The Selected Letters of Elia Kazan
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This collection of nearly three hundred letters gives us the life of Elia Kazan unfiltered, with all the passion, vitality, and raw honesty that made him such an important and formidable stage director (A Streetcar Named Desire, Death of a Salesman), film director (On the Waterfront, East of Eden), novelist, and memoirist.
Elia Kazan’s lifelong determination to be a “sincere, conscious, practicing artist” resounds in these letters—fully annotated throughout—in every phase of his career: his exciting apprenticeship with the new and astonishing Group Theatre, as stagehand, stage manager, and actor (Waiting for Lefty, Golden Boy) . . . his first tentative and then successful attempts at directing for the theater and movies (The Skin of Our Teeth, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn) . . . his cofounding in 1947 of the Actors Studio and his codirection of the nascent Repertory Theater of Lincoln Center . . . his innovative and celebrated work on Broadway (All My Sons, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, J.B.) and in Hollywood (Gentleman’s Agreement, Splendor in the Grass, A Face in the Crowd, Baby Doll) . . . his birth as a writer.
Kazan directed virtually back-to-back the greatest American dramas of the era—by Arthur Miller and Tennessee Williams—and helped shape their future productions. Here we see how he collaborated with these and other writers: Clifford Odets, Thornton Wilder, John Steinbeck, and Budd Schulberg among them. The letters give us a unique grasp of his luminous insights on acting, directing, producing, as he writes to and about Marlon Brando, James Dean, Warren Beatty, Robert De Niro, Boris Aronson, and Sam Spiegel, among others. We see Kazan’s heated dealings with studio moguls Darryl Zanuck and Jack Warner, his principled resistance to film censorship, and the upheavals of his testimony before the House Committee on Un-American Activities.
These letters record as well the inner life of the artist and the man. We see his startling candor in writing to his first wife, his confidante and adviser, Molly Day Thacher—they did not mince words with each other. And we see a father’s letters to and about his children.
An extraordinary portrait of a complex, intense, monumentally talented man who engaged the political, moral, and artistic currents of the twentieth century.
pathetic waif. She sobbed all thru dinner. I wasn’t interested in her (in quotes); that came later. But I did feel terribly touched by her and did think she had a lot of talent. [omission] also is “soiled”, is also talented and, except for having found and been found by [omission], and her powerful love for [omission], would be lost and adrift. I got to know her in time and introduced her to Arthur Miller, who also was very taken by her. You couldn’t help being touched. She was talented, funny,
would have a tremendous effect. People are interested in the Academy Awards and like to see films that are going to be leading contenders.… 5) I think something should be done about the lines in front of the boxoffice. On this day, Monday, the 16th, there’s been absolutely nothing in the columns about the enormous lines and the enormous business we are doing. An old-timer on Broadway just called me on the phone and said he hadn’t seen lines like these outside of a Broadway theatre since the old
on the animals like —kind of laying over on its side). I worked with them—where I was able to help, and I exchanged information with them, and boozed with the boys. One of them, a young cowboy nicknamed “Cotton” is here now taking in the show with me. He and I became buddies. We drove my ford out on the range, chased Coyotes and shot what seemed to me an enormous number of jackrabbits. This fellow is a wonderful rider—but soft and delicate spoken with thick lens glasses. I visited his buddies
book, but me—that’s another matter. I’m a popular target for literary critics and other bright boys. I’ve written seven books, all I believe of value; they have rarely received a welcome. Even THE ARRANGEMENT which endures in the memory of many women and men, was put down as a sex book, semi-trash, by intellectuals. My best book, THE ANATOLIAN, was a marketplace failure. Perhaps this general judgment is deserved but I don’t think so and it has not made me more agreeable. I’ve had to find my own
marital comedy and the Legion of Decency threatened condemnation before MGM agreed to eliminate the film’s adulterous premise. Kazan was unaware that Garbo’s legendary retirement was already under way. Many years later he wrote in admiration: “Who can plumb the mystery of Greta Garbo? She doesn’t yield, she doesn’t make friends; she’s not after your approval, not ever” (A Life, p. 146). Betty Field and “Freddie” March played leading roles in Cowan’s forthcoming film Tomorrow, the World!] TLS, 1