On this day in 1982, Sophie’s Choice, starring the actress Meryl Streep as a Holocaust survivor, opens in theaters. Directed by Alan J. Pakula (All The President’s Men, The Pelican Brief) and based on a 1979 novel of the same name by William Styron, Sophie’s Choice co-starred Kevin Kline and Peter MacNicol. The “choice” in the film’s title refers to a terrible decision Streep’s character is forced to make, about which of her two children will live or die while in a concentration camp. Streep went on to win a Best Actress Oscar for Sophie’s Choice, firmly establishing herself as one of the greatest actresses of her generation in Hollywood. To date, she has received more Academy Award nominations than any other actor in history.
Streep, who was born on June 22, 1949, in Summit, New Jersey, studied drama at Vassar College and received a master’s degree in fine arts from the Yale University School of Drama. She made her big-screen debut with a small role in 1977’s Julia, starring Jane Fonda and Vanessa Redgrave. Streep received her first Academy Award nomination, in the Best Supporting Actress category, for her second film, 1978’s The Deer Hunter. The Vietnam War-era drama co-starred Robert DeNiro and Christopher Walken.
Streep won her first Academy Award, in the Supporting Actress category, for 1979’s Kramer vs. Kramer, co-starring Dustin Hoffman and Justin Henry. In the film, which also earned Oscars for Best Picture and Best Actor (Hoffman), Streep played a woman who leaves her husband and young son in order to find herself. Two years later, she was again nominated for a Best Actress Oscar for her role in The French Lieutenant’s Woman (1981), with Jeremy Irons. The year after Streep won an Oscar for Sophie’s Choice, she received her third Best Actress nomination for her performance as a whistle blower at a nuclear power plant in Silkwood (1983), with Cher and Kurt Russell.
Streep, who became known for her ability to change her accent and appearance to fit her roles, was nominated for Best Actress again for 1985’s Out of Africa, with Robert Redford; 1987’s Ironweed, with Jack Nicholson; and 1988’s A Cry in the Dark, which features the now-famous line “The dingo’s got my baby.” During the 1990s, she racked up four more Best Actress Oscar nods, for Postcards from the Edge (1990), with Shirley MacLaine; The Bridges of Madison County (1995), with Clint Eastwood; One True Thing (1998), with Renee Zellweger and William Hurt; and Music of the Heart (1999), with Angela Bassett and Gloria Estefan. Streep received her record-breaking 13th Oscar nomination, more than any other performer, for her supporting role in Adaptation (2002). More recently, Streep received her 17th Oscar nomination for her portrayal of Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady (2012), which also earned Streep her third Oscar win.
Streep, who has been married to sculptor Don Gummer since 1978, has four children. Her daughter Mamie Gummer has followed in her mother’s footsteps and become an actress, appearing in such movies as 2007’s Evening and 2008’s Stop-Loss.