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Elia Kazan

Elia Kazan
Personal information
Birth nameElias Kazanjoglou (Greek: Ἠλίας Καζαντζόγλου)
Birth dateSeptember 07, 1909
Place of birthConstantinople, Ottoman Empire
Date of deathSeptember 28, 2003(age 94)
Death placeNew York City, New York, USA
OccupationDirector, actor, producer, screenwriter and novelist
Years active1934 76
InfluencedMartin Scorsese, John Cassavetes, Francis Ford Coppola
SpouseMolly Day Thacher (1932 63; her death)
Barbara Loden (1967 80; her death)
Frances Rudge (1982 2003; his death))

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Elia Kazan (-eleˈlia kaˈzanIPAlang; 1909 2003) was an American director and actor, described by the New York Times as "one of the most honored and influential directors in Broadway and Hollywood history". Born in Istanbul, the capital of the Ottoman Empire, to Greek parents originally from Kayseri in Anatolia, the family emigrated to New York when he was four. After two years studying acting at Yale, he acted professionally for eight years before becoming a stage and film director. Kazan joined the Group Theater in 1932 and co-founded the Actors Studio in 1947. With Lee Strasberg, he introduced Method acting to the American stage and cinema as a new form of self-expression and psychological "realism". Having been an actor himself, he brought sensitivity and understanding of the acting process and was later considered the ideal "actor's director". Kazan acted in only a few films, including City for Conquest (1940) alongside James Cagney. He also produced movies and wrote screenplays and novels.

Kazan introduced a new generation of unknown young actors to the movie audiences, including Marlon Brando and James Dean. Most noted for drawing out the best dramatic performances from his actors, he directed 21 actors to Oscar nominations, resulting in nine wins. He became "one of the consummate filmmakers of the 20th century", after directing a continual string of successful films, including, A Streetcar Named Desire (1951), On the Waterfront (1954), and East of Eden (1955). During his career, he won two Oscars as Best Director and received an Honorary Oscar, won three Tony Awards, and four Golden Globes. Among the other new actors he introduced to movie audiences were Warren Beatty, Carroll Baker, Julie Harris, Andy Griffith, Lee Remick, Rip Torn, Eli Wallach, Eva Marie Saint, Martin Balsam, Fred Gwynne, and Pat Hingle. He also elicited some of the best performances in the careers of actors like Natalie Wood and James Dunn. Producer George Stevens, Jr., concludes that Kazan's films and new actors have "changed American moviemaking".

Most of his films were concerned with personal or social issues of special concern to him. Kazan writes, "I don't move unless I have some empathy with the basic theme. In some way the channel of the film should also be in my own life." His first such "issue" film was Gentleman's Agreement (1947), with Gregory Peck, which dealt with subtle anti-Semitism in America. It received 8 Oscar nominations and 3 wins, including Kazan's first for Best Director. It was followed by Pinky, one of the first films to address racial prejudice against Blacks. In 1954, he directed On the Waterfront, a film about union corruption in New York, which some consider "one of the greatest films in the history of international cinema." A major film earlier in his career was A Streetcar Named Desire (1951), an adaptation of the stage play, which he had also directed. It received 12 Oscar nominations, winning 4, and was Marlon Brando's breakthrough role. In 1955, he directed John Steinbeck's East of Eden, which introduced James Dean to movie audiences, making him an overnight star.

A turning point in Kazan's career came with his testimony as a "friendly witness" before the House Committee on Un-American Activities in 1952, which cost him the respect of many liberal friends and colleagues, such as playwright Arthur Miller. Kazan later explained that he took "only the more tolerable of two alternatives that were either way painful and wrong". Overall, Kazan influenced the films of the 1950s and '60s by his run of provocative, issue-driven subjects, and acting. Moreover, his personal brand of cinema-employing real locations over sets, unknowns over stars, and realism over convenient genres-proved influential to a whole generation of independent filmmakers in the 1960s. Among those he influenced were Sidney Lumet, John Cassavetes, Arthur Penn, Woody Allen, Martin Scorsese, and Stanley Kubrick, who, in 1957, said that Kazan was "without question, the best director we have in America, [and] capable of performing miracles with the actors he uses."

Film author Ian Freer concludes that "If his achievements are tainted by political controversy, the debt Hollywood-and actors everywhere-owes him is enormous." In 2010, Martin Scorsese co-directed the documentary film, A Letter to Elia, as a personal tribute to Kazan, whom he credits as the inspiration for his becoming a filmmaker.

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