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Elia Kazan: A Biography Paperback – November 21, 2006

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Editorial Reviews

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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From Booklist

*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 Block
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 576 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial (November 21, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060955120
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060955120
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.9 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #856,511 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

18 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Ed Uyeshima HALL OF FAMEVINE VOICE on February 19, 2006
Format: Hardcover
It is amazing how one decision can discolor the image of a man who should be otherwise revered for his pioneering and enduring role in American theater and film during the middle of the 20th century. Time Magazine film critic Richard Schickel, a notable film historian in his own right, gives an insightful, unblemished account of Elia Kazan's career, which gives the man his professional due and also provides much-needed context for Kazan's perceived act of betrayal. The deep shadow that hangs over his legacy is related to just one's day testimony before the communist-hunting House Un-American Activities Committee in 1952. At the US Senate hearing, Kazan identified 16 names and two others more directly connected to the Communist party. Not only did he disclose their identities, but taking a defensive posture, he also took out an ad in the New York Times defending what he did. From that point forward, Kazan became known infamously as an informer. Moreover, his most enduring classic, "On the Waterfront", specifically Terry's decision to become a government informant, came to be viewed by some critics as a veiled defense of his naming names.

Stepping back though, Schickel recognizes Kazan for the major creative force he was, well worthy of the praise heaped upon him during his lifetime. The journalist delves into how Kazan helped mold promising young actors like Marlon Brando and James Dean into legends and establish the careers of Tennessee Williams and Arthur Miller, all doing their best work under his aegis.
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23 of 27 people found the following review helpful By C. Hutton on November 25, 2005
Format: Hardcover
It can be argued that Elia Kazan is the greatest director of all time for his landmark successes both on Broadway ("Death of a Salesmen" and "A Streetcar Named Desire) and in Hollywood ("East of Eden" and "On the Waterfront"). Over a 17 year span covering 1946-1963, he was nominated for 7 Tony Awards (winning thrice) and 7 Oscar nominations (winning twice). Even more impressive, his actors earned 21 Oscar nominations and nine wins under his direction. Only William Wyler directed more Oscar-winning performances (admittedly, directing Charleston Heston to an Oscar for "Ben-Hur" is pretty impressive).

Richard Schickel, film critic for Time magazine, had the difficult task of picking and choosing which ascepts of Mr. Kazan's life to focus, which stories to tell and which stories to omit. This biography easily could have been double its 500+ pages. Mr. Schickel covers his immigrant childhood and college days rather quickly (a pity when one realizes that the overriding theme of many of his plays and movies was being an outsider, like his immigrant family). His interest is in Mr. Kazan's craft and he does credit to his artistic creations. He covers Mr. Kazan's controversial testimony of naming names during the McCarthy era of the 1950's and the equally controversial Honorary Oscar awarded to him in 1999. For a film buff, "Elia Kazan: A Biography" would make a great gift.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Sylviastel VINE VOICE on December 20, 2008
Format: Paperback
Elia Kazan is a director's director and an actor's director. He was partly responsible for actors like Marlon Brando, Karl Malden, Eva Marie Saint, Kim Hunter, and Vivien Leigh earning Oscars for their roles. He was partly responsible for introducing the world to Marlon Brando. Of course, this book is interesting and well-researched by the author about the director's controversial honorary academy award despite his past behavior during the McCarthy hearings and the Communist witch-hunt. Whatever happened in the past happened and some were not willing to applaud or thank the man who directed blue collar classics like "A Streetcar Named Desire" and "On the Waterfront," to be in the league of Shakespeare tragedies. The book is more about his professional and personal approach to directing whether stage or film. I don't recall him directing television. When Elia directed Streetcar, he directed the most perfect film adaptation of a stage play. He helped maintain most of the cast and brought in Oscar winner Vivien Leigh to play unstable Blanche Dubois who was unstable herself unfortunately off-screen. Most of us will never see the actual stage production and I think he would encourage stage productions to be recorded for legacy of the involved cast and crew members. Elia was a team player and he worked very hard with various types of characters onscreen and offscreen with partners like Harold Clurman and Cheryl Crawford. We can still use Elia Kazan today. There is nobody close to him today.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By R. Spell VINE VOICE on November 10, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I've been fascinated by Kazan since the Ed Harris/Nick Nolte boycott of his 1999 Oscar. Why, 50 years later, would people still hold a grudge for naming names? Is it politics, animosity or stupidity?

But first, this book gives a complete chronological analysis of his career. From his low level involvement with "The Group", a self-contained theater group with strong communist influences, to his first movie directorial debut. Kazan started as an undistinguished worker and grew to an "actor's director". This is overlaid with his involvement as a Communist and early disenchantment. Later, he is called before the committee after his great success and names former stage communists with whom he worked. The initial negative input dies down and he goes on to some of his best work including the classic, "On the Waterfront".

This book will have great appeal for movie and stage historians as it really is it is an in-depth analysis. But the main appeal to me was understanding the hysteria of the Red scare and why 50 years later it would elicit such a negative response. This book demonstrates the artists coming out of the depression influence when faith in capitalism weakened. The growth of fascism heightened the "sales pitch" to this new theory of a great life for all, communism. But, as was later proven, communism had weaknesses also causing many Americans to experiment with a form of government that was cruel and a rival of America.

It's impossible to determine how difficult it was for Kazan to name names. While he lost some friends, his career continued very successfully for some time before it faltered as it does for most in show business after a good run.
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