September 3rd, 2003
Elia Kazan
About Elia Kazan

In the early morning hours of March 21, 1999, Hollywood was completing the final preparations for its annual celebration of itself. Workers were laying red carpet and polishing huge statues. Cameramen and reporters jockeyed for position to catch glimpses of Hollywood’s royalty as they arrived at the Academy Awards. Over these images we hear news reports that set the stage for what promised to be a uniquely controversial evening.

There was the normal buzz about Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Outfit. But this year, along with the manufactured glitz and glamour, there was an anger and vitriol nearly fifty years old. Elia Kazan, one of America’s great directors, was to receive a Lifetime Achievement Award, and this honor had divided Hollywood.

Now eighty-nine years old, Kazan’s impressive body of work includes such late 1940s and early 50s films as ON THE WATERFRONT, EAST OF EDEN, A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE, GENTLEMAN’S AGREEMENT, and A FACE IN THE CROWD. On the surface, the controversy is straightforward. In 1952, Kazan appeared before the House Committee on Un-American Activities and named eight of his old friends from the Group Theater who in the 1930s, along with him, had been members of the American Communist Party.

Many in Hollywood are still outraged about that time in U.S. history when people who were blacklisted by the studios-writers, directors, and actors-never worked again, fled the country, worked under aliases, or even, in one extreme case, committed suicide.

Five hundred protesters gather outside the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, with placards that read “Elia Kazan: Nominated for Benedict Arnold Award,” “Don’t Whitewash the Blacklist,” and “Kazan-the Linda Tripp of the 50s.”

Kazan’s testimony was a bitter pill for many on the left. It was widely perceived that, unlike so many others, Kazan had an alternative to naming names: the Broadway theater. Broadway did not have a blacklist. Its financing was too diffuse, which made it impossible for a few men to institute a blacklist as had been done in movies, radio, and television. Besides, there was no director more in demand in the theater than Elia Kazan. For those looking at Kazan’s actions from the other side of the blacklist, Kazan’s decision to name names was not about principle, it was about money.

Norma Barzman, Lee Grant, Jules Dassin, Walter Bernstein, all victims of the blacklist, among others, cannot forgive Kazan for what he did. As Barzman explains, “His lifetime achievement was the destruction of lives.” Abraham Polonsky, himself blacklisted in the 50s, has this to say: “I hope somebody shoots him. It will be an interesting moment in what otherwise promises to be a dull evening.”

But Kazan has his champions-some who think he was right to do what he did, others who think his body of work important enough to justify the recognition. “I think it’s very brave of the Academy to honor him,” said actor James Coburn, himself nominated for Best Supporting Actor. In fact, there are many in Hollywood who support the Academy’s decision to honor Kazan, among them Karl Malden, Warren Beatty, Robert De Niro, and Martin Scorcese.

One of Kazan’s defenders is Arthur Miller, much to the disappointment of many on the left. Miller is one of the heroes of the McCarthy Era. He defied the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC) in 1956, and refused, unlike Kazan, to name those whom he knew to be “fellow travelers.” For this he was held in contempt of Congress, fined, and sentenced to jail time.

And yet, Miller sided with those who believed Kazan should be honored. “My feelings toward that terrible era are unchanged,” he wrote in The Guardian, “but at the same time history ought not to be rewritten. Elia Kazan did sufficient extraordinary work in theater and film to merit acknowledgement.”

At the time of Kazan’s testimony in 1952, no one was closer to the Director. Kazan had directed two of Miller’s plays: All My Sons, and Death of a Salesman. Miller had written a screenplay about the Brooklyn waterfront, “The Hook,” for Kazan to direct. They even had an affair with the same woman: Marilyn Monroe. According to both men they were “like brothers,” “the same fellow.” And yet, when Kazan named names, their friendship was irrevocably torn. For ten years the two men did not speak to each other, would not acknowledge each other’s existence.

Yet during that period of estrangement, Miller and Kazan did speak to each other through their work: Miller condemned the hysteria of the McCarthy era in his play
“The Crucible,” Kazan justified the role of the informer in his Academy-Award winning film On the Waterfront, Miller disparaged the informer in “A View from the Bridge.” Shortly after the Broadway premier of “Bridge” Miller was called before HUAC where he, unlike Kazan, refused to name names. A whole era can be seen through the lives and works of these two men.

Arthur Miller and Elia Kazan never regained the close friendship they shared in the late 40’s and early 50’s. Too much had intervened. In fact, the two men had come to embody the deep divisions that tore this country apart during the McCarthy era. Miller, who struggled at the time so mightily with his personal moral failing, emerged as the exemplar of courage in face of the Red scare. He has even taken on an aura of saintliness over the years. Kazan occupies the other end of the spectrum: a man defined almost entirely by his decision to name names. For many, Kazan’s brilliant career-all that he contributed to the theater, to film, to letters-will be tainted by a single decision he was forced to make some fifty years ago.

That friendship, and its sundering, is the primary focus of None Without Sin. Through Miller and Kazan, the film explores the blacklist: its origins, the key agents of the Red Scare, and the damage done not only to those subpoenaed, but to America’s political system as well. But unlike the debate that swirled around the Kazan Oscar, None Without Sin paints a portrait of this time in appropriate shades of gray, finding-in the words of the blacklisted writer Dalton Trumbo-”neither villains or heroes.” The film not only considers the motivations of those who defied or capitulated to HUAC, but also examines those who were truly responsible for the suppression of legitimate dissent in this era: men like Parnell Thomas, Joseph McCarthy, Francis Walter, and the Hollywood moguls who instituted the blacklist.

  • Mike O’Brien

    It’s sometimes painful to separate the personal lives and failings of great artists from their works. I think Picasso was a real SOB but I love his art. To me it makes sense to honor the work, as distinct from the person.

  • M. Anthony Hauck

    Kazan did the right thing, exposing those who had supported the murdering Stalinist regime that had butchered millions of its own citizens, including Jews. May of those brought before HUAC were Jews, including Kazan, so why they didn’t cooperate just boggles the mind.

  • jake

    Hi Anthony. Kazan was not Jewish. His parents were both Greek Orthodox. I think it is a bit more complicated than what you are saying. Not all of those who were believers in socialism and communism were supporters of Stalin. What is important to know is that the millions upon millions that Stalin murdered in his insane purges were not known about until years later. Russia was considered an ally until after the war, and many who were persecuted by our government were involved in promoting propoganda films that our government wanted done during the war. Alot of very talented people were also wrongly accused and their lives and their family’s lives destroyed by HUAC. Great talents like John Garfield and J. Edward Bromberg who were about as dangerous to our country as Mickey Mouse were driven until they each died of heart attacks at young ages. The great actress/director Lee Grant on the heels of her early success in the play and film “Detective Story” was blacklisted just for giving a eulogy for Mr. Bromberg at his funeral. There is far more to all of this than they way you simply state it and that is why to this day there are people on both sides of this issue who are right to feel the way they do. It is sad beyond belief that so many people were destroyed by such fearful persecution, as Arthur Miller so aptly portrayed in “The Crucible”. I am BTW, a great admirer of Elia Kazan and had the immense honer of watching him teach a class many years ago at the Actors Studio. He was a true genius.

  • Jill

    Dear Jake,
    I totally agree with you. The issue was not simple. Is not simple. Yes, Kazan was a True Genius. If any one is interested, his autobiography is EXCELLENT! It is called “A Life”, and really goes into depth about what some people, including his friends, were doing/thinking in the thirties, when they supported socialism. Also, Kazan is very honest and self-searching about his own testimony before the HUAC. One of the most honest pieces of writing (if it can be called that at over 800 pages) I have ever read.

  • Chuckie

    M. Anthony Hauck says: “Kazan did the right thing, exposing those who had supported the murdering Stalinist regime that had butchered millions of its own citizens, including Jews. May of those brought before HUAC were Jews, including Kazan, so why they didn’t cooperate just boggles the mind.”

    ————————-

    The aptly-named Mr Hauck seems to have little understanding of what MCarthyism was really about…

    . Pretenses and “McCarthy was right” revisionism notwithstanding, HUAC was designed not to save the world from either Communism or Stalin, but so that American rightwingers could bully American leftwingers into silence and to stifle their leftist sociopolitical sentiments by pretending those leftisits were “spies”…

    .HUAC and McCarthy posed a threat to America that Stalin never even approached…

    .And it doesn’t matter how much and how long you lie about it.

  • Penny Lee

    A wonderful movie; a real tribute from one great film maker to another!

  • marie johnson

    Why are only some of the titles available for sale? The PBS shop offers just a few.

  • Sydney Lawrence

    The more I read about Marilyn Monroe and Hollywood the more I pray that those who so mistreated her rot in hell. Marilyn had the misfortune to be mixed-up with the scum of the earth who treated her so badly but Marilyn will be remembered when others are long forgotten.

  • Howard Fitzpatrick

    Kazan lived his personal principles and none of them had any connection with the film community’s romance with communism. He was a good man who did the right thing.

  • M. Anthony Hauck

    “but so that American rightwingers could bully American leftwingers into silence and to stifle their leftist sociopolitical sentiments”

    Chuckie, if you are an American, I cannot understand how you could defend sympathy for a murderous totalitarian regime that slaughtered millions of its own citizens. It’s not a matter of right vs. left , but good vs. evil, right vs. wrong. Kazan understood that America defends freedom and liberty, something that was entirely absent from the Soviet Union under Stalin.

  • Tom S.

    HUAC was run by Democrats when Kazan testified so don’t blame it on Rightwing bullying. These were the same Democrats that more so less brought about the expansion of government through the New Deal. HUAC’s dog and pony show could have been thwarted if those called had simply named the names already known. Those that did continued their careers. If others decided not to out of principle then they knew the penalties. Arthur Miller was a stage guy that risked nothing keeping silent. Why should Elia Kazan give up his promising film career for a symbolic principle that he didn’t believe in?

    As for Sen. McCarthy. He never held a single hearing regarding Hollywood. He couldn’t have cared less who some screenwriter was romancing.

  • Sam

    On Kazan, he was one of the greatest directors of all time and greatly influenced the art of acting. Hell, he basically invented acting. Before his Brando films, there was just speaking lines.

    The fact that he testified for HUAC shouldn’t make people hate him. Many testified; he simply had the balls to never formally apologize. Do you think the others actually meant it when they apologized? Also, blame McCarthy. It’s not Kazan’s fault that he was placed in a position where he had to choose his career or his reputation.

    To make this clear, communism is NOT about murder as it was in Stalin’s regime. Communism is about EQUALITY OF ALL PEOPLE. Now, in practice, one could argue that democracy works better, which is probably true. But in theory, communism has the best set of principles, namely that everybody should be treated equally.

    People who believe in communism for this reason are great people, but killing people or trying to overthrow an effective government are not the proper means of achieving this. Democracy seems to be the closest we can come to communism with still complete freedom to pursue what we’d like as individuals.

    Republicans, on the other hand, evolve from the dictator principles, namely that the rich should stay rich and the poor should take all the hardships of the nation. To be a republican, you’d have to either be so because you don’t understand what it is, you’re doing it for personal gain, or you’re just an asshole to your fellow citizens.

  • Deiter

    If they were Communists they must have wanted to be and were proud to be. Yet, when asked if they are or ever had been a member of the communist party they refused to answer like common criminals who refuse to confess to their crimes. It’s not like they were being asked to identify what movies they liked or their address or their education. It’s not like they didn’t know the mass murders — millions and millions dead — committed by communists. It’s not like they didn’t know communism was the very antithesis of America. When they were identified as known communists they resented the informer as if they had been identified as criminals and enemies of the US were worthy of condemnation, at least. Compare their responses to their reaction upon being nominated for an academy award. They are ecstatic. They are forever after identified as an academy award nominee. But they were outraged and vindictive when identified as communists. They were NOT falsely accused of being communists. But what do you expect from Hollywood? They rallied around, and still do, Roman Polanski. They swoon in the presence of any foreign dictator. Yeah, something was rotten in Tinseltown. It’s still there, and always will be.

  • B

    Many people who still believed in communist principles nonetheless withdrew their support for the Soviet Union in the 1950’s, correctly arguing that what was going on was not communism, but soviet imperialism. Let us nor forget as well that it was extreme right-wing regimes who were also responsible for murdering millions of people, yet there was no “fascism” or “nazi” crackdown to the same extent as communism.

  • Gary

    B, comment at 17 January 2012: ? “yet there was no “fascism” or “nazi” crackdown to the same extent as communism”

    ???

    I would consider our entrering and winning WWII to be a significant crackdown. In the 1950’s, we already knew that a megalomaniac was supreme dicatator over the largest political entitiy on Earth, that he had, and was frantically building more, massive nuclear weapons and the ability to deliver them . . . we had every reason to fear imminent Armageddon and root out those that supported this ultimate enemy.

    In case you might read this as a rant from the right: I emigrated to the USA from Canada in 1961. My grandparents were unable to visit me since, as members of the LPP — the party formed after the CCP, Canadian Comunist Party, had been outlawed — they were on the INS blacklist, could not cross the border. Whole extended family was so far left they would not fly on a plane with a right wing. Check out Norman Penner on Wikipedia.

    Left? Been there, done that.

  • Christina

    to read Elia Kazan’s statements of his reasons and how right he says he was is BS. He was only thinking of preservation. Why couldn’t he just tell the committee what HE did. Oh that’s right not what the committee wanted. His validation just make me sick. I think his long life, internally, emotionally was miserable. I hope!!!! Yeah he’s dead,but what about the lives he KILLED.

  • Col. Bojangles

    Mr. Kazan was a great artist. That he testified was far less an injustice (if it was one at all) than the fact that spite delayed his just recognition so long. Art and recognition should live free of all blacklists.

    @Sam: You said that “in theory, communism has the best set of principles, namely that everybody should be treated equally.”

    Really? Let’s examine that. Reasoning people generally evaluate principles on the truth of their assumptions and the practical results of their implementation. Does a sterile egalitarianism really reflect the rich diversity of life? Do we respect the sublime, heroic good of individual achievement in declaring it a mere mechanistic social construction, to which one can no more lay claim than to nature? Such a pernicious ideology denies the very possibility of a free human spirit as more than a genuflecting slave of a messianic, literally “totalitarian” (all-encompassing) Society. It reduces all Man’s hopes, dreams, fears, and aspirations, his very being, to a shimmering drop of crimson, soon to disappear into History’s bloody torrent. Is that something we could properly call “beautiful” or “right” or “good”? No. To pigeonhole Man into absolute equality is to deny the intrinsic value of Man-in-himself, in all his diversity and individual beauty. And to deny the intrinsic value of Man is the root and essence of all evil.

    You’ve already conceded that Marxist communism doesn’t work, so I don’t need to get into the second part.

    So it seems to me that they are, far from great people, perhaps the most deluded among us. But, of course, it takes an unswerving will and a devoted courage to so stridently and so eloquently proclaim such a grand delusion. For that, I can respect them, on the same level that I respect honest fascism or theocratism – ugly principles with ugly results, pursued with all the heroic beauty only seen in the idealistic revolutionary.

    As for Republicans, your little smear about the “dictator principle” is only true if you assume that class is the only fundamental issue of politics, and that there are no grounds for supporting capitalism if one wishes to improve the welfare of the poor for the long term. Both are, of course, grossly inaccurate. The free economy isn’t some zero-sum pie to be carved up at the sufferance of society, us free to choose only whether it is to be hierarchical or equal. It’s an organic, teeming thing, of incomprehensible complexity and striking simplicity. And the whole interplay of incentive and desire that ties it all together relies implicitly on a very specific decentralized hierarchy of merit, opportunity and, yes, a bit of luck. There are only a select few areas where we as a society, fallible and corrupt as we are, can improve on the spontaneous order of the system itself, for the poor or for the society as a whole (and in the long term, minor deviations in class structure yield to far vaster differentials in societal wealth). A select few, mind you, and very often, much fewer than the naive observer would think. On the whole, the Republican Party’s professed economic policy better approaches that ideal.

    As to your final point, true, there are bad apples in the Republican Party, motivated by ignorance and elitism. But there are just as many bad apples in the Democratic Party, equally motivated by ignorance and envy. Judge the philosophy on its own merits, not the foibles of its believers. Reality is far richer than either party’s simplistic mythology.

  • jumponit

    haha lol i have no idea what the heck is going on!!! ;)

  • David Buffington

    Kazan named names to the HUAC not for principle but for principal, that is, money – he “saved” his career by ruining the careers (and lives) of people who were his friends. There was never any question that those friends, as did Kazan, naively joined the Communist Party in the 1930s and were not spies in any sense of the word. Kazan knew how harmless those friends were but took the opportunity to turn on them to preserve his career. Dante put it best 700 years ago – those who betrayed friends went to the Ninth Circle of Hell, you know, right down there with Satan.

  • Forshorn

    I don’t know whether or not Kazan did the right thing, but he took a stand against Stalin at a time when the American intellectual establishment supported the Soviet regime. Stalin was the beginning of a long line of murderous dictators whose acts followed the same pattern: nationalize agriculture (which leads to famines); and persecute political enemies. I think it’s comical that many write that Marxist-Leninism was not “real communism.” What exactly is real communism? It’s a highly speculative idea that one social system (capitalism) would organically give way to another (socialism), which in turn would morph into the rule of the proletariat and withering away of the state (communism). Who could take such hogwash seriously – particularly the claim that all of this was proven by “science.”

    The Venona manuscripts, declassified in the 40s, confirmed that Julius Rosenberg and Alger Hiss were in fact working for Stalin. Rosenberg probably revealed military technology to them, no small thing when you consider the Soviet’s bloody history. The New York Times’ columnist Walter Duranty was aware of Stalin’s purges, but wrote glowingly of the dictator anyway.

    People should not be persecuted for their views. But I do admire Kazan’s willingness to take a stand against Stalin at a time when most western intellectuals clung to their support of him, much like dim-witted pundits today support Castro and Hugo Chavez. Stalin, let’s remember, not only killed exponentially more people than the cartoon villain of our culture, Hitler, but gave birth to a series of even bloodier dictators, the worst of whom was Mao. Mao’s death toll defies calculation.

    I would say Kazan did the wrong thing in sum. But I can understand his reasons.

Salinger

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