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Elia Kazan (pronounced ē-LĒ-ä ka-ZAHN; September 7, 1909 – September 28, 2003) was an American film and theatre director, film and theatrical producer, screenwriter, novelist and co-founder of the influential Actors Studiomarker in New York in 1947. Kazan was a three-time Academy Award winner, a five-time Tony Award winner, a four-time Golden Globes winner, as well as a recipient of numerous awards and nominations in other prestigious festivals such as the Cannes Film Festivalmarker and the Venice Film Festival.

Early life

Kazan was born Elias Kazanjoglou (Ηλίας Καζαντζόγλου Greek) to Greek parents in Kayseri. His family emigrated from Kayseri to the United Statesmarker in 1913 and settled in New York Citymarker, where his father, George Kazanjoglu, became a rug merchant. Kazan's father expected that his son would go into the family business, but his mother, Athena (née Sismanoglou), encouraged Kazan to make his own decisions.

Kazan attended public schools in New York City and New Rochelle, New Yorkmarker. After graduating from Williams College in Massachusetts, Kazan studied at Yale Universitymarker's School of Drama. In the 1930s, Kazan acted with New York's Group Theatre, alongside (among others) Lee Strasberg, Clifford Odets, and Stella and Luther Adler. During this period, Kazan earned his nickname 'Gadg', short for Gadget - he never learned to love the name. For about 19 months in 1934-36, Kazan was a member of a secret Communist cell.



He became one of the most visible members of the New Yorkmarker elite. Kazan's stage acting credits include Men in White, Waiting for Lefty, Johnny Johnson, Golden Boy, and the 1940 revival of Liliom. Kazan directed A Streetcar Named Desire (1951) and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1955), two of the plays that made Tennessee Williams a theatrical and literary force. He also directed All My Sons (1947) and Death of a Salesman, (1949) the plays which did much the same for Arthur Miller. He received three Tony Awards, winning for All My Sons, Death of a Salesman, and J.B.

Film director

Kazan's history as a film director is equally noteworthy, if not more impressive. He won two Academy Awards for Best Director, for Gentleman's Agreement (1947) and On the Waterfront (1954). He elicited critically acclaimed performances from actors such as Marlon Brando and Oscar winners Vivien Leigh, Karl Malden and Kim Hunter in A Streetcar Named Desire (1951) (the film version of Tennessee Williams' play), James Dean and Oscar winner Jo Van Fleet in East of Eden (adapted from the John Steinbeck novel), Montgomery Clift, Lee Remick, and Jo Van Fleet in Wild River (1960), reportedly one of Kazan's favorite films, Natalie Wood in Splendor in the Grass and Andy Griffith in A Face in the Crowd. Before he began directing films, however, he occasionally played supporting roles in them, one of those films being the 1941 Blues in the Night.

HUAC testimony

Kazan remained controversial in some circles until his death for testimony he gave before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) in 1952, in which (after previously refusing to do so) he named associates from his days as a member of the Communist Party of the United States of America in the 1930s. He began his career as an actor and stage manager for New York's Group Theatre Company, which was just recently established. His involvement in the group led him to join the "American Communist Party" in 1934. He was only involved with the Communist Party for a short time; however, he was quickly recognized as a potential communist by the HUAC, a group that was investigating the motion picture industry because of growing concern over communists working in the industry. A blacklist of names was being circulated, and those on the list could be in serious trouble and be denied work in the film industry again. The Committee called on people to identify others, and many refused; however, Kazan in his testimony named eight other members of the Communist Party, including some who had worked with him in The Group Theater; all the persons so named were already known to HUAC.

Among the people Kazan named in his testimony were two individuals, Phoebe Brand and Tony Kraber, whom Kazan had himself recruited into the Communist Party in the 1930s. Others included actor Zero Mostel, who was blacklisted and unable to work for the rest of the 1950s.

When Kazan received an Honorary Academy Award in 1999, surviving blacklistees, including Phoebe Brand, as well as some other actors, protested. Actress Kim Hunter, another victim of the blacklist, albeit one whose career recovered, stated that Kazan deserved the honor. Kazan defended his actions long after the fact, writing, "I'd had every good reason to believe the party should be driven out of its many hiding places and into the light of scrutiny, but I'd never said anything because it would be called 'red-baiting.' [. . .] The `horrible, immoral thing' that I did I did out of my own true self."

Personal life

Elia Kazan was married three times. His first wife was playwright Molly Day Thacher. They were married from 1932 until her death in 1963; this marriage produced two daughters and two sons. His second marriage, to the actress Barbara Loden, lasted from 1969 until her death in 1980, and produced one son. Lastly, he was married to Frances Rudge from 1982 until his death in 2003, aged 94.

Honorary Academy Award

In 1999, Kazan received an honorary Oscar for lifetime achievement. He was accompanied by Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro. Both De Niro and Scorsese had appeared in a film about the Hollywood Red Scare (Guilty by Suspicion). Many in Hollywoodmarker felt that enough time had passed that it was appropriate to bury the hatchet and recognize Kazan's great artistic accomplishments but others did not. Some refused to applaud (Nick Nolte) or applauded politely but remained seated (Steven Spielberg).Warren Beatty, a liberal Democrat stood up and applauded, as did, among others, Karl Malden and Lynn Redgrave.

Academy Awards


Tony Awards

  • 1956: Best Director – Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
  • 1958: Best Play – The Dark at the Top of the Stairs
  • 1958: Best Director – The Dark at the Top of the Stairs
  • 1960: Best Direction of a Play – Sweet Bird of Youth
  • 1965: Best Producer of a Play – Tartuffe
  • 1959: Best Direction – J.B.
  • 1949: Best Director – Death of a Salesman
  • 1947: Best Direction – All My Sons

Cannes Film Festival Awards

  • 1955: Best Dramatic Film – East of Eden (1955)
  • 1952: Grand Prize of the Festival – Viva Zapata!
  • 1955: Palme d'Or (Golden Palm) – East of Eden
  • 1972: Palme d'Or – The Visitors

Venice Film Festival Awards

  • 1950: International Award – Panic in the Streets
  • 1951: Special Jury Prize – A Streetcar Named Desire
  • 1954: Italian Film Critics Award – On the Waterfront
  • 1954: Leone d’Argento (Silver Lion) – On the Waterfront
  • 1955: OCIC Award – On the Waterfront
  • 1948: Leone d'Oro (Golden Lion) – Gentleman's Agreement
  • 1950: Leone d'Oro – Panic in the Streets (1950)
  • 1951: Leone d'Oro – A Streetcar Named Desire
  • 1954: Leone d'Oro – On the Waterfront


Year Film Oscar nominations Oscar wins
1937 The People of the Cumberland
1940 City For Conquest
1945 A Tree Grows in Brooklyn 2 1
Watchtower Over Tomorrow
1947 The Sea of Grass
Boomerang! 1
Gentleman's Agreement 8 3
1949 Pinky 3
1950 Panic in the Streets 1 1
1951 A Streetcar Named Desire 12 4
1952 Viva Zapata! 5 1
1953 Man on a Tightrope
1954 On the Waterfront 12 8
1955 East of Eden 4 1
1956 Baby Doll 4
1957 A Face in the Crowd
1960 Wild River
1961 Splendor in the Grass 2 1
1963 America, America 4 1
1969 The Arrangement
1972 The Visitors
1976 The Last Tycoon 1



Further reading

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