Kazan, Elia 1909-2003

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KAZAN, Elia 1909-2003


See index for CA sketch: Born September 7, 1909, in Constantinople (now Istanbul), Turkey; died September 28, 2003, in Manhattan, NY. Film and stage director, actor, and author. One of the most important stage and film directors of the twentieth century, Kazan was a Tony and Oscar winner whose credits include the Broadway hits Death of a Salesman, Tea and Sympathy, and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and the Hollywood classics East of Eden, On the Waterfront, and Viva Zapata!; later in his life he also became a bestselling novelist. Brought to the United States by his family before World War I, Kazan, whose original family name had been Kazanjoglous before his father shortened it, attended school in New York City and New Rochelle. He then went to Williams College, where he received his bachelor's degree in 1930, and the Yale School of Drama, where he studied for the next two years. After leaving Yale, he joined the Group Theater in New York City, where he acted in such plays as Golden Boy and The Gentle People. The Group Theater harbored a Communist cell group during the 1930s, and Kazan even joined the American Communist Party for a couple of years before he left the party after refusing to support its move to take over the Group Theater; his involvement with the Communists would later come back to haunt him, however. Meanwhile, Kazan was developing his own theories of directing, which combined the Stanislavski method with a more technical method emulating that of actor Osgood Perkins at the Theater Guild, where Kazan had been an assistant stage manager for a time. Beginning to direct plays by 1935, he soon established a reputation with the 1942 production of Cafe Crown, and in 1947 he founded the Actors Studio with Cheryl Crawford and Robert Lewis. Here, the director helped create an active learning center that would produce such acclaimed actors as Dustin Hoffman and Robert De Niro. By the 1940s, Kazan had also become a favorite director for playwrights Tennessee Williams and Arthur Miller, and he directed such hits as Williams's A Streetcar Named Desire and Miller's All My Sons and Death of a Salesman. Kazan was also venturing into Hollywood by the 1940s, directing A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1945), Pinky (1949), and A Face in the Crowd (1957), as well as the movie version of Streetcar and the 1955 adaptation of John Steinbeck's East of Eden. Kazan earned a reputation for being an "actor's director," helping to make stars out of such actors as Marlon Brando, James Dean, Warren Beatty, Karl Malden, Lee Remick, and Jack Palance, among many others. But Kazan hit a rough spot in the 1950s, when he was called before the House Un-American Activities Committee led by Senator Joseph McCarthy. Kazan, an admitted former Communist, was asked to provide names of other people he had known to be involved in the party. At first, Kazan resisted, but when he realized that he really did not see anything admirable to defend in the Communists, a political group he had abandoned, he gave several names to the committee. His testimony cost him many of his friends; however, it kept him from being blacklisted. After the success of On the Waterfront, he found his career on solid ground. Other successes were to be found on Broadway, including Camino Real (1953) and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1955), but by the 1960s Kazan felt that production costs for Broadway productions were becoming too high, and he increasingly turned to writing novels and screenplays. His first novel, America America (1962), was strongly autobiographical and received critical acclaim; he also wrote the screenplay version, which was released the next year. Other novels followed, such as The Arrangement (1966), The Understudy (1974), and The Anatolian (1982), which he directed and produced in a movie version that year. Kazan's last film, Beyond the Aegean (1989), was also published in book form by the director in 1994. As a director, Kazan has been criticized occasionally for being too idealistic and simplistic, and resorting to easy or contrived conclusions to his films; the director himself has admitted to some limitations and has even called himself a "mediocre" director. Yet despite such modesty, there is no doubt that Kazan has been a major influence both on Broadway and in Hollywood. His many accomplishments were acknowledged in 1999 when he received an Oscar for lifetime achievement.



International Dictionary of Films and Filmmakers, fourth edition, Volume 2: Directors, St. James (Detroit, MI), 2000.


Chicago Tribune, September 29, 2003, Section 2, pp. 1, 6.

Los Angeles Times, September 29, 2003, pp. A1, A20.

New York Times, September 29, 2003, pp. A1, A20.

Washington Post, September 29, 2003, pp. A1, A29.