The Meryl Streep Love Story You Should Know More About

The three-time Oscar winner's husband, Don Gummer, has been hiding in plain sight all these years—42 years, to be exact!

By Natalie Finn Sep 30, 2020 5:00 PMTags
Meryl Streep & Don GummerVenturelli/WireImage)

Meryl Streep can play any role, any time and on any screen, big or small.

But for all the accolades she's received—21 Oscar nominations and three wins; 32 Golden Globe nominations and eight wins, plus the Cecil B. DeMille Award; three Emmys; two SAG Awards and countless other prizes, all for acting—and amid the attention inevitably paid to her more than to anyone else in any given project, Streep has managed another, perhaps mightier achievement.

She's managed to have a four-decade career in which the focus has remained almost entirely on her work instead of what she's up to off camera, when she's just playing Meryl. These days especially, that sounds like a far more difficult task than mastering accents, channeling historical figures and disappearing into characters.

But it's not as if Streep's personal life started out charmed. Rather, she suffered a crushing heartbreak, after which she almost accidentally fell into Mr. Right's arms after a series of unlikely events.

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Meryl Streep's Best Roles

Streep met John Cazale when auditioned to play opposite her in a Shakespeare in the Park production of Measure for Measure. He got it, and she fell in love with the actor, best known for playing unfortunate brother Fredo in The Godfather but whose entire cinematic repertoire consists of Best Picture Oscar winners or nominees: two Godfather films, The ConversationDog Day Afternoon and The Deer Hunter.

But Cazale, only 42 years old, got sick, and for five months Streep was by his side as he underwent treatment at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, while they were shooting The Deer Hunter. And she was right there when he died on March 12, 1978, shortly after they finished filming.

Devastated, Streep left New York to stay with a friend in Canada, only to find upon her return that she was being evicted from the loft she shared with Cazale. According to Michael Schulman's 2016 biography Her Again: Becoming Meryl Streep, her brother Harry showed up to help her move, and he brought a friend, a sculptor who Meryl had met a few times but barely remembered.

The nice fellow offered to keep whatever boxes she didn't have room to store at his studio.

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Hollywood's Long-Term Couples

Streep went to Maryland to shoot The Senator and the sculptor, about to leave the country, offered her the use of his loft when she got back to New York. Rattling around the nice fellow's apartment, she thought a lot about him and they started writing to each other.

That sculptor was Don Gummer, and Sept. 30 is their 42nd wedding anniversary.

Don, an artist originally from Louisville, Ky., had been married once before, briefly, to his high school sweetheart. He got his MFA from Yale, at the same time Streep was attending the School of Drama. When their letters took a turn for the serious, a still-grieving Streep wasn't sure she was ready for a new relationship. But a recently widowed friend encouraged her to simply spend time with Don, if she liked him.

She liked him so much she married him on Sept. 30, 1978, in an Episcopal ceremony in the garden of her parents' home on Mason's Island, in Connecticut. Even Meryl's mother wondered, "What is she thinking about?" theater director Joe Papp, who had just worked with Streep on Taming of the Shrew, told Schulman.

Whatever she was thinking, she was right.

Newlyweds at the Oscars

Don's first Oscars ceremony in 1979 was also Meryl's first, when she was nominated for Best Supporting Actress for The Deer Hunter. Their son, Henry Wolfe Gummer, was born that November.

Second Time's the Charm

Streep won her first Oscar, Best Supporting Actress, the following year, for Kramer vs. Kramer. She practically vaulted out of her seat and gave co-star Dustin Hoffman, who was sitting in front of her and would win Best Actor later in the night, a big kiss on the cheek. She then gave a rather short speech that confined her thank-yous to colleagues.

Date Night

The theater buffs took in a performance of Crimes of the Heart in New York in 1981.

Good Things Happen in Twos

Streep won her first Best Actress Oscar in 1983 for her devastatingly good turn in Sophie's Choice. "Marvelous Meryl Streep," as presenter Sylvester Stallone called her, gave Don a big kiss before heading to the stage. Perhaps overcome with emotion, she forgot to thank him. Or, maybe she was busy thinking about the fact that she was pregnant. Daughter Mamie Gummer was born that August.

Her Rock

It must be nice never having to worry about finding a date. Gummer was by Streep's side at the 1995 premiere of The Bridges of Madison County, about an Italian-born housewife whose body and soul come alive when she meets a photographer passing through her small town, for which she'd earn her 10th Oscar nomination. (Side note: she didn't care for the book, but was won over by the screenplay.)

Entertaining Each Other

At the end of the day, it's all about these private moments.

All-Star Night

Surely Meryl and Don consider their family—(L-R) Henry, Louisa, Grace and Mamie—to be their greatest work of art, but in 2004 the American Film Institute gave Streep the Life Achievement Award for her movies.

Double the Arm Candy

In 2007, nominated for The Devil Wears Prada, Streep made it a family affair with her husband and daughter Grace Gummer.

Mucho Amor

Another day, another country, another lifetime achievement gala honoring Streep, this one in Spain in 2008.

Feels Like the First Time

Meryl's reminded of who her biggest fan is at the 2011 NYC premiere of The Iron Lady.

Golden Lady

"First, I'm going to thank Don," Streep said when she got onstage to accept her Best Actress Oscar for The Iron Lady in 2012. "Because when you thank your husband at the end of the speech, they play him out with the music, and I want him to know that everything I value most in our lives, you've given me."

A Couple of VIPs

Sometimes it's nice just to watch. They bundled up for the New York Philharmonic Spring Gala performance of Sweeney Todd at Lincoln Center in 2014.

Courting Courtside

Going to Knicks games may give Meryl a chance to practice her "long-suffering" expression, but on this night in 2014 she was the all-star at Madison Square Garden, with 50 Cent and Kobe Bryant asking for pictures.

Repeat Performance

Streep, an honoree in 2011, was invited to pay tribute to 2014 honoree Sting at the Kennedy Center Honors. So much honoring, but the honor was all Don Gummer's.

Frequent Co-Stars

The longtime loves lean on each other at a benefit dinner in L.A.

It Doesn't Get Old

Well, it might, but at least they have each other. Streep received her record-for-any-actor 21st Oscar nomination in 2018 for her portrayal of legendary Washington Post publisher Katharine Graham in The Post.

"I hate seeing myself pontificating," Streep said to the New York Times in 1994 on the subject of doing interviews. "I can't bare it, as if I'm an expert on anything. I'm barely in control of my own life. And there's the pressure to be articulate. With motherhood, you can barely put the subject before the predicate and make a sentence."

She could't help it that she continued to come off as so wise that people wanted to hear from her any chance they could get. For the last 26 years she has continued to give interviews sparingly and never divulges much about her family—though she will do her press when need be and will talk at length about causes she's passionate about

Of course, technically she's more passionate about her family than anything else, but they remain off-limits for good reason.

"Motherhood, marriage, it's a balancing act," Streep told Good Housekeeping in 2008. "Especially when you have a job that you consider rewarding. It's a challenge but the best kind of challenge."

Regarding the family life she keeps so private, she explained, "Robert Redford taught me that when they were babies: 'They are not your props.' I really admired the way he protected his family. It's something I consciously emulated." 

You don't mess with the role of a lifetime.

(Originally published Sept. 30, 2019 at 3 a.m. PT)