Elia Kazan: Actors Director
Elia Kazan is best remembered today for two things: his association with Marlon Brando during the first half of the 1950s, and the fact that he claimed to be unrepentant about naming names – and ruining careers and lives – during the Red-baiting hysteria of the post-World War II years.
Kazan’s 19 feature films as a director are wildly uneven. For every great A Streetcar Named Desire there is a dreadful America, America, in addition to everything in between. Yet, probably as a result of his Broadway training, Kazan was undeniably an outstanding actors’ director.
Tough-guy Brando remains the best-remembered Kazan star for his performances in A Streetcar Named Desire and On the Waterfront (less so for his Emiliano Zapata in Viva Zapata!). Even so, the director elicited superb performances from a wide range of players, from child actress Peggy Ann Garner, who won a Juvenile Oscar for A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, to Deborah Kerr, who plays a bored housewife in The Arrangement; from thumb-sucking child-woman Carroll Baker in Baby Doll to Jo Van Fleet’s no-nonsense broads in both in East of Eden and Wild River.
Among the other remarkable performances in Kazan’s films are those of Joan Blondell and Dorothy McGuire in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn; McGuire and Gregory Peck in Gentleman’s Agreement; Vivien Leigh and Kim Hunter in A Streetcar Named Desire; Ethel Waters in Pinky; and Richard Widmark, Paul Douglas, and Barbara Bel Geddes in Panic in the Streets.
Here are a few more: Eva Marie Saint and Lee J. Cobb in On the Waterfront; Mildred Dunnock in Baby Doll; Montgomery Clift and Lee Remick in Wild River; and Natalie Wood and Zorah Lampert in Splendor in the Grass.
Kazan’s performers were nominated a total of 24 times – including 9 wins – from 1945 to 1961. (Not including Peggy Ann Garner’s special Oscar.) That’s second only to the 36 nominations/14 wins of William Wyler-directed actors. Marlon Brando appears three times on the Kazan list, for A Streetcar Named Desire (1951), Viva Zapata! (1952), and On the Waterfront (1954). Karl Malden appears twice, both times in the Best Supporting Actor category, for A Streetcar Named Desire and On the Waterfront.
Kazan himself was nominated for five Best Director Oscars: Gentleman’s Agreement, 1947; A Streetcar Named Desire, 1951; On the Waterfront, 1954; East of Eden, 1955; and America, America, 1963. He won twice: for Gentleman’s Agreement and On the Waterfront. Both movies also won the Best Picture Oscar. Additionally, Kazan won a highly controversial Honorary Oscar at the 1999 ceremony.
Born in 1909 in what is now Istanbul, Kazan died in September 2003 in Manhattan.
James Dean, Jo Van Fleet, East of Eden
Elia Kazan-directed movies: twenty-four acting nominations; nine wins.
(s) supporting category. (*) Academy Award winner
* James Dunn (s), A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
(Additionally, Peggy Ann Garner won a Juvenile Oscar for her 1945 performances, including the one in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn)
Gregory Peck, Gentleman’s Agreement
Dorothy McGuire, Gentleman’s Agreement
*Celeste Holm (s), Gentleman’s Agreement
Anne Revere (s), Gentleman’s Agreement
Marlon Brando, A Streetcar Named Desire
* Vivien Leigh, A Streetcar Named Desire
* Karl Malden (s), A Streetcar Named Desire
* Kim Hunter (s), A Streetcar Named Desire
Marlon Brando, Viva Zapata
* Anthony Quinn (s), Viva Zapata
* Marlon Brando, On the Waterfront
Lee J. Cobb (s), On the Waterfront
Karl Malden (s), On the Waterfront
Rod Steiger (s), On the Waterfront
* Eva Marie Saint (s), On the Waterfront
James Dean, East of Eden
* Jo Van Fleet (s), East of Eden
Carroll Baker, Baby Doll
Mildred Dunnock (s), Baby Doll
Natalie Wood, Splendor in the Grass