Creator / Elia Kazan

"What's called a difficult decision is a difficult decision because either way you go there are penalties."
Elia Kazan, describing his situation as a "friendly witness" during the years of The Hollywood Blacklist.

Elia Kazan (19092003) was born to Greek immigrants and became a pioneer in the performing arts as a director of several ambitious stage productions. He mounted the productions of Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman and Tennessee Williams' A Streetcar Named Desire. For the latter production, he cast a young unknown actor Marlon Brando, a decision that revolutionized acting forever. He is one of the founders of the Actors Studio, and could easily be credited with helping to define film acting as it's own unique craft.

In movies, he directed Brando in the film adaptation of Streetcar, in addition to which he made On the Waterfront for which he won an Oscar for Best Director and created a true Hollywood classic, and also in Viva Zapata!. He also directed James Dean in East of Eden (though he personally didn't like Dean) and in his last film he directed Robert De Niro in The Last Tycoon. To put it simply Method Acting owes Kazan a great deal.

Even with those credentials his biggest legacy was when he served as a "friendly witness" for the House Committee for Un-American Activities at the height of the Red Scare. He initially testified, admitting to be a former communist in the 30s but he refused to "name names". He subsequently did do so, when placed under pressure. This made him Persona Non Grata among many of his former leftist friends for whom Kazan could Never Live It Down. He put out an ad in the newspapers justifying this decision and asking others to come forward, as well as making On the Waterfront in large part as an allegory for his own struggles. Kazan defended his actions by pointing out that while he named names, he only gave useless names to the Committee, the ones who would have been blacklisted anyway. Critics pointed out that by taking the public stance he did, as a prominent liberal and public intellectual, he legitimized the HUAC's pretensions of being a sincere anti-communist crusade rather than a right-wing committee that trampled on civil liberties.

Martin Scorsese was an avid fan and became friends later in life-his influence helped him to receive a Lifetime Achievement Oscar in 1999. Nearly half a century removed from the Communist hearings, still there were protests outside the theater during the ceremony and many in attendance refused to stand and applaud. Kazan himself remained a liberal and a leftist and resented the Communists for monopolizing all kinds of opposition on social issues, which remained a constant interest for him. He identified himself as an anti-communist Leftist, making many critical films in the 50s, and in the 60s, he supported the Civil Rights Movement and other liberal causes, counting Tennessee Williams and James Baldwin among his friends.

As a director, Kazan was a trailblazer in pushing forth sexually suggestive and aggressive content to audiences, making films like Baby Doll as well as A Face in the Crowd, a dark satire of media that anticipates films like Network. His influence on American cinema was phenomenal with even his former friends admitting his great talent. He was especially influential on the New Hollywood, Francis Ford Coppola and Martin Scorsese especially. The former was initially going to cast him as Hyman Roth in The Godfather Part II which eventually went to Lee Strasberg (famous acting teacher and rival) instead. In his later years, he found fame as a novelist and wrote an autobiography, Elia Kazan : A Life that was highly praised for its good writing and for its fairly honest look at a contentious personality.

Kazan was married thrice. His second wife Barbara Loden was an actress (on Wild River) who directed a film Wanda which is a great film in its own right. He has several children and grandchildren active in film production. He died in 2003 but his legacy lives on.

Films directed by Elia Kazan include:

See also:

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