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Elia Kazan

A Greek-born director of theatre and film, Elia Kazan (1909- ) is perhaps best remembered as the most visible member of the Hollywood elite who "named names" before the House Un-American Activities Committee (an anti-communist movement spearheaded by Senator Joseph McCarthy). His remarkable theatre credits included directing The Glass Menagerie[?], A Streetcar Named Desire (the two plays that made Tennessee Williams a theatrical and literary superstar), and All My Sons[?], and Death of a Salesman (plays which did much the same for Arthur Miller).

His history as a film director is scarcely less noteworthy. [But I haven't studied it, so am not qualified to write about it!]

Kazan had been a member of the Communist Party in his idealistic youth, when working as part of a radical theatre troupe in the 1930s. A committed liberal, Kazan felt betrayed by the military atrocities of Stalin and the ideological rigidity of the Stalinists. If there were Communists in Hollywood who were co-opting the liberal agenda, then Kazan felt it was in the best interest of the country and his own liberal beliefs to cooperate with McCarthy's anti-communist efforts. One of the names he named, noted actor John Garfield with whom he had worked in the Group Theatre troup, was investigated by HUAC without uncovering any corroborating evidence. Regardless, Garfield was blacklisted by Hollywood, ending a promising career. Garfield died the next year, aged 39.

American playwrights Lillian Hellman and Arthur Miller publicly and bitterly disagreed with Kazan's reasoning. Kazan's 1950 On the Waterfront, about a heroic mob informer, is widely considered to be Kazan's answer to his critics. Miller's The Crucible, about a heroic New England Puritain who chooses to die rather than make false accusations of witchcraft, is considered a response to Kazan. (The witchcraft analogy is somewhat flawed, however, since Miller's protagonist never was a witch and had not seen any witchcraft in Salem, but Kazan had himself at one point actively promoted Communist ideology in the entertainment industry.)

In 1999, Kazan received an honorary Oscar for lifetime achievement. 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 not without controversy. Some footage from the 1999 Oscars suggests that maybe about a quarter of the Hollywood dignitaries present seemed to be staging a sit-down protest when Kazan was honored.



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