Kazan , Elias PDF


Born: Constantinople (Istanbul), Turkey 1909


A truly pioneering Hollywood director, Elia Kazan in the late 1940s and early 1950s helped blaze trails into the largely uncharted territories of social consciousness and cinematic naturalism, turning out some of the era's most memorable movies and influencing subsequent generations of filmmakers. Born to Greek parents who came to America when he was a small child, Kazan fell under the spell of the theater as a young man, acting in New York's avant-garde Group Theatre troupe and eventually becoming a director whose Broadway triumphs included the original productions of "The Skin of Our Teeth," "All My Sons," "A Streetcar Named Desire," and "Death of a Salesman."

Kazan, whose first brush with the movie industry consisted of assisting documentarian Ralph Steiner in the mid 1930s and acting in two Warner Bros. films, City for Conquest (1940) and Blues in the Night (1941), was courted by 20th CenturyFox's Darryl F. Zanuck, who signed him to a contract in 1944. From the first, directing A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1945), Kazan evinced an ability to coax great performances from his actors; star James Dunn and child actress Peggy Ann Garner both won Oscars for their turns in this lovely, evocative film.Boomerang! (1947), part-murder mystery, partcourtroom drama, also featured superb performances and presented a subtle but definite comment on political corruption.Gentleman's Agreement (also 1947), starring Gregory Peck, was a full-blown treatise on anti-Semitism that won Oscars for Kazan, supporting actress Celeste Holm, and as Best Picture. Seen today, the picture seems rather tame and obvious, but it was considered a real breakthrough back in 1947. Kazan took on race relations in Pinky (1949), the story of a light-skinned black woman (improbably played by Jeanne Crain) who passes for white; it too was thought very daring at the time but has lost much of its impact in the intervening years. In retrospect, Kazan considered his first "real" film to be Panic in the Streets (1950), a solid thriller about efforts to contain a burgeoning epidemic which was shot entirely on the streets of New Orleans.

A Streetcar Named Desire (1951) not only earned Kazan another Oscar nod for Best Director, it made a full-fledged screen star of Marlon Brando, leading exponent of the "Method" acting technique taught at Lee Strasberg's Actors' Studio, which was cofounded by Kazan. The Tennessee Williams play, which Kazan had directed on Broadway, was strong stuff to moviegoers of 1951, but it ushered in an era of similarly ambitious and unusual stage-to-screen translations. Brando continued his association with the director most successfully, first in Viva Zapata! (1952, which, like Streetcar netted him a Best Actor nomination) and then in the classic On the Waterfront (1954), which took eight Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actor. Budd Schulberg's hard-hitting exposΓ© of the longshoremen's unions was ideal fodder for Kazan's mastery of heightened realism. (It came, ironically, on the heels of the director's still-infamous decision to testify and name names before the House Un-American Activities Committee.) He went abroad to make Man on a Tightrope (1953), the story of a circus troupe's escape from behind the Iron Curtain.

Kazan picked up yet another nomination for East of Eden (1955), in which he did for newcomer James Dean what he'd done for Brando a few years earlier. Viewers today are still riveted by the rawness of emotions the director managed to capture in this powerful Steinbeck story of a family in conflict. By this time, he had fully mastered the cinematic technique (critics of his earlier pictures suggested that they were too much like filmed stage plays), and was producing his own pictures. The wildly provocative Baby Doll (1956), A Face in the Crowd (1957), Wild River (1960), and Splendor in the Grass (1961) all bore Kazan's stamp of quality, but didn't quite match his earlier successes.America, America (1963), based on the experiences of Kazan's own uncle, movingly captured the turn-of-the-century immigrant experience and snagged Oscar nominations for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Screenplay (which Kazan himself had written). It also ended his most fertile creative period.

Since then, Kazan has directed only three films-The Arrangement (1969, based on his own novel), the little-seen The Visitors (1972), and The Last Tycoon (1976, a highly anticipated but ultimately disappointing F. Scott Fitzgerald adaptation)and has abandoned the theater altogether. Kazan was married to actresses Molly Day Thatcher and Barbara Loden. His autobiography, "A Life," was published in 1988. His son, Nicholas Kazan, is a screenwriter who was Oscar-nominated for Reversal of Fortune (1990) and made his directing debut with Dream Lover (1994).

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