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Kazan, Elia


Nationality: American. Born: Elia Kazanjoglou in Constantinople (now Istanbul), Turkey, 7 September 1909; moved with family to New York, 1913. Education: Mayfair School; New Rochelle High School, New York; Williams College, Massachusetts, B.A. 1930; Yale Drama School, 1930–32. Family: Married 1) Molly Day Thatcher, 1932 (died 1963), two sons, two daughters; 2) actress Barbara Loden, 1967 (died 1980), one son; 3) Frances Rudge, 1982. Career: Actor, property manager, then director, Group Theatre, New York, from 1933; stage director, including plays by Tennessee Williams and Arthur Miller, 1935 through 1960s; co-founder, with Cheryl Crawford, Actors' Studio, New York, 1948; appeared voluntarily before HUAC, admitting membership of Communist Party, 1934–36, and naming fellow members, 1952; began career as novelist, 1961; left Actors' Studio to direct newly formed Lincoln Center Repertory Company, 1962–64. Awards: Many awards for theatre work; Academy Award for Best Director, and Best Direction Award, New York Film Critics, for Gentleman's Agreement, 1947; International Prize, Venice Festival, for Panic in the Streets, 1950; Special Jury Prize, Venice Festival, for A Streetcar Named Desire, 1951; Oscar for Best Director, and Most Outstanding Directorial Achievement, Directors Guild of America, for On the Waterfront, 1954; Honorary doctorates from Wesleyan University, Carnegie Institute of Technology, and Williams College; Academy Award for Lifetime Achievement, 1999. Address: c/o 432 W. 44th St., New York, NY 10036, U.S.A.

Films as Director:


The People of the Cumberlands (+ sc) (short)


It's up to You


A Tree Grows in Brooklyn


The Sea of Grass; Boomerang; Gentleman's Agreement




Panic in the Streets


A Streetcar Named Desire ; Viva Zapata!; Man on a Tightrope


On the Waterfront


East of Eden (+ pr)


Baby Doll (+ pr, co-sc)


A Face in the Crowd (+ pr)


Wild River (+ pr)


Splendour in the Grass (+ pr)


America, America (+ sc, pr)


The Arrangement (+ pr, sc)


The Visitors


The Last Tycoon


Acts of Love (+ pr)


The Anatolian (+ pr)


Beyond the Aegean

Other Films:


Pie in the Sky (Steiner) (short) (role)


City for Conquest (Litvak) (role as Googie, a gangster)


Blues in the Night (Litvak) (role as a clarinetist)


The Screen Director (role as himself)


Sanford Meisner: The American Theatre's Best Kept Secret (Doob) (role as a himself)


L' Héritage de la chouette (The Owl's Legacy) (Marker) (role)


Liv till varje pris (Jarl) (role as himself)


By KAZAN: books—

America America, New York, 1961.

The Arrangement, New York, 1967.

The Assassins, New York, 1972.

The Understudy, New York, 1974.

Acts of Love, New York, 1978.

Anatolian, New York, 1982.

Elia Kazan: A Life, New York and London, 1988.

Beyond the Aegean, New York, 1994.

Elia Kazan: A Life, New York, 1997.

Kazan The Master Director Discusses His Films: Interviews with EliaKazan, edited by Jeff Young, New York, 1999.

By KAZAN: articles—

"The Writer and Motion Pictures," in Sight and Sound (London), Summer 1957.

Interview with Jean Domarchi and André Labarthe, in Cahiers duCinéma (Paris), April 1962.

Article in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), December 1963/January 1964.

Interview with S. Byron and M. Rubin, in Movie (London), Win-ter 1971/72.

Interview with G. O'Brien, in Inter/View (New York), March 1972.

"Visiting Kazan," interview with C. Silver and J. Zukor, in FilmComment (New York), Summer 1972.

"All You Need to Know, Kids," in Action (Los Angeles), January/February 1974.

"Hollywood under Water," interview with C. Silver and M. Corliss, in Film Comment (New York), January/February 1977.

"Kazan Issue" of Positif (Paris), April 1977.

"Visite à Yilmaz Güney ou vue d'une prison turque," with O. Adanir, in Positif (Paris), February 1980.

"L'Homme tremblant: Conversation entre Marguerite Duras et Elia Kazan," in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), December 1980.

Interview with Tim Pulleine, in Stills (London), July/August 1983.

Interview with P. Le Guay, in Cinématographe (Paris), Febru-ary 1986.

Interview in Time Out (London), 4 May 1988.

"Les américains à trait d'union," in Positif (Paris), June 1994.

"What a Director Needs to Know," in DGA Magazine (Los Ange-les), May-June 1996.

On KAZAN: books—

Clurman, Harold, The Fervent Years: The Story of the Group Theatreand the Thirties, New York, 1946.

Tailleur, Roger, Elia Kazan, revised edition, Paris, 1971.

Ciment, Michel, Kazan on Kazan, London, 1972.

Giannetti, Louis, Masters of the American Cinema, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, 1981.

Pauly, Thomas H., An American Odyssey: Elia Kazan and AmericanCulture, Philadelphia, 1983.

Michaels, Lloyd, Elia Kazan: A Guide to References and Resources, Boston, 1985.

Ciment, Michael, An American Odyssey: Elia Kazan, London, 1989.

Murphy, Brenda, Tennessee Williams and Elia Kazan: A Collaboration in the Theatre, Cambridge, 1992.

On KAZAN: articles—

Stevens, Virginia, "Elia Kazan: Actor and Director of Stage and Screen," in Theatre Arts (New York), December 1947.

Archer, Eugene, "Elia Kazan: The Genesis of a Style," in FilmCulture (New York), vol. 2, no. 2, 1956.

Archer, Eugene, "The Theatre Goes to Hollywood," in Films andFilming (London), January 1957.

Neal, Patricia, "What Kazan Did for Me," in Films and Filming (London), October 1957.

Bean, Robin, "The Life and Times of Elia Kazan," in Films andFilming (London), May 1964.

Tailleur, Roger, "Elia Kazan and the House Un-American Activities Committee," in Film Comment (New York), Fall 1966.

"Kazan Issue" of Movie (London), Spring 1972.

Changas, E., "Elia Kazan's America," in Film Comment (New York), Summer 1972.

Kitses, Jim, "Elia Kazan: A Structural Analysis," in Cinema (Bev-erly Hills), Winter 1972/73.

Biskind, P., "The Politics of Power in On the Waterfront," in FilmQuarterly (Berkeley), Autumn 1975.

"A l'est d'Eden Issue" of Avant-Scène du Cinéma (Paris), Novem-ber 1975.

Kazan Section of Positif (Paris), April 1981.

"Kazan Issue" of Avant-Scène du Cinéma (Paris), 1 July 1983.

"Elia Kazan," in Film Dope (London), March 1984.

Michaels, Lloyd, "Elia Kazan: A Retrospective," in Film Criticism (Edinboro, Pennsylvania), Fall 1985.

Neve, Brian, "The Immigrant Experience on Film: Kazan's AmericaAmerica," in Film and History (New York), vol. 17, no. 3, 1987.

Nangle, J., "The American Museum of the Moving Image Salutes Elia Kazan," in Films in Review (New York), April 1987.

Georgakas, Dan, "Don't Call Him Gadget: Elia Kazan Reconsidered," in Cineaste (New York), vol. 16, no. 4, 1988.

Rathgeb, Douglas, "Kazan as Auteur: The Undiscovered East ofEden," in Literature/Film Quarterly (Salisbury, Maryland), vol. 16, no. 1, 1988.

McGilligan, Patrick, "Scoundrel Tome," in Film Comment (New York), May/June 1988.

Butler, T., "Polonsky and Kazan. HUAC and the Violation of Personality," in Sight and Sound (London), Autumn 1988.

Coursodon, Jean-Pierre, in Positif (Paris), October 1989.

Cahir, Linda Costanzo, "The Artful Rerouting of A Streetcar NamedDesire," in Literature/Film Quarterly (Salisbury), April 1994.

White, J., "Sympathy for the Devil: Elia Kazan Looks at the Dark Side of Technological Progress in Wild River," in Literature/FilmQuarterly (Salisbury), October 1994.

Film-Dienst (Cologne), 19 December 1995.

Everschor, Franz, "Arrangement mit dem Schicksal," in Film-Dienst (Cologne), 16 January 1996.

Chase, Donald, "Watershed: Elia Kazan's Wild River," in FilmComment (New York), November-December 1996.

Benedetto, Robert, "A Streetcar Named Desire: Adapting the Play to the Film," in Creative Screenwriting (Washington, D.C.), Win-ter 1997.

Koehler, Robert, "One from the Heart," in Variety (New York), 1 March 1999.

* * *

Elia Kazan's career has spanned more than four decades of enormous change in the American film industry. Often he has been a catalyst for these changes. He became a director in Hollywood at a time when studios were interested in producing the kind of serious, mature, and socially conscious stories Kazan had been putting on the stage since his Group Theatre days. During the late 1940s and mid-1950s, initially under the influence of Italian neorealism and then the pressure of American television, he was a leading force in developing the aesthetic possibilities of location shooting (Boomerang, Panic in the Streets, On the Waterfront) and CinemaScope (East of Eden, Wild River). At the height of his success, Kazan formed his own production unit and moved back east to become a pioneer in the new era of independent, "personal" filmmaking that emerged during the 1960s and contributed to revolutionary upheavals within the old Hollywood system. As an archetypal auteur, he progressed from working on routine assignments to developing more personal themes, producing his own pictures, and ultimately directing his own scripts. At his peak during a period (1950–1965) of anxiety, gimmickry, and entropy in Hollywood, Kazan remained among the few American directors who continued to believe in the cinema as a medium for artistic expression and who brought forth films that consistently reflected his own creative vision.

Despite these achievements and his considerable influence on a younger generation of New York-based filmmakers, including Sidney Lumet, John Cassavetes, Arthur Penn, Martin Scorsese, and even Woody Allen, Kazan's critical reputation in America has ebbed. The turning point both for Kazan's own work and the critics' reception of it was almost certainly his decision to become a friendly witness before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) in 1952. While "naming names" cost Kazan the respect of many liberal friends and colleagues (Arthur Miller most prominent among them), it ironically ushered in the decade of his most inspired filmmaking. If Abraham Polonsky, himself blacklisted during the 1950s, is right in claiming that Kazan's post-HUAC movies have been "marked by bad conscience," perhaps he overlooks how that very quality of uncertainty may be what makes films like On the Waterfront, East of Eden, and America America so much more compelling than Kazan's previous studio work.

His apprenticeship in the Group Theater and his great success as a Broadway director had a natural influence on Kazan's films, particularly reflected in his respect for the written script, his careful blocking of scenes, and, pre-eminently, his employment of Method Acting on the screen. While with the Group, which he has described as "the best thing professionally that ever happened to me," Kazan acquired from its leaders, Harold Clurman and Lee Strasberg, a fundamentally artistic attitude toward his work. Studying Marx led him to see art as an instrument of social change, and from Stanislavski he learned to seek a play's "spine" and emphasize the characters' psychological motivation. Although he developed a lyrical quality that informs many later films, Kazan generally employs the social realist mode he learned from the Group. Thus, he prefers location shooting over studio sets, relatively unfamiliar actors over stars, long shots and long takes over editing, and naturalistic forms over genre conventions. On the Waterfront and Wild River, though radically different in style, both reflect the Group's quest, in Kazan's words, "to get poetry out of the common things of life." And while one may debate the ultimate ideology of Gentleman's Agreement, Pinky, Viva Zapata! and The Visitors, one may still agree with the premise they all share, that art should illuminate society's problems and the possibility of their solution.

Above all else, however, it is Kazan's skill in directing actors that has secured his place in the history of American cinema. Twenty-one of his performers have been nominated for Academy Awards; nine have won. He was instrumental in launching the film careers of Marlon Brando, Julie Harris, James Dean, Carroll Baker, Warren Beatty, and Lee Remick. Moreover, he elicited from such undervalued Hollywood players as Dorothy McGuire, James Dunn, Eva Marie Saint, and Natalie Wood perhaps the best performances of their careers. For all the long decline in critical appreciation, Kazan's reputation among actors has hardly wavered. The Method, which became so identified with Kazan's and Lee Strasberg's teaching at the Actors Studio, was once simplistically defined by Kazan himself as "turning psychology into behavior." An obvious example from Boomerang would be the suspect Waldron's gesture of covering his mouth whenever he lies to the authorities. But when Terry first chats with Edie in the park in On the Waterfront, unconsciously putting on one of the white gloves she has dropped as he sits in a swing, such behavior becomes not merely psychological but symbolic and poetic. Here Method acting transcends Kazan's own mundane definition.

His films have been most consistently concerned with the theme of power, expressed as either the restless yearning of the alienated or the uneasy arrangements of the strong. The struggle for power is generally manifested through wealth, sexuality, or, most often, violence. Perhaps because every Kazan film except A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and The Last Tycoon (excluding a one-punch knockout of the drunken protagonist) contains at least one violent scene, some critics have complained about the director's "horrid vulgarity" (Lindsay Anderson) and "unremitting stridency" (Robin Wood), yet even his most "overheated" work contains striking examples of restrained yet resonant interludes: the rooftop scenes of Terry and his pigeons in On the Waterfront, the tentative reunion of Bud and Deanie at the end of Splendor in the Grass, the sequence in which Stavros tells his betrothed not to trust him in America America. Each of these scenes could be regarded not simply as a necessary lull in the drama, but as a privileged, lyrical moment in which the ambivalence underlying Kazan's attitude toward his most pervasive themes seems to crystallize. Only then can one fully realize how Terry in the rooftop scene is both confined by the mise-en-scène (seen within the pigeon coop) and free on the roof to be himself; how Bud and Deanie are simultaneously reconciled and estranged; how Stavros becomes honest only when he confesses to how deeply he has been compromised.

—Lloyd Michaels

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Elia Kazan

Elia Kazan

Elia Kazan (born 1909) is known as the preeminent director of works by Arthur Miller and Tennessee Williams. Kazan emerged as the leading exponent of psychological realism via his film and stage productions of the 1940s and 1950s. His works reflect both social struggle and personal pain.

Elia Kazan was born into a large family of Anatolian Greeks near Istanbul in 1909. Kazan's family came to the United States when he was four, and he grew up in the slums and suburbs of New York City. He was a reclusive child who read compulsively, often as an escape from working in the family business, the rug trade. Determined not to follow in his father's footsteps, the young Elia attended Williams College from 1926 to 1930, majoring in English literature. It was here that he developed his initial interest in theater, writing a prize-winning paper on the audience's emotional response to drama.

Kazan considered a career in the film industry and decided that more theatrical training would help him achieve that goal. He applied to the Yale School of Drama and was accepted, despite his lack of practical experience. From 1930 to 1932 Kazan immersed himself in all aspects of dramatic production at Yale. He found that he shared with several others an interest in social drama and the establishment of a left-wing alternative to Broadway theater. Before completing his degree, Kazan left graduate school to apprentice with the Group Theatre, an offshoot of the Theatre Guild.

The Group Theatre, fashioned after Stanislavski's famous Moscow Art Theatre, was founded by Cheryl Crawford, Lee Strasberg, and Harold Clurman. The company's productions were attempts to combine social consciousness and artistic excellence. Kazan worked for the group in a variety of capacities—as press agent, stage manager, and actor. In 1934, with Art Smith, he recruited new playwrights, an effort that resulted in Clifford Odets' Waiting for Lefty. In its initial performance Kazan played Agate, who delivers the play's final appeal for a strike of cab drivers.

His next association was with the Workers' Laboratory Theatre (re-named the Theatre of Action in 1935), where he realized his ambition to direct, beginning with Peter Martin's The Young Go First The production, implementing Group Theatre techniques of improvisation and rehearsal exercises, featured Alfred Saxe. The Theatre of Action's film division also employed Kazan as a director of left-wing movies. This unit evolved into Frontier Films, known for its documentary realism and called by Variety the "Group Theatre of motion pictures." In 1936 Kazan returned to the group, which was now headed by Clurman only. He stayed until 1941, acting in Odets' Golden Boy and other works. The departure of Strasberg and Crawford also allowed him to direct.

In the early 1940s Kazan began to concentrate solely on directing, and in the first few years of the decade he directed a number of plays, most notably Thorton Wilder's The Skin of Our Teeth, starring Tallulah Bankhead. This production earned Kazan the 1942 New York Drama Critics' Award for Best Director. By 1945 Kazan was receiving offers to direct from both Broadway and Hollywood. He continued to produce successes in both arenas, with the film A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and the play All My Sons, the latter by a then-unknown young playwright named Arthur Miller.

In 1947, with Cheryl Crawford and Robert Lewis, Kazan founded the Actors' Studio as a kind of revival of the Group Theatre, with a focus on actor training rather than producing plays. When Lee Strasberg was eventually recruited as the head of the studio, Kazan's position became that of an occasional instructor and patron.

Kazan returned to directing with the play with which he had the greatest personal relationship—Miller's Death of a Salesman, starring Lee J. Cobb. Believing that the protagonist, Willy Loman, was a man who was "socially mistaught," Kazan considered the play to be "a story of love—the end of tragic love" between father and son. He also noted that "this play has to be directed with COMPASSION." Jo Mielziner's famous setting for this production reflected the fragile physical and psychological realities of Willy Loman. The play was a tremendous success, ran more than 700 performances, and garnered the Pulitzer Prize among other major awards.

During the next few years, Kazan spent more of his time as a film director. Notable among this work are A Streetcar Named Desire (1951), On the Waterfront (1954), and East of Eden (1955). After the shooting of Streetcar Kazan was subpoenaed by the House UnAmerican Activities Committee to testify regarding any connection he had with members of the Communist Party working in the entertainment industry. Kazan, in a very painful position that would determine the future of his work, cooperated with the committee. He admitted that he had adopted communism for a time (which he had since renounced) and named several other party members with whom he had worked. He followed this up with newspaper ads, public addresses, and articles defending his testimony and anti-Communist position. Branded an "informer," Kazan found that a number of former associates would no longer work with him, including Harold Clurman and Arthur Miller.

Kazan threw himself back into his work, but his production of Flight Into Egypt closed on Broadway after only 46 performances. He then went to Germany to take over direction of Man on a Tightrope, but it also was a box-office failure. Kazan's next project was a Broadway production of Tennessee Williams' Camino Real, another financial disaster.

Kazan broke this string of disappointments with two Broadway successes, Robert Anderson's Tea and Sympathy and Williams' Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, and the Oscar-winning film On the Waterfront, as well as East of Eden, which gave James Dean his first starring role.

After this successful comeback, Kazan established his own film company and produced Baby Doll (1956), A Face in the Crowd (1957), and several others, but they fared poorly. Kazan returned to the theater in 1957 to direct William Inge's Dark at the Top of the Stairs, Archibald MacLeish's J. B., and Williams' Sweet Bird of Youth.

In 1963 Kazan became co-director with Robert White-head of the Lincoln Center Repertory Theatre. The company's opening production was Arthur Miller's After the Fall, directed by Kazan. Miller and Kazan were re-united after a split of nearly a decade. The play was a success, but Kazan's subsequent production of The Changeling, just before the first anniversary of the Repertory Theatre, was a disastrous effort, and he resigned.

Kazan finally decided to produce his own screenplay, on which he had been working for several years. This was America, America, a fictionalized version of his own family's emigration to the United States. The Arrangement, his next film, was quasi-autobiographical and a financial disappointment.

Kazan then turned to writing novels (including The Assassins) and directed one film, The Last Tycoon, in 1976. His 1988 autobiography, Elia Kazan: a Life, touches on the entire fabric of people and productions in a fascinating life. In Kazan's mid-eighties, irony resonated as in a dark script when Arthur Miller's allegory of the Communist blacklisting era, The Crucible, was revived on the New York stage. At the same time, Kazan was denied a Life Achievement Award by the American film Institute because of his cooperation with the UnAmerican Activities Committee.

Further Reading

Thomas H. Pauly, An American Odyssey: Elia Kazan and American Culture (1983, paperback 1985); and in Michel Ciment, Kazan on Kazan (1974). Also see Kazan's 1988 autobiography, Elia Kazan: A Life.

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Kazan, Elia

Elia Kazan (Ĭlī´ə, ēl´yə kəzăn´, –zän´), 1909–2003, American stage and film director, producer, writer, actor, b. Turkey, as Elia Kazanjoglous. Immigrating with his Greek family to the United States in 1913, Kazan studied at Williams College and the Yale Drama School before beginning his acting career with the New York Group Theatre in the 1930s. He became (1947) a founding member and director of The Actors Studio. In 1952, appearing before the House Committee on Un-American Activities, he admitted to membership in the Communist party in the 1930s and named eight other Hollywood figures who were also members, an act that was controversial throughout the rest of his life.

Kazan's outstanding stage productions included The Skin of Our Teeth (1942), All My Sons (1947), A Streetcar Named Desire (1947; film version, 1951), Death of a Salesman (1949), and Tea and Sympathy (1953). He was the most important director to bring the realistic, emotionally charged approach and "method" acting style of the mid-20th-century New York theater into American moviemaking. Kazan won best-director Oscars for Gentlemen's Agreement (1947) and On the Waterfront (1954) and an honorary life's achievement Academy Award in 1999. Among his other major films are A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1945), Viva Zapata (1952), East of Eden (1955), A Face in the Crowd (1957), and Splendor in the Grass (1961). He also directed the films America, America (1963) and The Arrangement (1969), adapted from his own 1962 and 1967 novels, parts of a fictional series that also includes The Anatolian (1982) and Beyond the Aegean (1994).

See his autobiography (1988); Kazan on Directing (2009); A. J. and M. J. Devlin, ed., The Selected Letters of Elia Kazan (2014); M. Ciment, Kazan on Kazan (1974), J. Young, ed., Kazan: The Master Director Discusses His Films (1999); biography by R. Schickel (2005); M. Scorsese, dir., A Letter to Elia (documentary film, 2010).

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"Kazan, Elia." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . 18 Dec. 2017 <>.

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Kazan, Elia

Kazan, Elia (1909–99) US film director and novelist, b. Turkey. Kazan was one of the founders of the Actors' Studio. His work in the cinema includes A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1945), Gentleman's Agreement (1947), and On the Waterfront (1954). He wrote two best-selling novels, America, America (1962) and The Arrangement (1967).

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