A New Book About Meryl Streep Will Remind You to Despise Dustin Hoffman

Dustin Hoffman and Meryl Streep in 'Kramer vs. Kramer.'

Queen Meryl: The Iconic Roles, Heroic Deeds and Legendary Life of Meryl Streep is not a book of particularly stirring revelations. Rather, author Erin Carlson has lifted details about Streep from a huge number of magazine articles, online pieces, books, television appearances and radio shows and strung them together to sum up her life, as succinctly as possible. For the most part, it's all pretty straightforward stuff—except, that is, when it comes to the details in Chapter 2 regarding Dustin Hoffman.

'Queen Meryl: The Iconic Roles, Heroic Deeds and Legendary Life of Meryl Streep' by Erin Carlson.
'Queen Meryl: The Iconic Roles, Heroic Deeds and Legendary Life of Meryl Streep' by Erin Carlson. (Hachette Books)

It's impossible to read about all the ways Dustin Hoffman has apparently abused Streep over the years, condensed into a few pages, without developing an intense dislike for Hoffman and a new level of respect for Streep.

The book reports that when Streep was still a student at Yale, during an audition for a Broadway play directed by Hoffman, he groped her breast the moment they met. Though Streep originally revealed this information in a 1979 issue of Time, a representative for Streep told E! News in 2017 that the groping story was "not an accurate rendering of that meeting," while also conceding that, “there was an offense and it is something for which Dustin apologized. And Meryl accepted that.”

It's the torrent of other offenses that Hoffman reportedly unleashed during the filming of 1979's Kramer vs. Kramer, however, that truly paints a dark picture of his behavior on set. As previously reported in the New York Times, the movie was only two days into filming when Hoffman, during a fraught scene of their on-screen marriage breaking down, slapped Streep across the face so hard that it left, according to Queen Meryl, "enormous red finger marks." The book reports that the moment rendered writer/director Robert Benton "in shock." Still, Streep managed to finish the scene. (The slap did not make it into the final cut of the movie.)

To make matters worse, in the course of filming that same sequence, Hoffman tried to provoke Streep by flinging barbs at her about her recently deceased boyfriend, John Cazale, who had died of lung cancer just months prior. "Such was his warped approach to get under Meryl's skin and elicit the performance that he wanted," Queen Meryl notes. (Hoffman is also said to have whispered Cazale's name to Streep right before an emotional courtroom scene.)

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The book also quotes Hoffman (from a 1982 interview with The Washington Post) being almost proud of the fact that he resented script changes Streep made (and that Benton supported), and acted out because of it:

"I finally yelled at her, 'Meryl, why don't you stop carrying the flag for feminism and just act the scene!' She got furious. That's the scene where I throw the glass of wine against the wall and it shatters. That wasn't in the script, I just threw it at her. Then she got furious again. 'I've got pieces of glass in my hair!' and so on."

All that considered, it's remarkable to read how gracious Streep was to Hoffman when she won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her role as Joanna Kramer. Hoffman was the first person she thanked in her acceptance speech, she gave him a kiss on the cheek on her way to the podium and, during her speech, she referred to the making of the film as a "very, very delightful experience."

In the years since, as her own career has developed, Streep has not held back in the same way she once did. Delightfully, Queen Meryl includes a panel titled: "SOME SHIT MERYL SAID ABOUT DUSTIN HOFFMAN." One of the funniest quotes is as follows: "What Dustin really wants to do, you know, is give birth. But he's still glad he's got a penis." That same section of the book also includes a hilarious description of what Streep said during a game of "Shag, Marry, Kill" on a 2012 episode of Watch What Happens Live—which, handily, you can see below.

Decades after Kramer vs. Kramer was released, new stories about Hoffman's boorish behavior on set began to trickle out from other sources. According to a 2016 Vanity Fair article, actress Gail Strickland was fired from Kramer vs. Kramer after Hoffman intimidated her until she couldn't stop stuttering on camera. Her replacement, Jane Alexander, later recalled Hoffman calling her a "f-cking fool." Not even 7-year-old Justin Henry, who played the Kramers' son, was spared: Hoffman would reportedly force Henry to cry by making the boy think of upsetting scenarios regarding his friends and pet dog, after which Henry would sob when the scenes were over.

Though Queen Meryl doesn't talk about it, the book serves as an indirect reminder of the slew of #MeToo allegations about Hoffman that emerged in 2017. Those allegations include sexually assaulting two of his Ishtar co-stars; flashing a 16-year-old friend of his daughter; masturbating in front of a 15-year-old department store employee; sexually harassing and groping a 17-year-old production assistant; sexually harassing and repeatedly groping co-star Kathryn Rossetter (an experience she called "horrific, demoralizing and abusive"); groping Katharine Ross during a screen test for The Graduate; refusing to let a 21-year-old tour guide leave his hotel room until she granted him sexual contact; and propositioning writer Wendy Riss during a business meeting. Hoffman has repeatedly denied the accusations.

All things considered, it remains a testament to Meryl Streep that, even at age 29, she was able to thrive in her Kramer vs. Kramer role, despite Hoffman's outbursts, unpleasantries and aggressions. “This picture started out belonging to Ted Kramer, and by the end it belonged to both of them,” Robert Benton told Vanity Fair. “And there was no way Dustin could shake her. No way he could do anything to shake her. She was just there, and she was an incredible force.”

Queen Meryl goes on sale Sept. 24.

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