Elia Kazan was one of the giants of modern American stage and film who was admired by many for his artistic directing and reviled by others for his testimony during the Hollywood blacklist era.
Kazan brought a moody and electrifying realism to theater and film that helped define a quintessentially American approach to drama.
But for all of Kazan's achievements, he lived the last decades of his life as a man whose artistry had been overshadowed by his politics. Many in Hollywood never forgave Kazan for his performance on April 10, 1952, the day he testified before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), informing on eight of his old friends from the fabled left-wing Group Theater, including playwright Clifford Odets and actress Paula Strasberg who, along with Kazan, had once been members of the Communist Party.
He had been an actor in the Group Theater of the 1930s. After the group dissolved in 1940, Kazan had set out on his own. He came to Hollywood, where he made two films at Warner Bros. as an actor — 1940's "City for Conquest" and 1941's "Blues in the Night."
He soon emerged as one of the most celebrated figures of 1940s and '50s Broadway and Hollywood. He made his Broadway debut in 1942, directing Thornton Wilder's "The Skin of Our Teeth," with Tallulah Bankhead; Fredric March; March's wife, Florence Eldridge; and a young Montgomery Clift. It was a huge hit. Soon, Kazan had a second hit, "Harriet," starring Helen Hayes, playing on Broadway at the same time.
Wooed by the movies, Kazan returned to Hollywood in 1944 to direct, beginning a fruitful, although often contentious, alliance with producer Darryl F. Zanuck at 20th Century Fox. Of the first six films Kazan directed, all but one were made at Fox. Many of them explored social issues of the time, and they bore the stamp of Zanuck's crusading liberalism as much as of Kazan's dramatic intensity. Still, Kazan was viewed as a breath of fresh air in stodgy, tradition-bound Hollywood and he was credited and with helping shape the film careers of a variety of acting legends, including Marlon Brando, James Dean, Warren Beatty and Robert De Niro.
Kazan's first film, 1945's "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn," based on Betty Smith's bestseller about tenement life, won James Dunn a supporting actor Oscar. Juvenile star Peggy Ann Garner received a special Academy Award. He won his first Oscar, for "Gentleman's Agreement" in 1948.
In 1951, he directed the film version of "Streetcar," replacing Jessica Tandy, who'd starred in the stage version, with Vivien Leigh, whose scenes with Brando gave the film a raw sensuality that had been missing from the play. He worked with Brando on two other films — "Viva Zapata!" a drama written by John Steinbeck, and his masterwork, 1954's "On the Waterfront," the Budd Schulberg drama about New York dockworkers and labor corruption,which earned him a second Oscar.
In 1955, Kazan followed up his "Waterfront" triumph with two more groundbreaking achievements, directing the Broadway debut of Williams' "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" and the searing film "East of Eden," which made a star of the young Dean.
|1947||Best Director||Gentleman's Agreement||Win|
|1951||Best Director||A Streetcar Named Desire||Nomination|
|1954||Best Director||On the Waterfront||Win|
|1955||Best Director||East of Eden||Nomination|
|1963||Best Director||America, America||Nomination|
|1963||Best Picture||America, America||Nomination|
|1963||Best Original Screenplay||America, America||Nomination|