Beautiful New York

A Celebration of the City

The Top 100 Greatest New Yorkers — #62

Elia Kazan (1909 – 2003)

62 Elia Kazan

From Peggy Ann Garner gazing out over a Brooklyn rooftop, to Gregory Peck searching for hope in the Rockefeller Center statue of Atlas, to Marlon Brando pleading with Eva Marie Saint in front of the city skyline, to Stathis Giallelis scoping out his next customer at a downtown shoe-shine stand, some of the greatest cinematic images of New York City and the people who perceive it have been directed by Elia Kazan. Starting as an actor, Kazan racked up 14 Broadway credits (including the original productions of Golden Boy and The Gentle People) before turning to directing. Onstage, he went on to helm 4 Broadway premiers by Arthur Miller and 4 by Tennessee Williams. But his greatest legacy is in cinema. From his directorial debut, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, he has kept his home close to his heart. A succession of NYC-set dramas, including Gentleman’s Agreement, On the Waterfront, and America America (his personal favorite) pioneered a tradition of location shooting, decades before that practice became the norm. Quixotic and controversial, Kazan helped launch many careers and influenced an entire generation of quintessentially New York performing artists, becoming one of the most honored directors in history by the time of his death at age 94.

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2 Comments

  1. Elia Kazan, like Jerome Robbins knuckled under to the witch hunters of the House Committee on UnAmerican Affairs (HUAC). Others called before the committee like Zero Mostel did not name names. When Mostel had to work with Robbins on the original production of Fiddler on the Roof the first thing he said to Robbins was “Hello Blabbermouth”
    Et tu Elia?

    • Matthew Baker

      That is partly why I describe Kazan as “quixotic and controversial”. But the significant difference between Kazan and many others who testified before HUAC was that, in Kazan’s case, it was not “knuckling under”. He approached the moment with relish, having seen many similar actions on a smaller scale going on in Hollywood, he felt he was giving a lot of people a taste of their own medicine. Regardless of whether he was right or wrong in this, it is this for which he was never forgiven by many of his colleagues. As Hamlet says about Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, “They did make love to this employment.”

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