Controversial stage and film director Elia Kazan, whose name was linked to several Broadway and Hollywood masterpieces — including “Death of a Salesman,” “A Streetcar Named Desire” and “On the Waterfront” — died of unreported causes Sunday at his home in Manhattan, his lawyer, Floria Lasky, tells the Associated Press.
The death of Kazan, 94, capped a jarring weekend that included the deaths of such notables as British singer Robert Palmer, literary lion George Plimpton, Hollywood song and dance man Donald O’Connor, and tennis great Althea Gibson, the first African-American tennis player to win Wimbledon and the U.S. national championships. (See separate stories.) This month alone, the world also lost country legend Johnny Cash, TV’s John Ritter and playwright Herb Gardner.
As news of Kazan’s death was being reported, cable TV’s Turner Classic Movies was in the midst of airing a Kazan marathon featuring three of his biggest hits: 1952’s “Waterfront” (with Marlon Brando in an Oscar-winning role), 1956’s “Baby Doll” (with Carroll Baker) and 1951’s “Streetcar” (again with Brando and Vivien Leigh, who won an Oscar).
While critics considered him an “actor’s director,” five of the plays staged by Kazan won Pulitzer Prizes for their authors: Thornton Wilder’s “The Skin of Our Teeth,” Tennessee Williams’s “A Streetcar Named Desire” and “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman” and the Archibald MacLeish-David Amram musical “J.B.” (for which Kazan won a Tony as director).
In Hollywood, he won Oscars for directing “Gentleman’s Agreement” (about anti-Semitism in America) and “On the Waterfront” (about crooked unions in New York’s shipyards). His other films included “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn,” “East of Eden,” “Splendor in the Grass,” “A Face in the Crowd” and “The Last Tycoon.”
To many, however, Kazan’s name became permanently tarnished when he went before Congress in 1952 during the McCarthy era and named those he said had been members with him in the Communist Party in the mid-1930s. Labeled an informer, Kazan was dogged by his past as recently as Oscar night 1999, when several members of the Academy withheld their applause when he was presented an honorary Oscar for his lifetime of work.
Born Elia Kazanjoglous on Sept. 7, 1909, in what was then Constantinople, Turkey, Kazan (who got the nickname “Gadget” in college, which was then shortened to “Gadge”) was the son of a Greek rug merchant and came to New York with his family at age 4. He later recounted the experience in his novel “America, America,” which he made into a film in 1963.
In Kazan’s 1988 autobiography, “A Life,” he recalled the scene in the movie when the young new arrival lands in the U.S. and kisses the ground, and wrote: “I doubt that anyone born in the United States has or can have a true appreciation of what America is.”
Kazan married three times. The first union, to Molly Day Thatcher, produced four children: Judy, Chris, Nick and Katharine. After her death, he married actress Barbara Loden, and they had two sons (Leo and Marco). Loden died of cancer in 1967. In 1982, he married Frances Rudge.