Posts Tagged ‘John Cazale’

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(This is a weird post to start my blog with, since it involves obscure character actors from the 1970s, but humor me.)

For some strange reason I’ve been on a Meryl Streep kick lately. It started with Kramer vs. Kramer and devolved to The Devil Wears Prada (not that Prada is a bad movie by any means; God knows I’ve worked for Miranda Priestly types so I identified deeeeeeply with it, and Anne Hathaway is just absolutely adorable. But it doesn’t scream classic like, say, Sophie’s Choice or Manhattan. But I digress.)

This prompted me to do some research on Meryl on IMDB. Who she’s married to (a sculptor, Don Gummer), number of children (four, including three girls who look EXACTLY like her), where she studied (Vassar and Yale Drama)–all of which I knew. Then I saw this interesting piece of trivia on her bio page:

“Was romantically involved with actor John Cazale for a total of 7 years, culminating with his death at age 42 in 1978 from bone cancer. She is very reluctant to discuss the relationship with anyone.”

I’m a sucker for a good tragic love story, so I was intrigued. I was also born in the mid-70s, so I had no idea who John Cazale was until I started reading more. Do you know why I had no idea who John Cazale was? Because I’m an idiot who has never seen the following:

  • Dog Day Afternoon
  • The Deer Hunter
  • The Godfather, Parts I, II, and III (I know. I know! The whole fucking Godfather trilogy! I’ve never seen it. Well, I watched The Godfather this weekend. Did I enjoy it?…well, that’s another entry. But still! Unforgivable!)

I guess I could defend myself by saying that I wasn’t even born when most of these movies came out. (But I managed to see Annie Hall by the time I was eleven, so…not really an excuse.)

At any rate: for easy reference, John Cazale was Fredo Corleone in The Godfather. (He wasn’t actually in The Godfather III, because, well. John Cazale and Fredo were both dead by then.) On the surface, one could describe him as a character actor who specialized in playing vulnerable, slightly dim-witted characters. For me, it was hard to reconcile the idea that this middle-aged, weird-looking character actor hooked up  with Meryl Streep, who on the surface was almost every his opposite: incredibly young, fairly white-bread, poised on the brink of commercial success. But the more I learned about John Cazale, the more that I realized that these seemingly unlikely lovers were definitely not mismatched. Life is life, and people die when they’re supposed to, I guess. But it’s pretty tragic that things ended the way they did, with him dying of cancer at 42 and Meryl left behind, haunted by his ghost. It’s almost Shakespearean, and would make an excellent film itself.

My research led me to this short documentary about John Cazale, I Knew It Was You: Rediscovering John Cazale (you can catch parts of it on YouTube). It’s by no means an exhaustive bio of Cazale; I found it a little amateurish and lacking substance. Meryl Streep does appear, although she mostly talks about Cazale’s impact on her professionally rather than personally. Apparently a lot of actors were very influenced by Cazale, according to this documentary: Pacino, DeNiro, Sam Rockwell, Steve Buscemi. I have no doubt that had he lived, he would have continued to be influential and well-respected (and probably would have taken a lot of Steve Buscemi’s parts. He was definitely not the neurotypical romantic hero type).

But back to the love story—and what a love story! A young, brilliant, classically trained actress, fresh out of school, meets an older and unconventional, but equally brilliant actor while doing Shakespeare in the Park–magical. Their love affair continues for years, through illness and heartbreak and hard times…even more magical. Then he dies tragically of cancer, and she’s left to think about the legacy and impact he left on her life. That is a fucking fantastic story (sad, but fantastic). It’s not unlike John Keats and Fanny Brawne (if you haven’t seen Bright Star, I recommend it highly.)

If there’s anything I want to leave you with, it’s this: in a world where we are constantly bombarded with the sex lives of Kim Kardashian and Kanye West, where magazines are consistently splashed with stupid stories about Bethenny Frankel getting a divorce and Kristen Stewart cheating on Robert Pattinson (Kristen, if you think you’re going to do better than Rob, you’re nuts), it’s nice to know that once upon a time, not so many years ago, there was a real Hollywood love story that was worth writing about. A story about two people (okay, actors, but, you know, they’re still people) who didn’t seem to be a match on the surface, but who are deeply in love anyway, willing to learn from each other and commit to each other during hard times and illness and just the basic rhythm of life.

I think I respect Meryl Streep even more now. I’m glad that my travels lead me to this story, so that I could learn more about John Cazale. Although his career was short, he was an important part of some of greatest cinematic works ever. He deserves to be remembered.

 

 

 

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