John Cazale

John Cazale

John Cazale in Dog Day Afternoon.
Born (1935-08-12)August 12, 1935
Revere, Massachusetts, U.S.
Died March 13, 1978(1978-03-13) (aged 42)
New York City, New York, U.S.
Alma mater Boston University
Occupation Actor
Years active 1967–1978
Partner(s) Meryl Streep (1976–78; his death)[1]

John Holland Cazale (/kəˈzl/; Italian pronunciation: [kaˈdzaːle]; August 12, 1935 – March 13, 1978) was an American actor. He appeared in five films over a period of six years, all of which were 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 a theater actor, he became one of Hollywood's premier character actors, starting with his role as the doomed, weak-minded Fredo Corleone opposite longtime friend Al Pacino in Francis Ford Coppola's film The Godfather and its 1974 sequel. Cazale chose to continue acting despite being diagnosed with lung cancer. He died in New York City on March 13, 1978, shortly after completing his role in The Deer Hunter.

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 Pacino, Steve Buscemi, Meryl Streep, Robert De Niro, Gene Hackman, Richard Dreyfuss, Francis Ford Coppola, and Sidney Lumet.[2]

Early life

Cazale was born in Revere, Massachusetts,[3] to an Irish-American mother, Cecilia (née Holland), and an Italian-American father, John Cazale.[4] He attended high school at the Buxton School in Massachusetts. He studied drama at Oberlin College and Boston University, from which he graduated.


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]

An Off-Broadway production of Archibald MacLeish's J.B. by the Equity Library Theatre opened on March 17, 1962, at the Master Theatre, starring Cazale.[9]

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.[10]

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."[11] For his role as Sal he was nominated for the Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor. Sidney Lumet declared:

One of the things that I love about the casting of John Cazale 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 that I work with, or getting into their heads. But, my God — it's there — every shot of him. And not just in this movie, but in Godfather II also.[12]

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's having every feature film in which he appeared be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture.


Despite being diagnosed with terminal lung cancer, Cazale continued work with his romantic partner, Meryl Streep, in The Deer Hunter. Close friend and Godfather 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 afterward, on March 13, 1978, before the film was finished.[13] According to a televised testimonial honoring Meryl Streep at the AFI Lifetime Achievement Award in 2004, by colleague James Woods (who was filming the TV miniseries The Holocaust with Streep in Spring 1978), recounting "...(Cazale) was lucky enough to have as the last vision of his life, Meryl's lovely face". John Cazale was buried at Holy Cross Cemetery in Malden, Massachusetts.


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 Cazale 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]


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.


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


  1. "The tragic romance that shaped Meryl Streep’s life, Maureen Callahan, New YOrk Post, April 23, 2016
  2. 1 2 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 profile, TVGuide; accessed March 7, 2015.
  5. 1 2 3 4 Fretts, Bruce. "Unfortunate Son". Entertainment Weekly. Feb. 21, 2003.
  6. "1967–1968 Obie Awards". Retrieved 24 June 2015.
  7. "New York News and Events - The Village Voice". The Village Voice. Retrieved 24 June 2015.
  8. 1 2 "John Cazale, Actor on Stage and Screen". The New York Times. 1978-03-14. Retrieved 2009-10-13.
  9. J.B.
  10. "The American Way (1962)". Retrieved 2009-10-13.
  11. Pierson, Frank. Dog Day Afternoon, interviews
  12. Lumet, Sidney. Dog Day Afternoon, feature commentary
  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", June 1, 2010

External links

This article is issued from Wikipedia - version of the 11/26/2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.