Renowned director Kazan dies at 94

Stage and film director Elia Kazan, who died in New York on Sunday aged 94, made film classics On the Waterfront, East of Eden and A Streetcar Named Desire filled with gritty tales of social realism.

    Elia Kazan shone as a director but named friends during Communist witch hunts

    But Kazan's achievements were later overshadowed by accusations he betrayed the acting community by cooperating with Senator Joseph McCarthy's 1950s anti-communist committee. His action outraged many friends, notably playwright Arthur Miller, and they never forgave him.

    In 1999, Kazan received a special Academy Award for his life's work, but it reopened the controversy. Some in the audience on awards night withheld their applause while others did warmly acknowledge the honour.

    "He died at his home with his wife and all his children around him," said Kazan's lawyer Floria Lasky, who was associated with the director for 58 years.

    She said Kazan apparently died of old age. Kazan married three times and had five children. One son died.

    "He was a genius with his plays and motion pictures ... every one of them was important and every one of them was great," Lasky said.

    Method pioneer

    Kazan was considered a genius in the post-World War Two years when the Hollywood establishment turned to gimmickry and glamour to stem the fall in box-office receipts caused by television. He won audiences by making people think and feel.

    A short, wiry man, Kazan was known for his fiery temper, but it was a trait that actors respected and thrived on.

    He and Lee Strasberg pioneered the "Method" school of acting, which Kazan once defined as "turning psychology into behaviour" to train actors like Marlon Brando and James Dean.

    Brando, Dean, Vivien Leigh and Eva Marie Saint gave what many consider their finest performances in his films.

    Twenty-one of his actors were nominated for Academy Awards, with nine going on to win the Oscar.

    Born Elia Kazanjoglous to a Greek family in Constantinople (now Istanbul) on Sept. 7, 1909, Kazan was 4 when his father decided to move his carpet business to the United States. Kazan grew up in the Harlem neighbourhood of Manhattan.

    Start in theatre

    Shunning his father's profession, he developed an early interest in theatre and in the 1930s was active in various theatre companies dedicated to producing a new socially conscious American drama.

    Kazan had been a member of the Communist Party of America in the 1930s, but became disillusioned at a meeting in 1935 when a union organiser branded him a dangerous liberal.

    He resigned from the party, and 17 years later had few qualms in "naming names" of fellow communists from that period to the UnAmerican Activities Committee led by McCarthy.

    In the 1940s, Kazan shot to fame along with the playwrights whose work he first directed on Broadway such as Miller, Clifford Odets and Tennessee Williams.

    He admitted to countless extramarital affairs including one night with Marilyn Monroe.

    A short, wiry man, Kazan was known for his fiery temper, but it was a trait that actors respected and thrived on.

    One critic said of Death of a Salesman, "Author Arthur Miller and director Elia Kazan have collaborated on as exciting and devastating a theatrical blast as the nerves of modern playgoers can stand."

    Distinctive debut

    His film breakthrough came with "Boomerang" in 1947. Influenced by Italian neo-realism and the need to create something distinctive to compete with America's burgeoning television industry, Kazan shot the murder story entirely on location using previously unknown actors.

    Kazan's film version of Tennessee Williams' "A Streetcar Named Desire" shot Brando to fame. The actor whom Kazan once called "the only genius I've ever met in the field of acting" followed that up with the lead in what is probably Kazan's best-known film, "On The Waterfront."

    It won him an Oscar for best director and a clutch of other awards. Brando won his first Academy Award for Waterfront, as did Eva Marie Saint in her first film.

    In 1976 Kazan abandoned almost all his classic trademarks to make a film adaptation of F Scott Fitzgerald's unfinished novella "The Last Tycoon". Packed with stars and shot on opulent sets, it was a box-office disaster.

    In 1989 he published Kazan, A Life, a lengthy and detailed autobiography in which he took a hard look at himself and others in his life. He admitted to countless extramarital affairs including one night with Marilyn Monroe.

    SOURCE: Reuters


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