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Home Movie CraftsActors + Actresses Elia Kazan: Oscar Actors Director

Dorothy McGuire, Gregory Peck in Gentleman's Agreement
Dorothy McGuire, Gregory Peck, Gentleman’s Agreement

Elia Kazan: Actors Director

Ramon Novarro biography Beyond Paradise

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.

Elia KazanAmong 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 East of Eden Jo Van Fleet
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

Jeanne Crain, Pinky (co-directed with John Ford)
Ethel Barrymore (s), Pinky
Ethel Waters (s), Pinky

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

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Ron Dahlke -

Never mind my blubbering about your not mentioning James Dean as one of Kazan’s notable actors. I had failed to see it listed at the top right. But, you would have to admit that my comparison of James Dean, the actor, with the lack of lasing legacy of the others, if other actors portraying any of Kazan’s Oscar noominated actors and winners,, is any measure of enduring relevancy, then please feel free to use my comments. Just let me know when you do so I can read them in computerized neon lights.

Ron Dahlke -

As popular as actor James Byron Dean became, both before his death, and without a doubt after his death on September 30, 1955, it seems almost disrepsectful that the above article does not mention Dean’s name. Older people, most of whom died long before Kazan’s awards, remember Brando, and the other big name actors and actresses who starred in the usual Hollywood romances gone awry. Yet very few such films added one ounce of worth to the social, including children and youth, cultural fabric. James Dean’s movies were not only famous when they came out, but have lasted, including several attempts to play James Dean by several notable actors. Most recently, a young actor named James Blanco.

How many of the other Kazan actors can claim the same legendary status as does James Dean, whose role in “Rebel Without A Cause” was standard required viewing in many public schools into the 1990’s? Kazan was the only director who could direct the enigmatic Dean. They understood each other.

Andre -

Thanks for writing. James Dean is mentioned on the next page, as he was nominated for “East of Eden” (1955).

Nicholas Ray directed “Rebel Without a Cause.” George Stevens went on to direct Dean in “Giant.”

Nathan Donarum -

Of Kazan’s films, I’ve only seen A Streetcar Named Desire and On The Waterfront. I found both to be brilliant; well-told, flawlessly acted and exquisitely directed. Kazan had a certain talent to bring out amazing performances from his actors. I wish I could remember what Tennessee Williams had to say on Kazan… He spoke at length about him in his memoirs, which I read a few years ago. I should re-read them. Brilliant book.

Andre -

Gotta look for that Tennesse Williams book. I also should read Kazan’s autobiography.
One I’d recommend, though it’s quite different from either “Streetcar” or “Waterfront,” is “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.”
Touching without being sentimental. And some really outstanding performances.


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