Elia Kazan

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Elia Kazan (1967)

Elia Kazan , Greek Ηλίας Καζαντζόγλου Ilias Kazantzoglou , (born September 7, 1909 in Constantinople , Ottoman Empire ; †  September 28, 2003 in New York City , New York ) was a Greek -born American film and theater director and writer . He is considered one of the most respected and successful directors of his generation. Some of Kazan's theatrical productions were considered groundbreaking. His film dramas Endstation Sehnsucht (1951), Die Faust im Nacken (1954) and Jenseits von Eden (1955) also achieved great popularity. He has received three Oscar and three Tony awards.


About the theater to the film

Elia Kazan, born in 1909 under the name Elias Kazancıoğlu as the son of Greek parents from Kayseri in Istanbul, was considered one of the most outstanding directors in Hollywood . Kazan had lived in New York since he was four years old (1913). In 1932 he graduated from Yale College with a desire to become a film director. In the same year he married Molly Day Thatcher († 1963). The couple had four children. In the 1930s there were no training opportunities for film directors, and so he initially joined the Group Theater as an actor . The participants in the politically left-wing independent theater group lived together in the summer months like in a commune and developed their socially critical productions. Between 1934 and 1936, work with the Group Theater resulted in Kazan's membership in the Communist Party . When he broke with the party in 1936 (after only 19 months of membership) because it interfered too much in the theater work of the Group Theater , his hostility to Stalinism and its methods began. Kazan also directed this for the first time in 1936; in the same year he played a supporting role in Kurt Weill's first all-American production Johnny Johnson . In 1937 Kazan went to Hollywood for screen tests with some actors from the Group Theater . He played his first Hollywood role in 1940 in Im Taumel der Weltstadt alongside James Cagney , directed by Anatole Litvak . Kazan then received smaller film roles. The members of the group Franchot Tone and John Garfield developed into movie stars. However, Kazan went back to New York and had his first major successes as a director on Broadway from 1942 . In 1943 his long-cherished dream came true and he made his first film, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn .

Taboo of the righteous

Kazan's film Taboo the Righteous was produced by Darryl F. Zanuck in 1947 . It was the first Hollywood film to deal with the topic of anti-Semitism . Kazan didn't particularly like the film. He is too polite and does not show how bad anti-Semitism is. Zanuck asked to bring the subject closer to the viewer through a love story between Dorothy McGuire and Gregory Peck . Although Kazan felt it harmed the realism of the story, Zanuck found success with this method. The film won an Oscar for Best Picture of the Year and Kazan received its first Oscar for directing.

Back on Broadway and more movies

In 1947 he co-founded the Actors Studio alongside Cheryl Crawford and Robert Lewis , which produced actors such as Marlon Brando , James Dean and Julie Harris , all of whom also appeared in Kazan's later films. Kazan repeatedly cast actors from this school in his films, which had been directed by Lee Strasberg as the main acting teacher since 1951 . Kazan was drawn back to the theater. Between 1947 and 1949 he directed the Arthur Miller successful plays All My Sons and Death of a Salesman . Lee J. Cobb played Willy Loman and the production made Kazan one of the most important theater directors of the time. With the drama students Marlon Brando, he staged on Broadway in 1947 Named Desire by Tennessee Williams . At the center of the play was actually the story of the two sisters Blanche and Stella, but Brando changed the perception of the play with his brilliant portrayal of Stanley Kowalski. Jessica Tandy played the Blanche on Broadway . The producers of Warner Brothers , however, exchanged them in the later film adaptation of 1951 for Vivien Leigh, who was rated higher than the star . Vivien Leigh received her second actor oscar for this work. Kim Hunter and Karl Malden , like Brando, were already part of the ensemble of the successful Broadway production.

In addition to his theater work, he shot the film Endless is the prairie with Spencer Tracy for Hollywood . With the film Boomerang , he pursued his original idea of ​​realistic filmmaking . For this film, he went with the team to the small town of Stamford (Connecticut) and shot in the streets and buildings of the city without big movie stars. At times the production had thousands of viewers because people were not used to film productions in real locations. Boomerang is about a suspected murderer of the priesthood and is based on a true story about the future US Attorney General Homer S. Cummings .

Elia Kazan felt very close to the people of the southern United States. In 1937, he had already collected here first experience with the short documentary The people of Cumberland , the poverty of the people during the Great Depression caught in frightening images. In 1949 he made his first feature film about the south. Pinky with Jeanne Crain , Ethel Barrymore and Ethel Waters is one of Kazan's less well known works.

In 1950 he developed the style of making films he started with boomerang and went to New Orleans to direct the thriller Under Secret Orders, starring Richard Widmark , Barbara Bel Geddes and Jack Palance, on location.

"Witch Hunt" in the United States

After the great success of Endstation Sehnsucht - the film received a total of four Oscar awards, including three actor awards for Vivien Leigh, Kim Hunter and Karl Malden - Kazan went to Mexico to tell the story of the revolutionary Emiliano Zapata in 1952 . John Steinbeck wrote the script about the rise of a peasant who is politically revolting against the conditions in his country into a successful revolutionary. Historically, Zapata was the only revolutionary general who sought far-reaching socializations of the country's agricultural land and natural resources. He was murdered on behalf of President Venustiano Carranza in 1919. In keeping with the anti-communist zeitgeist of the 1950s, Kazan twisted the historical background into an anti-Soviet and anti-revolutionary propaganda parable, according to which Zapata had been murdered by the “totalitarian left” and the social revolution was pointless. It hit American cinemas at the height of Senator Joseph McCarthy'switch hunt ” and played into the hands of Senator Joseph McCarthy's anti-communist hunt.

In contrast to many colleagues who refused to testify in order not to take part in McCarthy's hunt, Kazan testified before the so-called " Committee for Un-American Activities ". He reported to the committee on his disgust for alleged "red methods" and willingly denounced colleagues who had been party members in the 1930s up to the Hitler-Stalin Pact . Kazan's former colleagues from the Group Theater , such as John Garfield or the director Jules Dassin , were blacklisted and banned from working, according to Kazan's statements.

Kazan himself was a member of the Communist Party in the 1930s, when he began working with the Group Theater , but left when the party interfered with the group's theater work. Kazan wanted to determine the artistic direction unaffected by ideological tutelage. In addition, his earlier communist worldview seemed to be a hindrance to his career, which is why he became a staunch anti-communist during this time. This explains Kazan's later support for the reactionary McCarthy policies, which also - but from the right and through state repression - influenced artistic life and "cleaned" Hollywood of critical, left-wing influences. Kazan was publicly criticized by the left in New York and Hollywood.

Kazan rejected the criticism through public statements in newspapers in which he commented on his political motives. He advocated "educating the Americans". They need to know "what communism really is" and "with all the facts". Kazan believed that supposedly “liberal America” was not aware of what it meant to “live in a totalitarian system”. The playwrights Lillian Hellman and Arthur Miller publicly contradicted him.

Kazan's other work was shaped by his experiences during the McCarthy era . A Man on a Wire was created in 1953 and is intended to show the life of people in Czechoslovakia under the pressure of Soviet totalitarianism. Fredric March and Gloria Grahame played the leading roles. Kazan's critics accused him after The Fist in the Neck that he wanted to use this film to justify his betrayal and ask for forgiveness. The film deals with corruption and betrayal among New York trade unionists and ends with the film's hero being forgiven for his betrayal. With this film, Kazan came closest to his ideal of realism. The fist on the neck was shot on the streets of New York City and Hoboken , New Jersey in the harsh winter of 1954 . The cold played an important role and can be felt in every scene. The actors never seem artificial. The focus, however, was the love story between Marlon Brando and Eva Marie Saint and not the social drama. Elia Kazan received his second Oscar for directing for this work.

To the end, Kazan justified his statements in the committee. The left's distrust of Kazan and the partial rejection by fellow actors was to continue until his death.

Discoveries by young actors

Marlon Brando was certainly the first and for Kazan also the most important young actor to become a world star under his leadership. Further actor discoveries were to follow in the years to come. In 1954 he was looking for an actor with author John Steinbeck to play the role of young Cal in Jenseits von Eden , who stood in the generational conflict typical of the 1950s with his father, and found him in James Dean . Kazan established the world fame of the teenage idol par excellence. Dean lived the conflict with his father, played by Raymond Massey , while filming. Their scenes together are shaped by the hostility of the two actors on the set. Dean never learned his lines and improvised the arguments with the father, which drove the perfectly prepared actor Massey almost insane. Kazan took advantage of this and never interrupted when Dean spoke a completely different text than was in the script. As a result, these scenes achieved enormous authenticity . Beyond Eden was the only James Dean film that premiered during the young actor's lifetime. In addition to Dean, Julie Harris also played her first major role in a film.

With Baby Doll - Desire not the other woman In 1956 Kazan went back to the southern states of the United States and ensured the breakthrough for the leading actress Carroll Baker . The curious comedy Baby Doll turned into one of the biggest scandals of the prudish 1950s. Karl Malden, one of Kazan's most important and loyal actors since Kazan's theatrical successes in the 1940s, can be seen here in a leading role after numerous supporting roles. He plays the inexperienced Archie Lee, who marries the minor Baby Doll and promises not to have sexual intercourse with her until she is 19 years old. The provocative film was vehemently attacked, especially from church circles. In an interview, Kazan described Karl Malden and Eli Wallach , both of whom play in Baby Doll , as his most important discoveries: "They are rather inconspicuous types, but they have almost perfected method acting."

In 1957, Kazan stayed in the southern states and criticized with his film A Face in the Crowd the influence of the still young medium of television on the political formation of American citizens. Andy Griffith played Lonesome Rhodes, who rose from provincial local hero to national star through television. The film already shows what has become everyday life: television as a manipulator of the masses. A man of limited intellect gains political power through his charm and popularity. Griffith herself later became a popular TV star. For this film, Kazan discovered the young actress Lee Remick , who, like Griffith, made her cinema debut.

Lee Remick then also got a lead role in Kazan's next film, Wild Stream . She plays the wife of Montgomery Clift , who in Alabama is supposed to buy up the necessary land from the Depression-stricken people in Alabama so that a river can be diverted. An old woman protests most violently against it. This woman is played by Jo Van Fleet , who was half her role when the film was made in 1960.

In 1961, Kazan filmed a short story by William Inge , who himself wrote the screenplay for Fever in the Blood . In this film, Natalie Wood falls in love with the son of the greatest family in a small town in Kansas , but they will never have the opportunity to get together. The boy is played by another discovery of Kazan, who then began a world career: Warren Beatty .

In 1963 Kazan made a film that he had been working on for over 30 years. The invincible is the story of his uncle and his family. After great difficulties with the financing he was able to realize the film with Warner Brothers about his Greek ancestors and their way to America. The main role played the amateur actor Stathis Giallelis , who had to come to the United States for months to learn English. Kazan's first wife died while working on this film. In 1967 he married the actress Barbara Loden , who played Wilder Strom und Fever im Blut in his films . They had a child together.

From director to writer

The Indomitable was already based on his own novel America, America , and Kazan had also written the script himself. As a director, it became more and more difficult for him to finance his film projects. With The Arrangement (1969 based on the novel of the same name by Kazan) with Kirk Douglas and Faye Dunaway , The Visitors 1972 and The Last Tycoon 1976, he made only three films and preferred to express himself artistically through writing. In total, Kazan wrote seven novels and his autobiography. His last film The Last Tycoon was a large-scale production with a star cast and is a rather atypical Kazan film. The film is based on the novel of the same name by F. Scott Fitzgerald ; the ensemble was composed of stars such as Robert De Niro , Tony Curtis , Robert Mitchum , Jeanne Moreau , Jack Nicholson , Donald Pleasence , Ray Milland , Dana Andrews , Peter Strauss and John Carradine . Despite the huge effort, this film was no longer successful, and Elia Kazan said goodbye to the director's chair.

Late years

In 1980, Elia Kazan's second wife, Barbara Loden, died of cancer . The widower of two Kazan married a third time in 1982. He lived with his third wife, Frances Rudge, until his death. One of his children from his first marriage is screenwriter Nicholas Kazan , born in 1950 , who is married to director and screenwriter Robin Swicord . Their daughter Zoe Kazan , Elia Kazan's granddaughter, is an actress.

In 1988 Kazan was the director of the 7th Istanbul Film Festival . Since the 1970s he spent a lot of time in his old home; A great friendship connected him with the Turkish musician, author and filmmaker Zülfü Livaneli , in whose film Sis he also had a small guest role. He also had a close friendship with the Turkish actor and director Yılmaz Güney . For example, he visited Güney in 1978 in Toptaşı Prison in Istanbul . Thereupon Kazan published an article "The View from a Turkish Prison" for the New York Times on February 4, 1979 , in which he reported on the meeting with Yılmaz Güney and the conditions in the prison. Kazan spoke English, Greek and Turkish.

In 1999 Elia Kazan was awarded an honorary Oscar for his life's work. Because of his behavior during the McCarthy era, this decision was not all positively received; many spectators demonstratively remained seated at the ceremony, and some actors present did not applaud, including Ed Harris and Nick Nolte . Others applauded to express their admiration for his achievements as a filmmaker.

Kazan died in New York in 2003 at the age of 94.


Important theater work



  • Helga Belach, Wolfgang Jacobson (Red.): Elia Kazan. Jovis, Berlin 1996, ISBN 3-931321-50-9 .
  • Elia Kazan: film work. America America (a film narrative) and two conversations between Elia Kazan and Jeff Young about America America and On the waterfront. Alexander, Berlin 2007, ISBN 978-3-89581-159-3 .
  • Elia Kazan: A Life. Unabridged republication. Da Capo Press, New York NY 1997, ISBN 0-306-80804-8 (English).
  • Brenda Murphy: Tennessee Williams and Elia Kazan: A Collaboration in the Theater. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 2006, ISBN 978-0-521-03524-8 .
  • Richard Schickel , Elia Kazan , New York 2005

Web links

Commons : Elia Kazan  - Collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Elia Kazan, Kayseri'deki köyünü ziyaret etti ( Memento from July 10, 2014 in the Internet Archive ), Türk Nostalji, September 4, 2012.
  2. Miller published in his memoirs Zeitkurven (German edition Frankfurt / Main 1989) his high esteem for Kazan, whom he felt as a brother in spirit. On the other hand, he made it clear how badly his kneeling hit him in front of the "witch hunters" - see especially pages 439–443 and 447.
  3. Hans Schmid: Snoopers, informers and a senator from Wisconsin. In: Telepolis , December 21, 2008.
  4. Spiegel interview with Elia Kazan from 2003
  5. Orhan Koloğlu: Elia Kazan ile Yılmaz Güney'in Toptaşı Cezaevi'nde buluşması. In: Milliyet , February 13, 2000.
  6. ^ Brian Neve: Elia Kazan. The Cinema of an American Outsider. IB Tauris, London et al. 2009, ISBN 978-1-8451-1560-9 , p. 220.
  7. ^ Brian Neve: Elia Kazan. The Cinema of an American Outsider. IB Tauris, London et al. 2009, ISBN 978-1-8451-1560-9 , p. 2.
  8. Bernard Weinraub: Amid protests, Elia Kazan Receives His Oscar. In: The New York Times , March 22, 1999.