Only Meryl Streep could manage to keep her actually-kind-of-famous-in-his-own-right artist husband out of the spotlight. But Meryl’s done it, and as with everything, she’s done it incredibly well. After 18 Oscar nominations, three Oscar wins, two Emmys, eight Golden Globes, two BAFTAs, three SAG awards — and we’re just getting started — we still know about the same amount about Mr. Meryl Streep as we did back when she first rose to power in with The Deer Hunter in 1978.
Which is unheard of. In general, we know something about celebrity husbands, even when the celebrities in question are serious and venerated and win lots of gold statuettes. Annette Bening, Cate Blanchett, Kim Basinger, Glenn Close — we know something. A little gossip. A picture. But Meryl is in a class by herself when it comes to privacy. She’s basically a British grand Dame.
Girl won’t even say something gushy in one of her many, many acceptance speeches: at the 2012 Oscars, she threw us a bone and thanked him. “I’m going to thank Don 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,” she said. It was a perfect thank you, because after that many speeches, a thank you isn’t going to stump the queen of everything. But also, it’s all we’ve got.
From the very beginning of Streep’s professional career — which coincides almost exactly with the beginning of their marriage — the Streep-Gummer narrative has been airtight. He’s a sculptor. He is also successful, though less so, basically by definition. He stays out of the spotlight. They care about privacy. They have four children (three of whom are also public figures, making his relative anonymity all the more impressive). Despite occasional rumors to the contrary, their marriage — 36 years and counting — is markedly stable.
But the question remains: who is this guy? Let’s review everything we know about Don Gummer. The man. The artist. The dude in the tux sitting next to Meryl Streep.
1. He’s A Midwestern Boy with a Yale MFA
Born in Louisville, KY, Gummer grew up in Indianapolis, Indiana. He went to high school there, before spending two years at the Herron School of Art. Initially, he thought he’d be an illustrator. But he got fed up at Herron — there was an unfortunate incident in which Gummer took some classroom work home, in violation of school rules, and ended up suspended for two weeks — and headed east, first to the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, and then to Yale, where he ultimately received his MFA in sculpture.
1a. Additionally, He’s a Sagittarius
Which means he is incredibly positive, overly ambitious, independent, artistic, wise, and free-spirited. Sounds a lot like our beloved Meryl, no?
2. He’s a Former Construction Worker, Sort Of
Post-Yale — where, surprisingly, he did not meet Meryl, who is a Yale grad herself — Gummer headed to New York. Free-spirited, artistic, overly ambitious, why not? His work then focused on non-representational, Constructivist sculptures — three-dimensional forms made largely from industrial materials. At Yale, he’d been more of an earthworks man, but in New York, his work was getting more architectural, and not only because he was now working in construction, trying and failing not to piss off his ex-cop coworkers.
3. He Rescued Meryl Streep From Homelessness
In 1973, he had is first solo show in New York. Then he had more solo shows in New York. Then he met Meryl Streep. In 1978, she was three years out of Yale Drama school. Her career was taking off. Her personal life, though, was more difficult: her partner, fellow actor John Cazale, of Godfather fame, had just died of cancer. She was devastated. She was also homeless — after Cazale’s death, she and her modern-dancer brother had been living in Cazale’s apartment, but then it turned out the place actually belonged to an old ex of his, and the Siblings Streep had to leave. Gummer, a friend of Meryl’s brother, helped the pair move. When they couldn’t fit all their stuff in their storage rental, he offered to keep their stuff in his live-in artist’s studio.
3a. And Then They Had a Crazy Intense Courtship
After the storage unit adventure, Streep left to film on location. When she came back, she didn’t have a place to stay. But conveniently, Gummer — 31, tall, dark, handsome, and divorced from his college sweetheart — was headed abroad for a few months on grant money, and why didn’t she stay in his loft while he was gone? She accepted. Not yet a couple, they wrote every day. When he returned to New York, earlier than planned — a motorcycle accident in Northern Thailand had left him badly injured — Meryl was still there. So he did what any man would do for Meryl Streep: he built her a room in his loft, and two months later, he married her.
3b. Unless None of That Is True
That’s all according to a 1980 piece in Women’s Day. In a (rare) interview with Town Vibe, Gummer recalled a less dramatic sequence of events: according to him — and presumably he was there — he and Streep met when her brother asked him to help soundproof her loft. One way or another, they met through a loft. Not clear whose loft, but definitely a loft.
4. He Was Always the Good Cop
The couple had their first child a year into their marriage, in 1979. They had a daughter in 1983. Then they had another daughter in 1986. Then they had another daughter in 1991. During this time, Meryl Streep won two Oscars and made 17 movies (and then a lot more movies — this is just up to 1991). Luckily, though, “low-key Gummer” embraced the role of “stay-at-home dad” (aka, serious working artist who also takes care of his children). He was, she says, the family “good cop.”
5. He’s Got a Serious Career of His Own
While Don Gummer is no Meryl Streep, he’s an incredibly successful artist by normal mortal standards. He shows his work regularly. He has a resume of prestigious grants (the NEA! the American Foundation in Rome!) and honorary degrees and public commissions. Over time, Gummer’s work has evolved. His first seminal work — “Separation” (1968) — fused the natural world with artificial stuff: Gummer sawed a stone in half, suspended in two sections with a narrow gap in between over a patch of green grass. He spent most of the early ’70s working on enormous room-sized installations. After his motorcycle accident, he started doing wall sculptures. His work became more accessible and less aggressively theoretical (alternately, marriage made him soft and he lost his edge). In the mid-’80s, he went back to free-standing pieces, often in bronze. He introduced other materials into his work — steel, aluminum, stained glass — and continued to experiment with shape. Critic Irving Sandler describes him as giving “postmodern life to classic principles of abstract composition.”
Separation (1968), Twins 3 (2008), Untitled (After Rome) (2011)
6. He Has Plans This Sunday.
See you at the Oscars. I mean, probably. He doesn’t always go, but this year, she’s nominated. Then again, when is she not?