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.
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.)