Although deceased for more than a decade, Elia Kazan remains one of the most polarizing figures in Hollywood history.
Born Ilias Kazantzoglou to ethnic Greek parents in Constantinople (present day Istanbul) in 1909, Kazan emigrated to the United States and over his career became one of the most important filmmakers of the 20th century.
Released in 2014, the book titled The Selected Letters of Elia Kazan shares a collection of nearly 300 letters giving readers an unfiltered view into Kazan’s life — with all the passion, vitality and raw honesty for which he was known.
The book includes a letter to his wife in which he admits to an affair with Marilyn Monroe — “a touching pathetic waif” — as well as another letter chastising Warren Beatty for being a diva and admitting how much he hated Hollywood.
“In a shrieking insane way… it’s like the grave, the tomb, the charnel pit — except it’s all very fancy… full of really very fine people, all in various stages of decomposition, without knowing”Elia Kazan, from The Selected Letters of Elia Kazan
Other letters include raw openness about Paul Newman’s masculinity and talent and defending his decisions to include risqué scenes in A Streetcar Named Desire, risqué scenes which were a hot topic in American media at the time of the film’s release in 1951.
Kazan’s career began on the stage and, as such, he was an actor’s director, introducing a new generation of unknown young actors to audiences and “discovering” actors such as Marlon Brando, James Dean and Warren Beatty.
During his career, he won two Oscars as best director and received an honorary Oscar, won three Tony Awards and four Golden Globes. Noted for drawing out the best dramatic performances from his actors, he directed 21 actors to Oscar nominations which resulted in nine wins.
Kazan also loved writers and proved an important collaborator for icons such as Tennessee Williams and John Steinbeck.
Kazan also authored numerous books including The Anatolian, America America and Beyond the Aegean, outlining a deep connection to his complicated Greek heritage and the impact it had on his career. He often corrected people who called him “Turkish-born,” reminding them that he was an Anatolian Greek.
When Kazan testified before the House Un-American Activities Committee about being a member of the Communist Party in the 1930s, he “named names” — an act that drew scorn from some of his contemporaries and colored his career and his 1999 honorary Oscar, at which attendees such as Kirk Douglas steadfastly refused to applaud.
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