Though now known predominantly as foolish, fun-loving brother Fredo in The Godfather, Cazale was then set for even greater things. He was a stage star and all five of the movies he made (two Godfathers, The Conversation, Dog Day Afternoon and The Deer Hunter) were nominated for Best Picture Oscars, 3 of them winning. He was a brilliant talent and it seemed correct that he should begin a passionate relationship with Meryl, the brightest new star in the New York stage firmament.
Name: Meryl Streep
22 June 1949 (Age: 65)
Where: Summit, New Jersey, USA
Height: 5' 6"
Awards: Won 2 Oscars, 4 Golden Globes, 1 Emmy, 1 BAFTA
When, in February, 2003, Meryl Streep was Oscar-nominated for her performance in Adaptation, she overtook Katherine Hepburn to become the most successful actress in Hollywood history. 13 nominations in 26 years (Hepburn took 48 over her 12) - incredible. And she wouldn't stop there, regularly adding to her tally until 2009's Julie & Julia brought her total nominations to 16. Given the traditional paucity of fine roles for more mature women, this is proof positive that Streep's talent can often turn manure into gold-dust. And everyone knows it, too. Though there have been many jokes about her penchant for trying different accents ("I hahd a fahm in Ahfricaaah"), she is generally accepted to be the pre-eminent screen actress of her generation - and maybe of all generations.
She was born Mary Louise Streep on the 22nd of June, 1949, in Summit, New Jersey. Her father, Harry Streep Jr, was an executive at a pharmaceutical company, while mother Mary was a commercial artist. Mary was 35 when she had Mary Louise, her first child. Soon would come Harry III, now a choreographer married to actress Maeve Kincaid (longstanding star of the soap opera The Guiding Light), and Dana, now a bond salesman.
Young Mary Louise grew up in Summit, then the affluent New Jersey township of Bernardsville, a short distance west of Newark. Pointers to her later career (and level of professionalism) were evident from very early on. As a child, pretending to be her grandmother, she drew age-lines on her face and wore a sweater to "feel" more like her character. She made her stage debut in a school Christmas production, singing O Holy Night, and it was also telling that she delivered the song in perfect French, despite having studied the language for only a very short time. Indeed, singing was the girl's first love and she dreamt of becoming an opera star. From age 12, she trained with the renowned vocal coach Estelle Liebling.
At Bernardsville High School, she was a fine student but, to begin with, an awkward teenager - gawky and lacking confidence. Acting in school plays began to change this and, when at 15 she received a standing ovation for her part as the librarian in a production of The Music Man, she claimed she stopped feeling "dorky" - a hugely liberating moment. Many other school roles would follow, including that of Daisy-Mae in Lil' Abner. Everyone would notice this new Mary Louise when she dyed her hair blonde and switched from specs to contacts. Her popularity sky-rocketed, and she became not just a cheerleader, but Homecoming Queen.
As said, she was a bright student and an obvious talent, and won a place at the prestigious all-girl Vassar college in Poughkeepsie, New Hampshire, studying drama and English. Here she stood out once more, being awarded a much-sought-after place on the Honours Exchange Program with Dartford College in Hanover, New Hampshire. Here she'd widen her range, studying both playwrighting and set and costume design. During a trip to London where she tried to make a brief living as an actress, she'd once find herself sleeping rough in Green Park. From her uncomfortable resting-place she would have a clear view of the Ritz and vow to stay there one day. And she did.
Graduating from Vassar in 1971, she spent the summer with a travelling theatre company in Vermont, worked as a waitress at the Hotel Somerset in Somerville, then made her New York stage debut. But the ambitious Streep knew she had more to learn, and so enrolled at Yale's School of Drama where she immediately became the bright new star, eclipsing such peers as Sigourney Weaver and Wendy Wasserstein. Treating her learning as serious work, she'd usually be seen clad in overalls. Over her 3 years at Yale, she'd appear in over 30 productions with the Yale Repertory Theatre, including The Royal Pardon, Lower Depths, Edward II, The Brothers Karamazov, The Possessed and A Midsummer Night's Dream - a real all-round education. In her final year she'd audition for Murray Schisgal's All Over Town, to be directed by one of the world's biggest movie stars, Dustin Hoffman who'd just seen Lenny released. The notoriously picky Hoffman would audition 1500 people for the play, not all of them actors, and would introduce himself to Streep with a loud belch, prompting her to describe him as "an obnoxious pig".
She left Yale in 1975 with a Masters in Drama, and spent that summer with the O'Neill Playwrights Conference. Now she was ready for the big-time. Returning to New York to join Joseph Papp's New York Shakespeare Festival, she made an immediate breakthrough. Papp, who described her as one of the few "true actors" he'd ever met, gave her the lead in his Lincoln Centre production of Trelawney Of The Wells. Then came his 1976 double-bill of Tennessee Williams' 27 Wagons Full Of Cotton and Arthur Miller's A Memory Of Two Mondays. Many in the audience did not realise that the blowsy, simple-minded wife in the former and sophisticated secretary in the latter were played by the same actress. But the critics noticed and were blown away by her versatility and intensity. For 27 Wagons, she received an Outer Critics Circle Award, a Theatre World award and a Tony nomination.
1976 was a landmark year for Mary Louise (now calling herself Meryl). She proceeded to knock the critics out once more in the Shakespeare In The Park season, playing in Henry V and as Isabella in Measure For Measure. Her co-star in both was John Cazale.
Meryl kept on the up. She starred on Broadway in the musical The Happy End, with John Lithgow in William Gillette's Secret Service, and won an Obie for Alice In The Palace. She also made her screen debut in the TV movie The Deadliest Season, as the wife of Michael Moriarty, playing a pro hockey star who, pressured into becoming more aggressive during games, is charged with manslaughter when an opposing player dies on the ice.
Now fame came her way. Making her big screen entrance in Julia, she impressed with a brief part as the bitchy friend of Jane Fonda's Lillian Hellman, a writer and anti-fascist activist trying to deliver funds to her battling buddy Vanessa Redgrave (in the title role) in a Hitler-ravaged Europe. The film was a big hit, winning Oscars for Redgrave and Jason Robards, but Meryl's real breakthrough came with her next release. This was Holocaust, a much harsher anti-fascist statement and a groundbreaking TV miniseries, following the conflicting fortunes of the Jewish Weiss family and German Dorfs as the Nazis rise to power.
Here James Woods gave an unforgettable performance as the Weiss first-born, an artist sent to the camps, where he's starved, brutalised and, in one profoundly moving scene, has his hands shattered - he will never create art in the same way again. Placed up against his torture are the efforts of his German-born wife (Meryl) to have him released. Wracked by her own feelings of nationalism, she does everything she can to have him freed, including sleeping with the vile camp commandant. It was a performance of massive depth and emotion, and won her a deserved Emmy.
Now she moved on to more glory with Michael Cimino's The Deer Hunter. Vying with Apocalypse Now as the greatest of the Vietnam movies, this saw 3 friends from a Pennsylvania steel town (Robert De Niro, John Savage and Christopher Walken) as they enjoy their last few days of liberty, then undergo terrible traumas during the conflict. Savage is physically ravaged, Walken mentally destroyed and De Niro emotionally paralysed. When De Niro returns to the town, he can't face the people, but makes contact with Walken's bereft girlfriend, Streep, and it's these scenes - Streep's quiet grief juxtaposed with De Niro's buried torment - that give the movie much of its very human heart. They would win Meryl her first Oscar nomination.
Professionally, it couldn't really have been any better. Personally, though, Meryl was suffering torment of her own. Within a couple of months of moving in with John Cazale, by then her fiance, he'd been diagnosed with bone cancer. So besotted was she that she hadn't noticed the beginnings of his deterioration but, throughout 1977, she nursed him as he fell away. He would eventually succumb in March, 1978, leaving behind that classic but all-too-short body of work, and a distraught Streep.
Meryl now threw herself into her work, starring alongside Raul Julia in the Shakespeare In the Park production of The Taming Of The Shrew. The performance would win her an important new fan in the director Karel Reisz. Onscreen, she continued her run of hot performances. In Woody Allen's Manhattan, while the ageing Allen enjoyed an affair with 17-year-old Mariel Hemingway, she played his now flamboyant and thoroughly hostile former wife, who's not only left him for another woman but written a best-selling book ridiculing their marriage and, worse, their love-life. This was followed by The Seduction Of Joe Tynan, where Alan Alda played a principled liberal senator who's gradually forced to compromise in every area of his life - Meryl appearing as the smart, pretty Southern secretary who draws him away from his family.
Schooled in the Sixties and Seventies, Streep was principled herself, demanding that both her roles and her performances be interesting and accurate. In 1978 she'd said "I'm looking forward to bigger parts in the future, but I'm not doing soft-core scripts where the character emerges in half-light, half-dressed". She would very much bring these attitudes to bear on her next role, as Dustin Hoffman's wife in Kramer vs Kramer. Interestingly, the role was originally intended for Kate Jackson, then a huge TV star after the success of The Rookies and then Charlie's Angels. But Charlie's Angels' hectic schedule meant she had to turn it down. Streep was actually called in to audition for the far smaller role of a lawyer (she'd obviously forgiven Hoffman for belching in her face during the auditions for All Over Town), but thought she was up for the Jackson role and consequently won it, playing the mother who leaves workaholic Hoffman holding the baby, then returns to seek custody just as he's managed to build a responsible relationship with his son.
In playing the part, Meryl demanded that her role be re-written (a brave move as Manhattan, The Deer Hunter and The Seduction Of Joe Tynan had not yet been released and she was not yet a star). It was important, she thought, to explain why Joanna Kramer had left her family. It was so obviously a massive step for a woman to take, her reasons needed to be clarified. It would also create sympathy for the woman, and thus add drama to the custody battle. And she fought hard for the changes, Hoffman saying later "I hated her guts, though I respect her as an actress". She was right, too.