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Elia Kazan (Kayseri, September 7, 1909 – New York, September 28, 2003) was an American film director and writer of Greek origin. Its Greek name is Elias Kazanjoglou (Ηλίας Καζαντζόγλου).
He was born in Kayseri (Caesarea of Cappadocia), in the old Ottoman Empire (now Turkey). He was the son of a Greek carpet merchant, so he was part of the Greek-speaking minority and Orthodox Christian religion of the Ottoman Empire.
His family left his native country to move to Berlin when Elia was only two years old. After a brief stay in the German capital, which did not improve their economic situation, in 1913 the family settled in New York, where the head of the family set up a carpet business with which he managed to get rich quickly, until the crisis of 1929 ended his prosperity.
Interested in theater, in 1930 Kazan entered Yale University, where he studied Dramatic Art for two years, paying for his studies as a night porter in a building. He mounted his first play, The Second Man, by Samuel N. Behrman, in 1931, and in 1932 he made his debut as an actor in the play Chrysalis, which had Margaret O’Sullivan and Humphrey Bogart as protagonists. Around the same time, he joined the Group Theater, a group that understood stage art in a new and experimental way for the time. He took to the stage, among other works, The Death of a Salesman and After the Fall, both by Arthur Miller.
Soon he was revealed as one of the most innovative directors of the Group Theater, which earned him in 1943 the critics prize for the staging of The Skin on our Teeth, by Thornton Wilder. In 1947 he was, along with Cheryl Crawford and Robert Lewis, one of the founders of the Actor’s Studio, the mythical school of actor training. This school had a decisive influence on the American theater and from it came actors such as Marlon Brando, Montgomery Clift, Geraldine Page and Paul Newman.
Picture of Viva Zapata! (1952), directed by Kazan and starring Marlon Brando, Jean Peters and Anthony Quinn.
In 1944 he directed his first feature film, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (Human Ties). He was followed by Boomerang (The Righteous, 1947) and The Sea of Grass (Sea of Grass, 1947), which won him two critics’ awards; Gentleman’s Agreement (The invisible barrier, 1947) by which he obtained his first Oscar; Pinky (1949); Panic in the Streets (Panic in the streets, 1950); and A Streetcar Named Desire (A Streetcar Named Desire, 1951), for which he was nominated for an Oscar. The years following these events were the most prolific of his entire career. Without neglecting the dramatic direction or the literary activity, he made numerous and famous films: Viva Zapata! (1952); Man on a Tightrope (Fugitives of the Red Terror, 1952); On the Waterfront (Rat’s Nest / The Law of Silence, 1954) for which he won his second Oscar in 1955; East of Eden (East of Paradise / East of Eden, 1955) his fourth Oscar nomination as director; Baby Doll (1956); Wild River (Wild River, 1960); Splendor in the Grass (Splendor in the Grass, 1961).
He later reduced his film activity, until he left it to devote himself entirely to literary production since the late seventies. His last achievements were America, America (1963), from an autobiographical novel published in 1962; The Arrangement (The commitment, 1968); The Visitors (Visitors, 1972); and The Last Tycoon (The Last Tycoon, 1976).
This famous director, was repeatedly accused of sexual harassment, even so, that did not stop him from continuing his career.
As a literary author he also achieved public and critical recognition. Apart from America, America, he published The Assassins (1972); The Understudy (1974); Acts of Love (1978); The Anatolian (1982); and Elia Kazan: a Life (1989), meticulous memories through which many Hollywood characters parade. In Spain six of his novels were published with the titles: Los asesinos, América, América, El doble, El compromiso, El hombre de Anatolia y Actos de amor. His autobiography entitled My Life was also published.
He got two Oscars, both as best director. He also received an Honorific in 1999 for his career as a whole. In addition to the Oscars for his films, Kazan received numerous awards such as the Cinema Masters Award, given by the newspaper ‘Times’ in 1989 and, in February 1996, the Golden Bear special for the whole of his work at the Festival from Berlin.
He contracted marriage three times. With Molly Day Thacher in 1932, with whom she had two sons and two daughters, and with the actress Barbara Loden in 1967, with whom she had two more children, both deceased. In 1982 he married Frances Rudge with whom he was until the death of the director.
Testimony in the witch hunt
He achieved a certain notoriety after his testimony before the Anti-American Activities Committee at the time of McCarthyism and the witch hunt. In 1952, the same year that his Viva Zapata! Was released, he testified against his former colleagues in the Communist Party, a denunciation with which he managed to continue developing his career and status, but which some actors and other colleagues in his profession did not forget. Kazan initially refused to give names, but later named eight former members of the Group Theater he identified as communists: Clifford Odets, J. Edward Bromberg, Lewis Leverett, Morris Carnovsky, Phoebe Brand, Tony Kraber, Ted Wellman and Paula Miller. Later he also engaged Lee Strasberg. Although all these were already old acquaintances of the Committee, their statement did not help them in their careers, which were cut short. When Elia Kazan received his honorary Oscar, several colleagues refused to applaud him and stand up, to make his rejection clear.
Kazan tried to justify his denunciations. In his novel The Anatolio and in his film America, America, he explains that his admiration for the American way of life led him to watch over his country. These autobiographical works tell the avatars of a young Anatolian Greek who, like millions of other emigrants, leaves his hostile homeland to access the new paradise. Nor was it accidental that Kazan distorted the history of the struggle of the port workers of New York in The Law of Silence. The unions of port workers, who in reality had a majority of communists, are dominated by the Mafia. The protagonist, represented by Marlon Brando, makes an authentic apology of the betrayal.
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