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Elia Kazan: A Life Paperback – August 22, 1997

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Editorial Reviews Review

One of the most important theater autobiographies of the 1980s, Elia Kazan: A Life, has finally been released in paperback. The extra decade adds to the book's poignancy and its value: a history of backstage personalities and politics in the 20th century is included in this release. Elia Kazan was a founding member of the Group Theatre, was among those shouting "Strike! Strike!" on the legendary opening night of Waiting for Lefty, directed the two greatest Broadway dramas ever--Death of the Salesman and A Streetcar Named Desire--and earned countless other credits, but he also played a flawed role in the greatest real-life moral drama of his era: the McCarthy Communist witch hunts of the 1950s. Kazan offered names to the House Un-American Activities Committee. He cut his conscience to fit the fashion of the time, and his conscience continues to bleed. Though this book is framed, like so much of Kazan's best stage and film work, as a lifelong search for man's proper relationship to society, the book serves as a massive explanation and apologia for Kazan's one monumental lapse. He lived his life intensely, a life in which a single word could transform you, where a misdeed might be "never forgotten or forgiven." Such were the times, and Kazan captures them with appropriate drama.

From Publishers Weekly

According to PW , "flashes of sudden insight or eloquence keep the reader turning the pages of Kazan's garrulous autobiography." His expansive memoir makes no apologies for his decision to name names during the McCarthy era, and includes cutting portraits of Lillian Hellman and Arthur Miller, as well as glimpses of Odets, Cagney, Bankhead, Monroe, Brando, Goldwyn and dozens more. Photos.
Copyright 1989 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 860 pages
  • Publisher: Da Capo Press (August 22, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0306808048
  • ISBN-13: 978-0306808043
  • Product Dimensions: 1.8 x 6.2 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (52 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #571,651 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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45 of 47 people found the following review helpful By Joe Cuddihy on January 12, 2003
Format: Paperback
Before I read this book, I knew a little about Elia Kazan. For example, I knew that he had been a successful Hollywood film director in the late forties and early fifties. Indeed, I had seen some of his films: East Of Eden, in particular, came to mind. I had also read somewhere that he had also been a prominent and successful theatre director on Broadway; that he had given the likes of Marlon Brando and James Dean their first starts; that he was one of the influential people behind the advent of the Method Acting style; and finally, that he had been a `friendly' witness-that means naming names, of course--at the HUAC hearings in the early fifties: what a snake, I thought!
But hey, I've now read the book, and I know the real story and the real Elia Kazan. The book is an 800+ page epic. And an epic in every sense of the word. Kazan's autobiography is a long, brooding, and fascinating recall of his eventful life. He has, as he acknowledges in the later pages, lived a variegated and full life, he has no regrets about any of it, and he realises that he has been fortunate to have led such an interesting life. And `interesting' it certainly is. The book, though, is no glamorous odyssey of a life lived in Broadway and Hollywood; neither is it a chronicle of the great and the good of America's creative talent. Yes, there are valuable insights and vivid portraits of people like Harold Clurman, Lee Strasberg, Clifford Odets, Arthur Miller, Tennessee Williams, Marilyn Monroe, Marlon Brando and John Steinbeck. You will also meet some of Hollywood's movie moguls, particularly Darryl Zanuck at Fox.
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21 of 21 people found the following review helpful By "voychek" on December 17, 1999
Format: Paperback
Kazan has written a stunningly truthful autobiography that should be read and savored. Here is "Gadge" an icon of mid-century American theatre and film spilling it out all over the page. From his unfulfilled teenaged longings for blonde American girls, to his first marriage in which he felt trapped, but stayed on and on, to the many affairs he indulged in, all are chronicled almost too graphically, but from a distinctly detached (a writer's?) point of view. One doesn't feel that he loved or even liked any of them.
But so what? Here's a man who could brilliantly direct both "Streetcar" and "Salesman" in the space of a few years and then go to Hollywood and deal successfully with the likes of Darryl Zanuck and the 20th Century Fox grind-them-out-fast film factory. The Hollywood stuff is both funny and refreshingly honest. Who else has dared to challenge the Spencer Tracy was and remains the greatest screen actor legend? And then there's the deadly little aside about Marilyn Monroe giving him a not-so-subtle look as she sat quietly beside her then mentor, Johnny Green. The sainted Tracy as an out of shape, lazy and not very dedicated actor, and the "vulnerable" Marilyn as a cunningly on-the-make tart who would have traded in her devoted agent for the famous director, given the slightest encouragement, are just two minor examples of the fascinating insights that appear on almost every page.
It's a very fat book. It had to be. Kazan was in his eighties when he wrote it and he's led an extremely full life. It was a long and winding road from the Group Theatre to that uncomfortable, halting appearance at the 1999 Academy Awards cermonies. They made him (and the latest wife) wait until almost the very end, but he made it through.
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Saraghina on August 11, 2007
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
One of the most honest, compelling, brilliant, wise books I've read. Kazan's life was awe-inspring, and to have it retold with such lucidness and unflattering candour is a gift for the ages. Not only was he one of the greatest theatre directors and film directors of the 20th Century, he writes like a blessed demon. This was a spellbinding, page-turning read. Immersed in its pages, I learnt so much about life, America, directing, theatre/cinema history, and myself. I also learnt more than I've known before about how men think (wish I'd read this years ago).

It's a pity Kazan's life became simplistically defined by one act, his artistry overshadowed - ironic, too, considering he made films with a compassionate, liberal humanity. You can look at his life through through the prism of that one act, or read this for a richer, fuller, deeper understanding of Kazan - the good, the bad, the ugly. And the genius.

This book made me want to live my life more fully, view myself less vainly, and create my work more honestly. Can't ask for more than that.
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22 of 24 people found the following review helpful By J. Remington on July 26, 2000
Format: Paperback
This book is perhaps one of the greatest autobiographies of the modern Theatre. Kazan pulls no punches in depicting his epic journey from Greek immigrant to one of the greatest theatre and film directors of all time. His life parallels the crucial artistic movements and conflicts of the Twentieth Century: The Group Theatre, The HUAC hearings, The height and fall of the Hollywood Studio System, the founding of the Actor's Studio, and the development of the American Theatre. Kazan, along with Arthur Miller and Tennessee Williams played a crucial role in creating a strong and vibrant American Theatre. All throughout this amazing journey are insights into the craft of acting as well as the trials and tribulations of a man struggling for personal identity. This book demands to be on the shelf of any student, practitioner or fan of the Theatre. Five out of five stars
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