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John Cazale


John Cazale

John Cazale
John Cazale in Dog Day Afternoon
Born John Holland Cazale
(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.
Resting place
Holy Cross Cemetery, Malden, Massachusetts
Occupation Actor
Years active 1967–1978
Partner(s) Meryl Streep (1976–1978; his death)

John Holland Cazale (; Italian pronunciation: ; August 12, 1935 – March 12, 1978) was an American actor. During his six-year film career he appeared in five films, 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 the Best Picture Oscar, 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.

"Cazale broke hearts on screen with portrayals of volatile, vulnerable, vacillating men, including Pacino's tragic bank-robbing partner in Dog Day Afternoon," wrote David Germain of the Associated Press. Cazale is described as an actor "whose intense face is known to just about any serious cinema fan but whose name often escapes them".[1]

He chose to continue acting despite being diagnosed with lung cancer and 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 in tribute to Cazale, titled I Knew It Was You, was an entry at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival featuring interviews with Al Pacino, Meryl Streep, Robert De Niro, Gene Hackman, Richard Dreyfuss, Francis Ford Coppola and Sidney Lumet.[2]

Early life and stage career

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.

Cazale moved to New York City and worked as a messenger at Standard Oil, where he met Al Pacino, another aspiring actor.

"When I first saw John, I instantly thought he was so interesting," recalled Pacino. "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, Cazale and Pacino were cast in a play by Israel Horovitz, The Indian Wants the Bronx, for which they both won Obie Awards in 1967-1968.[6][7] He later won another Obie for the leading role in Horovitz's Line, where he was noticed by Godfather 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. In that role, wrote Mel Gussow of The New York Times, "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 short film entitled The American Way, directed by Marvin Starkman in 1962.[9]

Film career

Cazale made his feature film debut, alongside his old friend Al Pacino, playing the role of 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.

Cazale reprised his role as Fredo Corleone in 1974 in The Godfather Part II. Bruce Fretts, in Entertainment Weekly, wrote, "Cazale's devastatingly raw turn intensifies the impact of the drama's emotional climax."

"John could open up his heart, so it could be hurt," said Godfather Part II co-star Dominic Chianese. "That's a talent few actors have."[5]

He co-starred with Gene Hackman in Coppola's The Conversation in 1974.

Cazale 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.

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. —Sidney Lumet[11]

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


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

Director Michael Cimino "rearranged the shooting schedule," wrote author Andy Dougan, "with Cazale and Streep's consent, so that he could film all his scenes first." He completed all 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.


Cazale was described by those close to him to be "often shy" and "very emotionally sensitive." Close friend and frequent co-star Pacino collaborated with him on three films and various theater productions. Although he never received an Oscar nomination, wrote 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 asks, "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]

Cazale's image was used for The Godfather video game, as his character, Fredo. He 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 1967−68 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 and was scheduled by HBO.[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.

List of acting credits in film and television
Year Title Role Notes
1972 The Godfather Fredo Corleone
1974 The Conversation Stan
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


  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,  
  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. ^
  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

  • John Cazale at the Internet Movie Database
  • I Knew It Was Interview with director Richard Shepard on the John Cazale Documentary
  • Natural Born Plumbers: John Cazale and the Character Actors of the 1970s
  • John Cazale at Find a Grave
  • John Cazale: Stepped Over at Alternate Takes
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