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Sunday, March 21, 1999 Published at 23:42 GMT

Elia Kazan: Forgive and forget?

Elia Kazan with playwrights Tennessee Williams and Arthur Miller

Elia Kazan, one of America's most controversial directors is to receive an Oscar for lifetime Achievement on Sunday.

But the honour has been overshadowed by screams of outrage across Hollywood and protesters have pledged demonstrations and disruptions on Oscar night.

Phoebe Brand is just one actress who cannot forget that 47 years ago, the great director informed on friends who had been communist party members.

"I forgive," she says. "I forgive a lot, but I don't think I can forgive Kazan."

[ image: Senator John McCarthy led the witch hunts of the 1950s]
Senator John McCarthy led the witch hunts of the 1950s
When Kazan told a congressional committee that Miss Brand had been a member of the Communist Party, he added her name to the hundreds of already "blacklisted" professionals whose careers were destroyed.

It was forty years before Brand appeared in her next film.

While Kazan will be forever linked with the dark days of the anti-Communist "witch hunts" carried out by Senator Joseph McCarthy and the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), his film-making genius is not in question.

From his Turkish immigrant beginnings in New York, Kazan established himself as one of Broadway's finest directors, with such productions as The Skin of Our Teeth (1942), A Streetcar Named Desire (1947) and Death of Salesman (1949).

[ image: James Dean starred in Kazan's East of Eden (1955)]
James Dean starred in Kazan's East of Eden (1955)
Kazan went on to direct cinematic classics Gentleman's Agreement (1947), Viva Zapata (1952), East of Eden (1955) and On the Waterfront (1954) and collected two Oscars for his trouble.

But it was amid the Cold War paranoia of the 1950s that Kazan sealed his own fate as an informer.

On 10 April 1952, Kazan testified before the House committee that he had been a member of the Communist Party during the mid-1930s and named eight fellow members.

After his testimony was made public, Kazan placed an advertisement in The New York Times, giving a defiant explanation of what he had done.

"Secrecy serves the Communists," the statement insisted. "At the other pole, it serves those who are interested in silencing liberal voices.

"The employment of good liberals is threatened because they have allowed themselves to become associated with or silenced by the Communists. Liberals must speak out."

To many on the right, Kazan acted as a hero and counter-demonstrations are being planned for Oscar night in support of the controversial director.

[ image: Kazan was honoured at the Berlin Film Festival]
Kazan was honoured at the Berlin Film Festival
Robert Rehme, the director of the Academy of Motion Pictures has also defended the decision to honour Elia Kazan, in spite of the controversy.

"We're honouring him for his work. He is unquestionably one of the major influences in motion pictures in this century," he said.

But to many in Hollywood, Kazan committed an act of betrayal, helping to stifle talent in the industry and destroying many a promising career.

"It was a nightmare, it was, and even as I talk to you about it now, I can feel my body being disturbed," says Betsy Blair Reisz, first wife of actor Gene Kelly, who was blacklisted as a suspected communist.

Aside from one B movie in 1959, Reisz was shunned by Hollywood and forced to move to Europe in order to continue in the film industry.

Certainly Kazan's collaboration is remembered by many with anger and the campaign in Los Angeles against giving the 89-year old director his Oscar is intensifying.

A demonstration is planned for the night of the Academy Awards and the organisers say they will only drop their protest if Kazan agrees to go on stage and acknowledge he made a mistake.

But Kazan's lawyer, Floria V Lasky, says he will make no apologies.

"Apologise for what?" she asks.

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