Director-writer Elia Kazan dies at 94

Monday, September 29, 2003

— Director Elia Kazan, whose triumphs included the original Broadway productions of "Death of a Salesman" and "A Streetcar Named Desire," and the Academy Award-winning film "On the Waterfront," died Sunday. He was 94.

Kazan was at his home in Manhattan when he died, said his lawyer, Floria Lasky. She did not give a cause of death.

"A genius left us," said Lasky. "He was one of the greats."

Five of the plays he staged won Pulitzer Prizes for their authors: "The Skin of Our Teeth," "A Streetcar Named Desire," "Death of a Salesman," "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" and "J.B.," for which Kazan himself won a Tony Award.

In Hollywood, he won Oscars for directing "Gentleman's Agreement" and "On the Waterfront." He also did "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn," the film version of "Streetcar," "East of Eden," "Splendor in the Grass," "A Face in the Crowd" and "The Last Tycoon."

"We were as close as an actor and director could be," said Karl Malden, who starred in some of the director's biggest films, including "On the Waterfront," "Streetcar" and "Baby Doll."

Malden said Kazan would often take long walks with actors he considered hiring. Kazan needed to understand the actor in order to know how to trigger an actor's emotions on screen and on stage, Malden said, "so that if he hired you he knew more about you than you did yourself."

Kazan turned to writing in his 50s and produced six novels -- including several best sellers -- and an autobiography. The first two novels, "America, America" and "The Arrangement," he also made into movies.

"Even when I was a boy I wanted to live three or four lives," he once said.

To some, Kazan diminished his stature when he went before the House Committee on Un-American Activities during the McCarthy era and named people he said had been members of the Communist Party with him in the mid-1930s.

But he insisted years later that he bore no guilt as a result of what some saw as a betrayal. "There's a normal sadness about hurting people, but I'd rather hurt them a little than hurt myself a lot," he said.

In early 1999, leaders of the motion picture academy announced they would give Kazan a special Academy Award for his life's work. The decision reopened wounds and touched off a painful controversy.

On awards night, some in the audience withheld applause, though others gave him a warm reception. Director Martin Scorsese and actor Robert De Niro presented the award.

"I thank you very much. I really like to hear that and I want to thank the Academy for its courage, generosity," Kazan said.