John Holland Cazale (August 12, 1935 – March 12, 1978) was a distinguished Golden Globe Award nominated American film and stage actor whose brief career spanned several acclaimed films of the 1970s. Most famous for his role as Fredo Corleone in The Godfather(Film).
Cazale was born in Revere, Massachusetts, to an Irish-American mother, Cecilia Holland, and an Italian-American father, John Cazale.He had an older sister, Catherine (May 28, 1931 – February 2, 2000), and a younger brother, Stephen (born 1937). He attended high school at the Buxton School in Williamstown, Massachusetts, where he joined the drama club. He studied drama at Oberlin College in Ohio, transferring to Boston University, where he studied under Peter Kass.
Upon graduation, Cazale worked as a cab driver, as he started his theatrical career at the Charles Playhouse, appearing in Hotel Paradiso and Our Town in 1959. Reviewing his performance as George Gibbs in Our Town, critic Jean Pierre Frankenhuis said "(Cazale's) portrayal is absolutely stupendous, hilarious, touching, thrilling. We found ourselves wishing that there were more scenes with him, such is the enjoyable performance he gives: a comedian of the first order!"
Cazale moved to New York City and supported himself as a photographer, while looking for acting work. He made one of his first appearances there in the Equity Library's production of Sidney Howard's Paths of Glory.
An Off-Broadway production of Archibald MacLeish's J.B. by the Equity Library Theatre followed on March 17, 1962, at the Master Theatre. He also acted in a 1962 short film entitled The American Way, directed by Marvin Starkman.
In 1965, Cazale was part of the National Tour of Lorraine Hansberry's The Sign in Sidney Brustein's Window
He 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." In 1966, the two were cast in a play by Israel Horovitz, The Indian Wants the Bronx, playing at the Eugene O'Neill Theatre Center in Waterford, CT. They reprised their roles in 1968 at the Off-Broadway Astor Place Theatre, for which they both won Obie Awards. That same year, Cazale won another Obie for his role as Dolan in Horovitz's Line.
In 1968, Cazale appeared in his only television role, playing Tom Andrews in the episode "The Peep Freak" on the cop drama, N.Y.P.D.
In 1969, Cazale joined the Long Wharf Theatre Company, where he appeared for the next three seasons in a number of productions, including Tartuffe, The Country People, The Skin of Our Teeth, The Iceman Cometh, and You Can't Take It With You.
Cazale reprised his role in Line in a 1971 production at the Theatre De Lys (now the Lucille Lortel Theatre). Appearing with him were Richard Dreyfus as Stephen, Barnard Hughes as Arnall, John Randolph as Fleming, and Ann Wedgeworth as Molly. During this run, John was spotted by casting director Fred Roos, who then suggested him to director Francis Ford Coppola for the role of Fredo Corleone in The Godfather (1972).
The Godfather was Cazale's feature film debut. The film's star was one of Cazale's idols, Marlon Brando. The film broke box office records and made Cazale and several other previously unknown co-stars famous. Coppola, impressed with Cazale's abilities in the small role, wrote the part of Stan for him in his next film, The Conversation (1974), in which he co-starred with Gene Hackman. He reprised his role as Fredo Corleone, now significantly expanded, 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". Co-star Dominic Chianese said: "John could open up his heart, so it could be hurt. That's a talent few actors have."
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."For his role as Sal he was nominated for the Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor. Sidney Lumet declared:
While achieving success in film, Cazale's commitment to the stage continued. In addition to his work with the Long Wharf Theatre, he appeared in a number of plays by Israel Horovitz. In May 1975, he returned to the Charles Playhouse to support Pacino in The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui. Ross Wetzston of The Village Voice, reporting on the production, said Cazale “may be the finest actor in America today." In 1976, ten years after their first collaboration, Cazale and Pacino appeared together for the final time in the Public Theatre's production of The Local Stigmatic. In the summer of that year, Cazale starred at the Delacorte Theatre in Central Park with Sam Waterston in Shakespeare's Measure for Measure. His leading lady was the recent Yale School of Drama graduate Meryl Streep. 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." During the run of the play, Cazale and Streep began a romance and moved in together. Streep humorously praised her co-star's abilities by saying, "The jerk made everything mean something." Then she added, "Such good judgment, such uncluttered thought!"
Cazale's final stage appearance was on April 29, 1977, in the title role of Agamemnon at the Vivian Beaumont Theatre. He appeared only in the first preview. After the performance, he took ill and withdrew from the show. It was his only Broadway performance. Shortly afterward, he was diagnosed with lung cancer.
Despite the terminal diagnosis, Cazale continued work with his romantic partner, Meryl Streep, and Robert DeNiro, Christopher Walken, and John Savage, in The Deer Hunter. 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 before the film was finished.
Twelve years after his death, Cazale appeared in a sixth film, The Godfather Part III (1990), in archival footage. The Godfather Part III was also nominated for Best Picture. This marks a unique achievement of Cazale's: having every feature film in which he appeared be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture.
Despite trying a number of treatments and protocols, the cancer metastasized to his bones. At approximately 3 a.m. on Monday, March 13, 1978, John Cazale died. Meryl Streep was at his side, as she had been throughout his illness. 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."
His close friend and frequent collaborator, Israel Horovitz, wrote a eulogy, published in the Village Voice on March 27, 1978. In it, he said:
John Cazale was buried at Holy Cross Cemetery in Malden, Massachusetts.