From Publishers Weekly
When the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences decided to give Kazan (1909–2003) an honorary Oscar in 1999, it rekindled the lingering resentment over his testimony before the House Un-American Activities Committee nearly 50 years earlier. Schickel, who produced a short film for the Academy's presentation and covered the controversy in his role as Time
's movie critic, has virtually no sympathy for Kazan's detractors, arguing that HUAC was "a harsh and permanent fact of American life" in the early Cold War era and, more importantly, that Kazan was testifying against Stalinists, not innocent liberals. He also observes that Kazan's early efforts at self-defense may ironically have worked against him, sealing his image in the public eye. The biography's main goal, however, is to restore Kazan's artistic achievements to their rightful prominence in his life story. Working with the director's extensive production notes, Schickel traces Kazan's rise from a fledgling actor in the Method-touting ensemble the Group Theatre to his creative pinnacle presenting Tennessee Williams on Broadway while making films like 1954's On the Waterfront
. Despite Schickel's friendship with his subject, this analysis is unsparingly thorough, to the point where Schickel's forceful, personalized criticism becomes as attention grabbing as Kazan's body of work. Photos.
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*Starred Review* Both effusive and enigmatic, brazen and insecure, legendary director Elia Kazan is best known for bringing the emotional realism of mid-twentieth-century New York theater to the silver screen. But, in 1999, the accomplishments of the Greek immigrant and founding member of the Actors Studio were overshadowed by the controversy surrounding his Honorary Academy Award. (In 1952, some 15 years after abandoning the Communist Party, Kazan "named names" before the House Committee on Un-American Activities.) In this sympathetic, scrupulously researched biography, film scholar and Time
critic Schickel examines the career of the directorial tour de force whose dossier includes Tony Award winner Death of a Salesman
, On the Waterfront
(for which he earned the Best Director Oscar), and stage and screen versions of A Streetcar Named Desire
. Kazan's purpose, said playwright and best friend Arthur Miller, was always "to hit the audience in the belly because he knows all people are alike in the belly, no matter what their social position or education." Though Schickel's book focuses on the professional opus of Kazan (who died in 2003), the author also vividly conveys the director's potent personality: his exuberance, relentless work ethic, and frank assessments of the fleeting nature of fame. Allison BlockCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved