Elia Kazan

Elia Kazan, (Greek Ελία Καζάν), (September 7, 1909 – September 28, 2003) was an American film and Theatre director and producer.

He was born Elia Kazanjoglou in İstanbul in 1909 to Greek parents.[] His first name is pronounced EE-LY'-AH. He became one of the most visible members of the Hollywood elite. He attended Yale University's School of Drama (his granddaughter also attended Yale College where as a senior she was a member of Manuscript Society, one of the premiere selective senior groups). Kazan's theater credits included directing The Glass Menagerie (1944) and A Streetcar Named Desire, (1951) the two plays that made Tennessee Williams a theatrical and literary force, and All My Sons (1947) and Death of a Salesman (1949) the plays which did much the same for Arthur Miller.

His history as a film director is scarcely less noteworthy. He won two Academy Awards for Best Director, for Gentleman's Agreement (1947) and On the Waterfront (1954). He elicited remarkable performances from actors such as Marlon Brando and Oscar winners Vivien Leigh, Karl Malden and, ironically, Kim Hunter (who would feel the effects of the blacklist herself not long after) in the film version of Tennessee Williams' A Streetcar Named Desire, James Dean and Oscar winner Jo Van Fleet in East of Eden (adapted from the John Steinbeck novel), and Andy Griffith in A Face in the Crowd.

His later career was clouded, however, by the fact that he was one of the few Hollywood luminaries who "named names" before the House Un-American Activities Committee during the postwar "Red Scare". Some others who named names included Jerome Robbins, Sterling Hayden, Burl Ives, and Lela Rogers (Ginger's mother).

Kazan had briefly been a member of the Communist Party in his youth, when working as part of a radical theatre troupe in the 1930s. A committed liberal, Kazan felt betrayed by the atrocities of Stalin and the ideological rigidity of the Stalinists. He was personally offended when Party functionaries tried to intervene in the artistic decisions of his theater group.

As Kazan later explained, he felt that it was in the best interest of the country and his own liberal beliefs to cooperate with HUAC's anti-communist efforts in order to counter Communists in Hollywood who were co-opting the liberal agenda. American playwrights Lillian Hellman and Arthur Miller publicly and bitterly disagreed with Kazan's reasoning.

One of those he named, noted actor John Garfield, with whom he had worked in the Group Theatre troupe, was investigated by HUAC, which failed to uncover any corroborating evidence of Communist Party membership. Garfield was nonetheless blacklisted by Hollywood, ending a promising career, and died the next year, aged 39 of a sudden heart attack.

Elia Kazan, 1967, Photo von photo James Kavallines.

In 1999, Kazan received an honorary Oscar for lifetime achievement. He was accompanied by Martin Scorsese and Robert DeNiro who warned the audience sotto voce not to misbehave. Robert DeNiro himself had appeared in a film about the Hollywood Red Scare. While many in Hollywood felt that enough time had passed that it was appropriate to bury the hatchet and recognize Kazan's great artistic accomplishments, the decision was nonetheless controversial. Some footage from the 1999 Oscars suggests that fully three-quarters of those present in the audience gave him a standing ovation, including Lynn Redgrave, Karl Malden, Meryl Streep and the very liberal Warren Beatty (Beatty later said that he was applauding because Kazan had directed him in his first film Splendor in the Grass, but was not endorsing the decision he made). However, the camera showed individual actors such as Nick Nolte, Amy Madigan and Holly Hunter sitting on their hands and refusing to applaud. Others such as Steven Spielberg and Sherry Lansing applauded politely but did not rise.

Elia Kazan died of natural causes at his home in New York. He was 94 years old.


  • The Last Tycoon
  • The Visitors
  • The Arrangement

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