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A CLASS apart

A glittering career studded with 12 Oscar nominations and two awards is now crowned with recognition for Lifetime Achievement. Read on as RANDOR GUY writes about Meryl Streep, actress perfectionist.



"Kramer versus Kramer" ... an emotionally-rich performance.

SHE HAS established an amazing record by being nominated an incredible 13 times for the Oscar, beating the earlier record of 12 held by the Grand Dame of American Cinema and icon of Hollywood, Katharine Hepburn.

This record is extremely difficult to achieve during the present period, after the end of the great Golden Age of Hollywood and the Studio Years. Unlike the Movie Queens of those times, she was not attached to a studio on a seven year-contract under the dictatorship of the Hollywood movie moguls.

During the Studio Years every Monday morning a new picture was launched! (In the bygone decades, Hollywood studio contracts were usually for a period of seven years. Any contract for service or employment, which extended beyond seven years, was seen legally as slavery in America.)


With no advantages of a pretty face like Liz Taylor, or a stunning figure, a la Marilyn Monroe or Jane Russell, she climbed the grease pole by sheer talent, hard work and dedication. Such an actress of amazing, unlimited talent, who won the Oscar twice, is Meryl Streep.

The crowning glory of her career is the American Film Institute's Life Achievement Award being bestowed on her for 2003. Talent and class always tell. And she has both aplenty.

She will receive the award at a tribute ceremony on June 10, 2004. ``I am honoured to be selected by the AFI for the work I love doing,'' Streep said in a statement. ``The event is in June and that might give me enough time to compose a list of all the people I'm beholden to in my life," she added.



The comedy, "She-Devil", is a change from her serious films.

Streep has always taken up challenging roles, different kinds of characters so that she does not repeat herself descending to a visual movie cliché.

Another distinguishing feature, rather uncommon in Hollywood, is her penchant for doing different kinds of accents on which she works hard to get the correct pronunciation, and speech patterns. In Hollywood such fastidious approach to accent is something rare.

She is held by critics and cognoscenti to be the greatest living actress of American Cinema and is ranked equally with the all-time greats like Katharine Hepburn, Greta Garbo, Bette Davis, Joan Crawford, Ingrid Bergman, and Rosalind Russell. Today she has few equals.

Meryl Streep (original name, Mary Louise Streep) was born in Summit, New Jersey, United States on June 22, 1949. Even at school she was interested in dramatics and took part in school plays. However, she made a name for herself as cheerleader. She joined Vassar College where her interest in acting began to take hold of her. After graduating from Vassar she joined the Yale School of drama.

She had her first exposure in mass media in television in 1977 and made her movie debut in "Julia" (1977), which is based on `Pentimento', a book of memoirs by Lillian Hellman. It is all about her friend Julia, her fortunes, her fight for the European causes and her ultimate death at the hands of the Nazis.



"The Hours" ... a story of three women linked by novelist Virginia Woolf's `Mrs. Dalloway.'

Directed by the noted filmmaker Fred Zinnemann, the lead roles were played by Jane Fonda, Vanessa Redgrave and Jason Robards Jr. Streep had only a supportive role in it, but she did attract critical attention.

Her first Oscar nomination came in 1978 with her second movie, "The Deer Hunter" (1978).

It is about the Vietnam War and its impact on American society, told through the lives of three friends.

Directed by Michael Cimino, based on his own story, it had Robert De Niro and John Cazale. "The Deer Hunter" won Oscars for Best Picture and Best Director and Best Supporting Actor. During the making of this film she was friendly with Cazale and also got engaged to him briefly. Sadly he died in 1978.

Streep became a star and was critically acclaimed as a major talent, with "Kramer versus Kramer" (1979). She had been in movies just for two years and it was the third movie with which she hit the bull's eye. Not many actresses have achieved such rewards, so fast.

"Kramer versus Kramer" was about the marital problems of an ad executive (divorced from his wife), who has the brief custody of his seven-year-old son.

Based on a novel by Robert Denton, who also directed the movie, it was an effective tear-jerker, well written and excellently acted by Dustin Hoffman as the husband and Streep as the wife. Streep's performance was emotionally rich and empathetic and deservedly won her the first Oscar for Best Actress.

The movie also won Oscars for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor (Hoffman) and Best Screenplay. It was also a major box-office success because it touched a raw nerve in American society and moved millions of filmgoers around the world.

Streep scored again in 1982, winning her second Oscar for Best Actress in "Sophie's Choice". Based on the best-selling novel by the noted American writer, William Styron, it was written for the screen and directed by the well-known filmmaker Alan Pakula.

The film tells the story of a Polish woman caught in the Nazi concentration camps during the Second World War (1939-1945) and who manages to escape and relocate to New York. But the painful memories haunt her and she finds her life in New York almost as miserable as it was in the past.

Streep in the lead role rose to great heights of emotional performance as the mother. She actually carried the movie on her shoulders.

While the movie fetched Streep an Oscar, critics did not treat the movie kindly. In a devastating review the noted British film magazine, Sight and Sound, commented, ``... only one question remains, why did Pakula have to do this movie?''

With two Oscars within five years of her Hollywood sojourn Streep became a force to reckon with and became the `female Colossus' of Hollywood Cinema.

Her other movies include "Silkwood" (1980, Oscar nomination),

"Out of Africa" (1988, Oscar nomination), "The Bridges of Madison County" (1995), in which her co-star is the Hollywood star, cult figure and filmmaker Clint Eastwood.

It is about an Italian-American wife in Iowa who has a passionate four-day affair with a photographer. Directed by Eastwood himself, the movie was a major box-office success and grossed $172 millions!

Streep is such a perfectionist that when she played the role of a violinist in "Music of the Heart" (1999), she learnt to play the instrument by practising six hours a day for eight weeks. Such is her obsession for detail.

Streep is married to Don Gummer and has four children. She is an affectionate and yet strict mother.She was ranked 24 in the list of `Hundred Top Movie Stars of All-Time,' brought out by British magazine, Empire.

During her early years she worked as a waitress to pay for her education.

By winning the `Life Achievement Award', Meryl Streep has proved beyond doubt that success can be achieved during one's lifetime by hard work, dedication and the pursuit of excellence.

`Take your heart to work'

MERYL STREEP and Clint Eastwood were watching the `rushes' of a passionate love sequence in their hit movie, "The Bridges of Madison County." Eastwood, who directed the movie, also played the male lead. Both were half nude under the sheets in the sequence, and while the scene rolled over the screen, Streep noticed Eastwood with his eyes closed (with passion!) making gestures and signs with one hand to someone! The director was giving instructions to the cinematographer about the camera movement!

Streep stared at him and told him that he did not concentrate enough on the scene. The usually tight -lipped star remarked seriously, ``You know, it is tough to do both simultaneously! ''



A scene from "The French Lieutenant's Woman".

Streep is passionately devoted to accents of the characters she portrays. In the Eastwood-directed movie she plays an American of Italian origin who has spent years in her home country.

In the first shot when Eastwood meets her, Streep spoke her lines with a heavy American-Italian accent, which took Eastwood by surprise because he had told her earlier that he was not keen on accents. Much to his shock, she told him, ``I play my roles the way they should be and I do not want anyone to tell me how... !''

Streep is un-Hollywood like in her life style. She does not live in Hollywood and makes her home in Connecticut in the east with her sculptor husband and four children. A down to earth person, she has no airs about herself and some of her quotes have justly become famous.

A sampler... ``Take your heart to work!'' or ``I'm looking forward to bigger parts in the future, but I'm not doing soft-core scripts where the character emerges in half-light, half-dressed.'' And her most famous quote ... ``You can't get spoiled if you do your own ironing.''

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