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Last Updated: Monday, 29 September, 2003, 00:06 GMT 01:06 UK
Obituary: Elia Kazan

Elia Kazan
Elia Kazan: Director who named names

Elia Kazan, who has died aged 94, directed some of America's greatest actors in its greatest films but many in Hollywood never forgave him for his co-operation with the McCarthy era witch-hunt.

Elia Kazan was born in Istanbul in 1909 of Greek parents. The family emigrated to the United States when he was four.

After leaving school, he studied drama at Yale for two years before taking up acting with the experimental Group Theatre.

He directed his first stage play in 1935 and established himself as one of Broadway's finest directors in the 1940s. He continued to direct plays throughout his career.

Issues and challenges

In 1948, he co-founded the Actors Studio in New York, home of the so-called Method school of acting. One of his favourite students was Marlon Brando.

He cast Brando in his stage version of Tennessee Williams' "A Streetcar Named Desire" and then introduced him to the cinema audience in the same role.

James Dean in East of Eden
James Dean in East of Eden
Kazan was a director much loved by the actors, with whom he worked because of the room he gave them to express themselves.

He was one of the first directors to address the issues and challenges of American life.

In 1948 he won an Academy Award for Gentleman's Agreement, in which Gregory Peck was the subject of anti-semitism.

Six years later, he cast Marlon Brando again as the dockyard worker who took on the mob in the classic On the Waterfront.

Kazan brought the best out of James Dean in East of Eden which dealt with family tensions, and which many consider to be the director's best film.

Director's dilemma

He preferred working with relatively unknown performers, nurturing the careers of others such as Rod Steiger, Carroll Baker, Natalie Wood, Lee Remick and Warren Beatty.

But the 1950s ensnared Kazan in the moral dilemma of the era, when he named names to the US Congress's Un-American Activities Committee.

Kazan with his Oscar in 1999
Kazan's 1999 Oscar caused controversy
A former Communist who had grown disenchanted with the party, he came to believe that America was genuinely being threatened by a Marxist conspiracy.

Some of those he named were blacklisted.

In his 90th year, long after he had given up directing for writing, he was awarded an honourary Oscar for his lifetime's work.

There were protests to the Academy. Some still felt betrayed by Kazan and, though prepared to forgive him, were unhappy at his being given an award.

But even his critics admired the spellbinding work of Elia Kazan who, in the words of Tennessee Williams, could bring a story to "violent, brilliant life".




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