Russell Thorndike

Lowest Rated: 82% Richard III (1956)
Birthday: Feb 6, 1885
Birthplace: Not Available
One of the most revered directors of his era, Elia Kazan was also one of the most -- arguably the most -- controversial. In addition to making his mark on film history with masterpieces such as A Streetcar Named Desire, On the Waterfront, and East of Eden, Kazan made a more dubious mark with his involvement in the House Committee on UnAmerican Activities (HUAC)'s anti-Communist witchhunt of the 1950s; his decision to name alleged industry Communists earned him the ire of many of his peers, resulting in what was essentially his own Hollywood blacklisting. Thus, any biography of Kazan cannot be written without mention of his political involvement, in tandem with the many cinematic contributions he made throughout a long and illustrious career. An Anatolian Greek, Kazan was born Elia Kazanjoglou in Istanbul (then Constantinople), Turkey, on September 7, 1909. In 1913, he emigrated with his parents to New York City, where his father sold rugs for a living. After an undergraduate education at Williams College and drama study at Yale, Kazan joined New York's left-leaning Group Theatre as an actor and assistant manager. During the 1930s, when Kazan was an active member, the theater was under the leadership of Harold Clurman, Cheryl Crawford, and Lee Strasberg. A focal point of New York artistic life during the decade, the Group Theatre also was a center for radical thought and activity; Kazan himself was a member of the Communist party from 1934 until 1936, when he quit the party in what he claimed was "disgust." He did continue to maintain close relations with many in and around the Stalinist movement, only terminating these relations in 1952 when he testified before HUAC. In addition to acting in such plays as Clifford Odets' Waiting for Lefty and Golden Boy, Kazan began directing in 1935. He went on to become one of the leading figures on Broadway during the next decade, directing debut productions of Thornton Wilder's Skin of Our Teeth, Tennessee Williams' A Streetcar Named Desire, Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman, and Williams' Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Hollywood took notice of the director's talent and in 1945 Kazan had a memorable directing debut with A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. Two years later, he found further success with Gentleman's Agreement, Sea of Grass, and Boomerang!. Although the latter two were considerable accomplishments, it was Gentleman's Agreement -- a bold exploration of anti-Semitism starring Gregory Peck and John Garfield -- that won Kazan his greatest accolades: the film was nominated for eight Academy Awards, winning Best Picture, Best Supporting Actress for Celeste Holm, and Best Director for Kazan. The same year, he co-founded the famed Actor's Studio with Strasberg; the school would serve as a training ground for legions of famous actors, including Marlon Brando. In 1949, the director found acclaim with the interracial love story Pinky, which received three Oscar nominations. Following 1950's Panic in the Streets, a tale of efforts to contain a New Orleans plague epidemic that mirrored the Communist scare taking hold in the U.S., Kazan scored his next major success with a film adaptation of A Streetcar Named Desire. Featuring a sensuous, explosive Marlon Brando in the role of Stanley Kowalski, the film garnered 12 Oscar nominations (eventually winning four, including Best Actress for Vivien Leigh), and made a star of Brando. The following year, Kazan and Brando collaborated again on Viva Zapata!, a biopic of Mexican revolutionary leader and President Emiliano Zapata. It was at this time that Kazan's offscreen life became irretrievably enmeshed with his cinematic work. In January 1952, the director was called before HUAC regarding his involvement with the Communist Party and the Group Theatre. During his hearing, he denied that the group was a "front" for Communist activity and that its three directors were Communists. He also refused to supply HUAC with the names of other Communists in the Group Theatre.

Highest Rated Movies



82% Richard III First Priest 1956
91% Hamlet Priest 1948
100% Henry V (The Chronicle History of King Henry the Fift with His Battell Fought at Agincourt in France) Duke of Bourbon 1946
No Score Yet Caesar and Cleopatra Harpist's Master 1945
No Score Yet Fiddlers Three High Priest 1944
No Score Yet A Shot in the Dark Dr. Stuart 1933


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