's illness.

'My beau is terribly ill and sometimes, as now, in the hospital,' Streep wrote. 'He has very wonderful care and I try not to stand around wringing my hands, but I am worried all the time and pretending to be cheery all the time, which is more exhausting mentally physically emotionally than any work I've ever done.'

Cazale entered Memorial Sloan Kettering in March 1978 and never went home. Streep remained by his side the entire time.

On March 12, 1978, a doctor told Streep: 'He's gone.'

'Meryl wasn't ready to hear it, much less believe it,' Schulman writes. 'What happened next, by some accounts, was the culmination of all the tenacious hope Meryl had kept alive for the past 10 months. She pounded on his chest, sobbing, and for a brief, alarming moment, John opened his eyes. 'It's all right, Meryl', he said weakly. 'It's all right'.'

Cazale then closed his eyes and died. Streep called his brother, Stephen, and told him while sobbing, 'I tried'.

Following Cazale's death, she saw success after success in the acting world.

She won an Emmy for Holocaust, an Oscar nomination for The Deer Hunter and was cast in 1979's Kramer vs Kramer and the role of Kate in Shakespeare in the Park's Taming of the Shrew.

During the filming of Kramer vs Kramer, Dustin Hoffman slapped Streep in the face and taunted her about Cazale to get the best performance out of her, Schulman's book claims.

Streep went 'absolutely white' when Hoffman goaded her about John Cazale and hit her on the cheek, leaving a red mark.

Hoffman is said to have allowed the boundaries of fiction and reality to collapse so that he saw Streep as his soon-to-be ex-wife - and took out his rage on her.

Kramer vs Kramer would go on to be nominated for nine Oscars and won five, including Best Actor for Hoffman and Best Supporting Actress for Streep.

As for Kate in Taming of the Shrew, she looked at the role differently following Cazale's death. 

Following Cazale's death, was cast in 1979's Kramer vs Kramer (pictured), and during filming co-star Dustin Hoffman would taunt her about Cazale to get the best performance out of her, Schulman's book claims

Following Cazale's death, was cast in 1979's Kramer vs Kramer (pictured), and during filming co-star Dustin Hoffman would taunt her about Cazale to get the best performance out of her, Schulman's book claims

Six months after Cavale's death, Streep married her current husband, Don Gummer, who she had four children with

Six months after Cavale's death, Streep married her current husband, Don Gummer, who she had four children with

She said she saw that Kate was not an independent woman who is eventually broken by a man, but instead a woman who finds satisfaction in giving herself over to love, according to Schulman's book.

'What I'm saying is, 'I'll do anything for this man,' ' Streep told a reporter at the time. 'Look, would there be any hang-up if this were a mother talking about her son?

'Service is the only thing that's important about love. Everybody is worried about 'losing yourself' - all this narcissism. Duty.

'We can't stand that idea now either... But duty might be a suit of armor you put on to fight for your love.'

Streep went on to see 19 Academy Award nominations - the most of any actress in history - and three wins.

Fellow actors admired Streep for her devotion to Cazale.

'She took care of him like there was nobody else on earth,' said Joe Papp. 'She never betrayed him in his presence or out of his presence. Never betrayed any notion that he would not survive.'

Al Pacino agreed with Papp's words.

'When I saw that girl there with him like that I thought, 'There's nothing like that.' I mean, that's it for me. As great as she is in all her work, that's what I think of when I think of her.'

Pacino, too, had a place in his heart for Cazale.

'I learned more about acting from John than anybody,' Al Pacino has said. 'All I wanted to do was work with John for the rest of my life. He was my acting partner.'

Cazale was admired in the acting world, and was known among directors as '20 questions' because he wanted a detailed backstory for each of his characters.

'One of the things I loved about the casting of John Cazale,' said Dog Day director Sidney Lumet, 'was that he had a tremendous sadness about him. I don't know where it came from; I don't believe in invading the privacy of the actors I work with or getting into their heads. But my God, it's there - every shot of him.'

'Time moved differently for John Cazale,' Schulman writes in his biography. 'Everything went slower. He wasn't dim, not by a long shot. But he was meticulous, sometimes maddeningly so.'

Pacino said that Cazale would take his time even during a simple dinner.

'I mean, you'd be done - washed, finished and in bed - before he got halfway through his meal. Then the cigar would come out. He'd look at it, light it, taste it. Then finally smoke it.'

Soon after Cazale's passing, Streep met her current husband, sculptor Don Gummer. She married Gummer six months after Cazale's death, and the couple have four children together.

A spokesman for Streep has previously said: 'Ms. Streep has no comment on this book. It was unauthorized. She made no contribution to it, nor has she read it.'

 

 
 

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