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Rediff.com  » Movies » Director-writer Elia Kazan dead

Director-writer Elia Kazan dead

September 29, 2003 10:43 IST

Elia Kazan is dead.

The director of the Award-winning On the Waterfront which made Marlon Brando a major star, died in his Manhattan home on Sunday, aged 94.

Kazan was also a theatre director of substance. His productions of Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman, Tennessee Williams' A Streetcar Named Desire and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Thornton Wilder's The Skin of Our Teeth and Archibald MacLeish's verse play J.B., brought their playwrights and the director acclaim and applause.

Born in Istanbul to Greek parents, the family moved to the US when Elia was 4. After a stint at the Yale Drama School, he joined the Group Theater in New York. After several small roles Kazan achieved his breakthrough in three Clifford Odets plays: Waiting for Lefty, Paradise Lost and Golden Boy.

But Kazan did not want to act as much as he wanted to direct. Recognition for his directorial abilities came with his direction of The Skin of Our Teeth in 1942.

His Hollywood career burned bright after he won Oscars for Best Director for Gentleman's Agreement and On the Waterfront. Among his other films are Viva Zapata, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and Splendor in the Grass, which made Warren Beatty a star.

But he soon became something of an outcast when he testified against colleagues before Senator Joseph R McCarthy's infamous House Un-American Activities Committee investigating likely Communists in Hollywood, often without basis. Though Kazan remained unapologetic about his conduct, many in Hollywood never forgave his decision to rat on his friends. Many of those named were blacklisted and didn't work in Hollywood for years after.

The controversy revived in 1999 when the American Academy of Motion Pictures and Sciences decided to award him an honorary Oscar. 'He was the master of a new kind of psychological and behavioral truth in acting. The work that he did brought a thrilling new reality to the stage and screen,' Robert De Niro said, just before the short Greek-American was honored at the Oscars ceremony.

Though stars like Beatty, Meryl Streep and Helen Hunt applauded the decision, some actors -- Nick Nolte and Ed Harris, The New York Times then reported -- refused to join the ovation for Kazan and remained seated. Blacklisted screenwriter Bernard Gordon, who led the protest against Kazan, told the New York Times: 'We're demonstrating because up to a billion people around the world will be watching the ceremony and we don't think the message should be one of glorifying a man who did so much damage to our community.'

In his later years, Kazan achieved fresh success as a writer, but his achievements and ultimate reputation were diminished by that inexplicable decision in the 1950s to condemn friends before a committee that has now become a byword for political witch-hunts -- McCarthyism.

 

rediff Entertainment Bureau