John Cazale

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John Cazale
John Cazale.jpg
Born (1935-08-12)August 12, 1935
Revere, Massachusetts, U.S.
Died March 12, 1978(1978-03-12) (aged 42)
New York City, New York, U.S.
Occupation Actor
Years active 1967–1978
Partner(s) Meryl Streep
(1976–1978; his death)

John Holland Cazale (/kəˈzl/; Italian pronunciation: [kaˈdzaːle]; August 12, 1935 – March 12, 1978) was an American actor. He appeared in five films during his six-year career, each nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture: The Godfather, The Conversation, The Godfather Part II, Dog Day Afternoon, and The Deer Hunter. He appeared in archival footage in The Godfather Part III, also nominated for Best Picture, making him the only actor to have this multi-film distinction. From his start as an acclaimed theater actor, he became one of Hollywood's premier character actors, starting with his role as Fredo Corleone in Francis Ford Coppola's film The Godfather.

David Germain of the Associated Press wrote that "Cazale broke hearts on screen with portrayals of volatile, vulnerable, vacillating men, including Pacino's tragic bank-robbing partner in Dog Day Afternoon". He was described as an actor "whose intense face is known to just about any serious cinema fan but whose name often escapes them".[1] Cazale chose to continue acting despite being diagnosed with lung cancer. He died in New York City on March 12, 1978, shortly after completing his role in The Deer Hunter. He was 42 years old.

Veteran theatre producer Joseph Papp called Cazale "an amazing intellect, an extraordinary person and a fine, dedicated artist". A film documentary tribute to Cazale, I Knew It Was You, was screened at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival and featured interviews with Steve Buscemi, Al Pacino, Meryl Streep, Robert De Niro, Gene Hackman, Richard Dreyfuss, Francis Ford Coppola, and Sidney Lumet.[2]

Early life[edit]

Cazale was born in Revere, Massachusetts,[3] the son of John and Cecilia Cazale.[4] He was of half-Italian descent. He studied drama at Oberlin College and Boston University, from which he graduated.

Career[edit]

Cazale moved to New York City and worked as a messenger at Standard Oil, where he met Al Pacino, another aspiring actor. Pacino recalled: "When I first saw John, I instantly thought he was so interesting. Everybody was always around him because he had a very congenial way of expressing himself."[5] While living together in a communal house in Provincetown, Massachusetts, the two were cast in a play by Israel Horovitz, The Indian Wants the Bronx, for which they both won Obie Awards in 1967 and 1968.[6][7] Cazale later won another Obie for the leading role in Horovitz's Line, where he was noticed by casting director Fred Roos, who then suggested him to director Francis Ford Coppola.[8]

Cazale had acted on stage with Robert De Niro and Cazale's girlfriend at the time of his death, Meryl Streep, whom he met when they were both in the Public Theater's 1976 production of Measure for Measure. Mel Gussow of The New York Times wrote: "Mr. Cazale, often cast as a quirky, weak outsider, as in The Godfather, here demonstrates sterner mettle as a quietly imperious Angelo who sweeps down, vulturelike, to deposit virtue."[8] He also acted in a 1962 short film entitled The American Way, directed by Marvin Starkman.[9]

Cazale made his feature film debut, alongside Pacino, as Fredo Corleone in Francis Ford Coppola's The Godfather (1972). The film broke box office records and made Pacino, Cazale, and several previously unknown co-stars famous. He reprised his role as Fredo Corleone in 1974 in The Godfather Part II. Bruce Fretts, in Entertainment Weekly, wrote that "Cazale's devastatingly raw turn intensifies the impact of the drama's emotional climax". Actor and co-star Dominic Chianese said: "John could open up his heart, so it could be hurt. That's a talent few actors have."[5]

Cazale co-starred with Gene Hackman in Coppola's The Conversation in 1974. He again starred alongside Pacino in Sidney Lumet's 1975 film Dog Day Afternoon. The film's screenwriter, Frank Pierson, said "the film had been cast with many of the actors that Al Pacino had worked with in New York, including John Cazale, who was a close friend and collaborator in The Godfather."[10] For his role as Sal, he was nominated for the Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor.

Cazale appeared in a sixth film, The Godfather Part III (1990), in archive footage 12 years after his death. The Godfather Part III was also nominated for Best Picture. This marks the unique achievement of Cazale having every feature film in which he appeared be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture.

Death[edit]

Despite being diagnosed with terminal lung cancer,[12] Cazale continued work with his romantic partner, Meryl Streep, in The Deer Hunter. Close friend and co-star Al Pacino said: "I've hardly ever seen a person so devoted to someone who is falling away like John was. To see her in that act of love for this man was overwhelming."[5]

According to author, Andy Dougan, director Michael Cimino "rearranged the shooting schedule with Cazale and Streep's consent, so that he could film all his scenes first". He completed his scenes, but died soon after, on March 12, 1978, before the film was finished.[13] He was buried at Holy Cross Cemetery in Malden, Massachusetts.

Legacy[edit]

Cazale was described by those close to him to be "often shy" and "very emotionally sensitive". Close friend and frequent co-star Al Pacino collaborated with him on three films and various stage productions. Although he never received an Oscar nomination, according to Bruce Fretts, he "was the walking embodiment of the aphorism acting is reacting, providing the perfect counterbalance to his recurring co-stars, the more emotionally volatile Al Pacino and Robert De Niro". Pacino once commented: "All I wanted to do was work with John for the rest of my life. He was my acting partner."[5]

The Boston Globe asked: "Why was Cazale so influential? In part, it was because of his commitment to the craft of acting." To Streep, he was "monomaniacal", which had an effect on his co-stars, who were then "challenged to take their own games up a notch".[14] His image was used for his character in the Godfather video game.

Cazale has a theater named after him, the McGinn/Cazale Theatre (currently inhabited by the company Second Stage Theatre), located at 2162 Broadway at 76th Street in New York City. Cazale was cited as a "Distinguished Performance" by the Off-Broadway Obie Awards for the 1967−1968 season for his performance in Israel Horovitz's play The Indian Wants the Bronx. His life and career were profiled in the documentary film, I Knew It Was You, directed by Richard Shepard, which premiered at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival.[2]

Filmography[edit]

Cazale appeared in five full-length feature films while alive, plus a sixth using archival footage. All six films were nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture. The Godfather, The Godfather Part II, and The Deer Hunter all won the award.

Film[edit]

Year Title Role Notes
1962 The American Way Beatnik Short film
1972 The Godfather Fredo Corleone
1974 The Conversation Stan
1974 The Godfather Part II Fredo Corleone
1975 Dog Day Afternoon Salvatore Naturale Nominated – Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor – Motion Picture
1978 The Deer Hunter Stanley ("Stosh")
1990 The Godfather Part III Fredo Corleone Archive footage

References[edit]

  1. ^ Germain, David. "Sundance doc wants people to know 'it's Cazale'." Associated Press. January 18, 2009.
  2. ^ a b I Knew it was You. 2009 Sundance Film Festival entry, Short Films, U.S.A., 2008, 40 mins.
  3. ^ Piccalo, Gina (2010-05-31), John Cazale, A Godfather of Acting, The Daily Beast, retrieved 2012-01-22 
  4. ^ John Cazale Biography
  5. ^ a b c d Fretts, Bruce. "Unfortunate Son". Entertainment Weekly. Feb. 21, 2003.
  6. ^ Board awarded an Obie in 1967-68
  7. ^ List of winners of «Obie» in 1968
  8. ^ a b "John Cazale, Actor on Stage and Screen". New York Times. 1978-03-14. Retrieved 2009-10-13. 
  9. ^ "The American Way (1962)". Retrieved 2009-10-13. 
  10. ^ Pierson, Frank. Dog Day Afternoon, interviews
  11. ^ Lumet, Sidney. Dog Day Afternoon, feature commentary
  12. ^ http://www.avclub.com/article/on-the-anniversary-of-his-death-revisit-john-cazal-93634
  13. ^ Dougan, Andy. Untouchable: A Biography of Robert De Niro. (2003) Thunder's Mouth Press.
  14. ^ "A-list actors recall a short but sterling career" Boston.com, June 1, 2010

External links[edit]