In addition to being a great actress, Bette Davis was apparently an exceptional judge of talent. Evidence? Davis, whose 10 Oscar nominations were at one point the most ever for an actress, once sent a young performer a letter predicting she would one day succeed Davis as America's greatest actress. That young performer's name? Meryl Streep.
Davis probably didn't know how right she was. Streep's performance in 2002's Adaptation earned her a record 13th Oscar nomination. Streep increased her total to 18 - six ahead of runners-up Katharine Hepburn and Jack Nicholson - when she was nominated for Best Actress for August: Osage County in January 2014. Her trademark is the ability to master a stunning variety of accents, including Polish, Danish, British, Australian, Italian and American Southwest.
In honor of Streep's 65th birthday on June 22, let's look back at the most notable roles in her brilliant career.
The Deer Hunter (1978)
Streep earned her first Oscar nomination for playing Linda, girlfriend of Mike (Christopher Walken), one of three Pennsylvania steel-mill workers who become prisoners of war in Vietnam. Star Robert DeNiro chose Streep for the movie after being impressed by her performance in the play The Cherry Orchard. Michael Cimino's controversial three-hour film won five Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Director. Although she lost to California Suite's Maggie Smith in the Best Supporting Actress category, Streep was honored by the National Board of Review (NBR) and National Society of Film Critics (NSFC).
Kramer vs. Kramer (1979)
Streep won her first Oscar for playing Joanna Kramer, who throws her family into turmoil when she abruptly leaves her husband (Dustin Hoffman) and young son (Justin Henry). Joanna complicates things again when she suddenly returns and wants custody of her son. Streep initially believed her character was underdeveloped and suggested changes to director Robert Benton, changes Benton agreed to. Hoffman believed Streep was overshadowing him and admitted to hating her at times. A box office smash, Kramer vs. Kramer won five Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Supporting Actress for Streep. Streep was also named Best Supporting Actress by the NBR, NSFC and the Golden Globes.
Sophie's Choice (1982)
Streep's portrayal of a haunted concentration camp survivor earned her Best Actress honors from the Oscars, the Golden Globes, the NBR and the NSFC. Ironically, Liv Ullmann was director Alan J. Pakula's original choice for the role, and Streep had to beg on her hands and knees to convince the director to hire her. To prepare for the role, Streep learned a Polish accent as well as how to speak Polish and German. Premiere magazine ranked Streep's performance third on its "100 Greatest Performances of All Time" list.
A Cry in the Dark (1988)
Streep has said the hardest accent for her to learn was the Australian one she used to play Lindy Chamberlain, who was convicted of killing her infant daughter. Chamberlain had been released from prison, but her conviction was still being appealed during filming, and Streep feared the movie would harm her efforts at exoneration. Streep's cry of "That dingo's got my baby!" went on to be parodied by the likes of Seinfeld, The Simpsons and Family Guy. Streep received Golden Globe and Oscar nominations and was named Best Actress at the 1989 Cannes Film Festival. Chamberlain insisted for more than 30 years that the native wild dogs known as dingoes had killed her baby, and in a June 2012 ruling an Australian coroner agreed.
The Bridges of Madison County (1995)
Streep's longest Oscar nomination drought - five years - ended with her performance as Iowa housewife Francesca Johnson in Clint Eastwood's adaptation of Robert James Waller's bestselling novel. Waller wanted Isabella Rossellini for the part, but Eastwood wanted Streep. After taking over as director, Eastwood convinced Streep to join the project. Streep based her character's accent on an Italian-American war bride she had known during her youth. After three weeks of silence, Eastwood - who had initially told her not to do an accent - informed her that he liked hers. Streep earned Golden Globe and Oscar nominations.
Music of the Heart (1999)
Madonna had originally agreed to play Roberta Guaspari, who taught violin to elementary school students in East Harlem and had been the subject of the Oscar-nominated 1995 documentary Small Wonders, but dropped out. Director Wes Craven then sent Streep a handwritten letter begging her to take over the role. There was just one problem: Streep didn't know how to play the violin. She learned by practicing four to six hours a day for two months under the tutelage of New York Philharmonic violinist Sandy Park. Streep's efforts earned her Screen Actors Guild (SAG), Golden Globe and Oscar nominations.
Angels in America (2003)
Streep had won an Emmy for one of her earliest roles, the 1978 mini-series Holocaust, but largely steered clear of the small screen in the following years. HBO's six-hour, $60-million adaptation of Tony Kushner's play about AIDS in the Reagan era was an exception. It also marked the first time Streep worked with fellow screen legend Al Pacino. Streep's roles included an angel, a rabbi, a Mormon woman and Ethel Rosenberg's ghost, and she won an Emmy, a Golden Globe and a SAG Award.
The Devil Wars Prada (2006)
Streep played the titular character, tyrannical fashion magazine editor Miranda Priestly, in this adaptation of Laura Weisberger's bestselling 2003 book. Priestly was widely believed to be based on Englishwoman Anna Wintour, longtime editor-in-chief of Vogue magazine, but Streep chose to make her character American. According to co-star Anne Hathaway, Streep made good on a commitment to never say anything nice to her after their initial meeting. Streep won a Golden Globe and NSFC Award and was nominated for a SAG Award and an Oscar.
Julie & Julia (2009)
Streep reached new heights while playing legendary chef Julia Child - literally. To better resemble the 6-2 Child, the 5-6 Streep wore platform shoes. While preparing for the role, Streep found footage of Child's first cooking show to be the most useful resource. Not only did Streep win a Golden Globe and receive SAG Award and Oscar nominations, her performance earned a rave review from Gourmet magazine executive chef Sarah Moulton, a friend of Child's for 25 years.
The Iron Lady (2011)
Streep admitted to disagreeing with many of the policies of Margaret Thatcher but brought her usual intense preparation to the role, spending months watching and listening to videos and broadcasts of the former British Prime Minister and speaking to dozens of people who knew her. Director Phyllida Lloyd (who directed Streep to Golden Globe nomination for the 2008 musical Mamma Mia!) felt an actress of Streep's prestige was needed to play Thatcher. The movie used flashbacks to show Thatcher's life from 1979-90, and by Streep's own estimate she was made up as an old woman at least 40 percent of the time. British and American conservatives were unhappy with the movie, but Streep was nominated for a SAG Award and won a Golden Globe and an Oscar, bringing her 29-year losing streak to an end.