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The Selected Letters of Elia Kazan [Kindle Edition]

Elia Kazan , Albert J. Devlin
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)

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Book Description

This collection of nearly three hundred letters gives us the life of Elia Kazan unfiltered, with all the passion, vitality, and raw honesty that made him such an important and formidable stage director (A Streetcar Named Desire, Death of a Salesman), film director (On the Waterfront, East of Eden), novelist, and memoirist.

Elia Kazan’s lifelong determination to be a “sincere, conscious, practicing artist” resounds in these letters—fully annotated throughout—in every phase of his career: his exciting apprenticeship with the new and astonishing Group Theatre, as stagehand, stage manager, and actor (Waiting for Lefty, Golden Boy) . . . his first tentative and then successful attempts at directing for the theater and movies (The Skin of Our Teeth, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn) . . . his cofounding in 1947 of the Actors Studio and his codirection of the nascent Repertory Theater of Lincoln Center . . . his innovative and celebrated work on Broadway (All My Sons, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, J.B.) and in Hollywood (Gentleman’s Agreement, Splendor in the Grass, A Face in the Crowd, Baby Doll) . . . his birth as a writer.

Kazan directed virtually back-to-back the greatest American dramas of the era—by Arthur Miller and Tennessee Williams—and helped shape their future productions. Here we see how he collaborated with these and other writers: Clifford Odets, Thornton Wilder, John Steinbeck, and Budd Schulberg among them. The letters give us a unique grasp of his luminous insights on acting, directing, producing, as he writes to and about Marlon Brando, James Dean, Warren Beatty, Robert De Niro, Boris Aronson, and Sam Spiegel, among others. We see Kazan’s heated dealings with studio moguls Darryl Zanuck and Jack Warner, his principled resistance to film censorship, and the upheavals of his testimony before the House Committee on Un-American Activities.

These letters record as well the inner life of the artist and the man. We see his startling candor in writing to his first wife, his confidante and adviser, Molly Day Thacher—they did not mince words with each other. And we see a father’s letters to and about his children.

An extraordinary portrait of a complex, intense, monumentally talented man who engaged the political, moral, and artistic currents of the twentieth century.  

Editorial Reviews


“This book testifies to Kazan’s central importance in the maturing of American film and theater in their defining century. His impassioned stewardship of the work of Miller and Williams was crucial to its success; the Actors Studio was the font of the most important developments in the art of performance that America produced; he was a pioneer in asserting the rights of film directors to wrest control of their movies from producers. He was often fighting for himself, but he was also fighting a larger battle on behalf of the art forms he cared so passionately about . . . His complicated personality bristles forth, like a constant chorus of firecrackers . . . Kazan’s unstoppable drive and restless energy . . . spring from almost every page of this meaty volume . . . The breath of Kazan’s achievement during his prime is unmatched by any other American director.”  Charles Isherwood, The New York Times Book Review

“Vivid, pungent and forceful, Elia Kazan’s letters immerse us in the life of a working director—and not just any director. Kazan was an important, influential figure in 20th-century American culture . . . Kazan comes across as a strong, self-confident artist, unafraid to voice opinions he knows may upset . . . as a shrewd observer of other people and a self-aware analyst of his own character . . . His commitment and integrity are even more evident in correspondence with studio executives over censorship troubles . . . An honest look at a complicated artist.”  Wendy Smith, The Washington Post

“Fascinating . . . These letters show Kazan creating a blueprint for the kind of work he believed was important and going on to succeed beyond his wildest expectations . . . They show his many strategies for getting exactly what he wanted; for someone who turned his scorn for Hollywood into a running refrain, he was a sharp businessman who knew how to negotiate canny business deals. They illustrate his analyses of a play or a screenplay’s flaws in ways meant to improve it, especially when trying to translate his thoughts into language any actor could follow . . . Vibrant . . . Essential . . . A valuable contribution to theater history.”  —Janet Maslin, The New York Times

“These vibrant, muscular, outspoken, take-no-prisoners letters tell you everything you will ever need to know about the theater, relationships between artists, Hollywood illusions, affairs of the heart, family. Kazan had an amazing life and a brilliant career, and he wrote with eloquence, passion, and truth. These letters are to be treasured.”
André Bishop, Producing Artistic Director, Lincoln Center Theater

“Elia Kazan lived, directed, and wrote from his gut. He was a powerhouse. His scrupulously edited Selected Letters carries the same unflinching, instinctive, brilliant wallop: vividly alive, self-aware, fervent, resourceful—they exude the pulse of a man fighting for his identity and for his place in American theater. The letters cover his struggles with the Group Theatre and Actors Studio, with his collaborators (Tennessee Williams, Arthur Miller, William Inge, Marlon Brando, Thornton Wilder, Clifford Odets, among many), and with himself and his family. They are incandescent witness to the century he so fiercely bustled in. Taken together with Kazan's memoir, A Life, the volumes are among the essential documents of twentieth-century American theater.”
—John Lahr

“Elia Kazan’s letters crackle with the impulsive exuberance of a vital, brilliant, ambitious  man wholly devoted to craft. And they tell the not-to-be-missed story of American politics and American art, deeply entwined, during the fatally conflicted era that is our inheritance.”
Brenda Wineapple
“Engrossing . . . An impressive work of scholarship, this collection offers a sweeping look at sixty years of American popular culture and an intimate portrait of one complex man whirling at its center.”
—Kirkus Reviews
“Compulsively readable . . . Few entertainment figures had the particular combination of passion, feistiness, diligence, and longevity that made Kazan such a prodigious letter writer. The Selected Letters is a history of the golden age of Broadway and Hollywood as seen through the eyes of a man who irrevocably transformed both industries, even as he ran afoul of them by naming names in the McCarthy hearings of 1952. It charts Kazan’s long, rocky friendship with Tennessee Williams, his beefs with Clifford Odets and John Steinbeck, his battles with the censors over A Streetcar Named Desire and with Marlon Brando over On the Waterfront, all the while displaying an artistic integrity and social consciousness so rare in film today.”
Julian Sancton, Departures

About the Author

Elia Kazan was born in 1909 in Istanbul, graduated from Williams College, and attended the Yale School of Drama before joining the Group Theatre. He was the founder of the Actors Studio, and won three Tony Awards (All My Sons, Death of a Salesman, J.B.) and two Academy Awards (Gentleman’s Agreement, On the Waterfront) for direction, as well as an honorary Oscar in 1999 for lifetime achievement. He wrote seven novels and an autobiography. He died in 2003.
Albert J. Devlin, professor emeritus of English at the University of Missouri, has written and edited books on Eudora Welty and Tennessee Williams. He received a senior fellowship from the National Endowment for the Humanities for work on The Selected Letters of Tennessee Williams, which the Modern Language Association recognized as a "model edition" of letters and on which it bestowed the Morton N. Cohen Award in 2001. Marlene J. Devlin graduated from the University of Kansas. She taught at the University of Missouri and Columbia Public Schools.

Product Details

  • File Size: 6526 KB
  • Print Length: 673 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0307267164
  • Publisher: Knopf (April 22, 2014)
  • Sold by: Random House LLC
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00F1W0EIA
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #158,836 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars contradictions on parade July 4, 2014
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
What this book has, which no other book devoted to Kazan does, is a collection of his very different voices. In his autobiography, he was talking to an imagined general public. In this collection, he is addressing single people and summons up a different voice for each relationship. In one letter he will be flattering Jack Warner. In the next letter, he will be telling someone what a jerk Jack Warner is. There have been a lot of comments about what the letters reveal of his sex life. What was most particularly interesting to me, however, were the letters to the various writers with whom he worked. There is a particularly startling letter chewing William Inge out for complaining about a film deal. In some letters, he makes slighting comments about gays. In the letters to Tennessee Williams, however, he writes with great and seemingly sincere empathy. And always, he writes as if to justify himself. He spends so much of these letters either indicting or proving a case to establish why he is right about one thing or another. He alternates between pure idealism and cynical manipulation without recognizing these extremes within himself. For all of his extraordinary understanding of human nature, which made him a great director, he seemed to have little objective understanding of himself and his own contradictions. A riveting read.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Get inside Elia Kazan May 8, 2014
Wonderful read! The scholarly research done for this book is evident but made appealing for any reader interested in the world of movie making and the genius of Kazan.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Magical! A MUST READ! June 26, 2014
One of the best reads for anyone in the arts or associated with the arts, or any lover of the movies or theater. A MUST READ! Kazan spells out all the ingredients of a true artist within the personal correspondence with other great artists, and delineates the difference between the artist and the business folks who often attempt to the cripple artistic expression. Could not recommend a book more than this one.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars He wrote A LOT of letters... July 15, 2014
A great collection of letters written by one of the very best American filmmakers of the 20th century. Kazan's correspondences with many of his most important collaborators (T Williams; W Inge; B Schulberg; A Miller) really serve to comment on and add insight to his remarkable creative process. While it would have been great to see the letters/responses written TO Kazan, this collection is nevertheless invaluable.
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By Tom
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
For a period of around fifteen years, from the late 1940s to the early 1960s, Elia Kazan was one of America's preeminent film and stage directors. In contrast to the standard, shallow entertainment fare of the time Kazan challenged audiences with productions that questioned societal norms, incorporating heightened levels of psychological realism. As a patron of the Stanislavski "Method," Kazan had a dramatic influence on the craft of acting. However, his friendly testimony before the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1952 forever made him the bane of liberals and reaffirmed in Kazan's mind his role as the "outsider." Toward the end of his career Kazan largely focused on projects, films and novels, that held a deeply personal meaning.

The Selected Letters of Elia Kazan offers the reader great insight into the mind of the director as he rose from his humble beginnings in the Group Theater to national prominence. Included are close to three hundred letters, ranging from extremely personal notes to his wife to mundane communications with stage designers. In his correspondence with collaborators and associates (Arthur Miller, Tennessee Williams, Budd Schulberg, John Steinbeck, William Inge, Lee Strasberg, Clifford Odets, Marlon Brando, studio heads, film censors, agents, producers, writers, etc.) Kazan can be the sweetest friend or a fierce defender of his artistic vision. The commentary provided by Albert and Marlene Devlin is excellent. Kazan's 1988 autobiography was a marvelous testimony and confessional and Letters is a much appreciated, unvarnished supplement. This book is not something you'll read in a couple of days. It's like a fine scotch; to be sipped and relished a bit at a time. Students of Kazan cannot be without.
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