2 days ago
In 1978, a young Meryl Streep was on the verge of becoming the greatest actress of her generation. She was also about to lose the love of her life. “She doesn’t talk about it much,” says Michael Schulman, author of the Streep biography “Her Again.” “But 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.” Streep was 29 years old, a gosling in the New York theater world. She was living in a loft on Franklin Street with her boyfriend, actor John Cazale. He was 14 years her senior and a legend among his peers. “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.”
Streep and Cazale met in 1976, when they were cast opposite each other in “Measure for Measure” in Central Park. By then, Cazale was not quite a star — he lacked that ephemeral quality — but he was regarded in the industry as a rare talent, in demand among the great directors of the era.
He was Fredo in “The Godfather” (1972) and “The Godfather Part II” (1974) and had lead roles in “The Conversation” (1974) and “Dog Day Afternoon” (1975). Of the five movies he starred in, all would be nominated for Best Picture, and three would win. Of the two, Cazale was the famous one, but they were still starving artists. Cazale would take Streep to dinner in Little Italy, where restaurant owners, awed to have Fredo in the room, insisted they eat for free.
He was known among directors as “20 Questions,” because he wanted detailed back story on all his characters. Pacino said a simple dinner with Cazale would become epic: “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.” Cazale and Streep were the envy of the New York theater world — she the most naturally gifted actress in generations, he the most naturally gifted actor, legendary director Joe Papp their patron — until one day in May 1977. Cazale, who was in previews for “Agamemnon” uptown, had been feeling ill enough to miss performances. Papp