Manhattan, New York City, New York, U. Greek-American director, producer, writer and actor, described by English for children Kazan New York Times as “one of the most honored and influential directors in Broadway and Hollywood history”.
Noted for drawing out the best dramatic performances from his actors, he directed 21 actors to Oscar nominations, resulting in nine wins. 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. A turning point in Kazan’s career came with his testimony as a witness before the House Committee on Un-American Activities in 1952 at the time of the Hollywood blacklist, which brought him strong negative reactions from many liberal friends and colleagues. Kazan influenced the films of the 1950s and ’60s with his provocative, issue-driven subjects. Director Stanley Kubrick called him, “without question, the best director we have in America, capable of performing miracles with the actors he uses. Film author Ian Freer concludes that even “if his achievements are tainted by political controversy, the debt Hollywood—and actors everywhere—owes him is enormous.
Elia Kazan was born in the Fener district of Istanbul, to Cappadocian Greek parents originally from Kayseri in Anatolia. Kazan was raised in the Greek Orthodox religion, and attended Greek Orthodox services every Sunday, where he had to stand for several hours with his father. His mother read the Bible but did not go to church. As a young boy, he was remembered as being shy, and his college classmates described him as more of a loner. Much of his early life was portrayed in his autobiographical book, America America, which he made into a film in 1963.
His mother’s family were cotton merchants who imported cotton from England, and sold it wholesale. His father had become a rug merchant after emigrating to the United States, and expected that his son would go into the same business. After attending public schools through high school, Kazan enrolled at Williams College in Massachusetts, where he helped pay his way by waiting tables and washing dishes, although he still graduated cum laude. He also worked as a bartender at various fraternities, but never joined one.
While a student at Williams, he earned the nickname “Gadg,” for Gadget, because, he said, “I was small, compact, and handy to have around. In America America he tells how, and why, his family left Turkey and moved to America. Kazan notes that much of it came from stories that he heard as a young boy. Kazan notes some of the controversial aspects of what he put in the film. He writes, “I used to say to myself when I was making the film that America was a dream of total freedom in all areas.