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Red Scare era haunts 'East of Eden' director

Web posted on:
Monday, February 22, 1999 1:33:39 PM EST

From Jim Moret
CNN Showbiz Today Correspondent

LOS ANGELES (CNN) -- As reflected in a Writers Guild Awards protest this weekend, many in the Hollywood community are shocked over the Motion Picture Academy's decision to present Oscar-winning director Elia Kazan with a lifetime achievement award at this year's Academy Awards.

Handouts were given to guests at the awards ceremony Saturday, asking attendees to "sit on your hands" when Kazan gets his award next month. "We do not wish to attack him as a director," read the handout. "Regrettably, talent and principle do not necessarily go hand in hand. By becoming a star witness for the House Un-American Activities Committee, Kazan cleared the way for the blacklisting of thousands throughout the nation."

To movie audiences, Kazan is best known for his films. He made "East of Eden," "A Streetcar Named Desire" and "On the Waterfront." But artists who were blacklisted nearly 50 years ago remember Kazan more for his real-life role as the man who gave a Cold War Congress the names of those he believed to be Communists.

In his 1952 testimony before the House Un-American Activities Committee, Kazan named those he thought to be members of the Communist Party. His testimony, along with that of others, resulted in the blacklisting of dozens of actors, producers, directors and writers -- and left many with a strong sense of betrayal.

Actor Rod Steiger says Kazan's testimony before the House committee was a shock. "He was our father image. He was Elia Kazan carrying the torch of truth, personal involvement and creativity," says Steiger. "It's like we found him sleeping with our sister. ... It was unbelievable. It really was a psychological shock."

Blacklisted writer and director Abraham Polonsky says Kazan does not deserve the honor. "It's a reward for bad deeds because of good art," says Polonsky.

But other entertainment veterans say the honor is warranted by Kazan's art, not his politics.

Kazan is known for great films like "A Streetcar Named Desire"

"If they want to honor that wonderful man," says actor Ernest Borgnine, "I say honor him."

But an old friend of Kazan's, actor Martin Landau, has mixed feelings about the director. "As an artist, he deserves to be honored. As a man, he doesn't."

Actress Lynn Redgrave agrees. "If we separate politics from art, then I think Mr. Kazan should be honored," she says.

Bernard Gordon, Co-Founder of the Committee Against Silence, admits Kazan is a great director, but doesn't think it is the Academy's place to offer forgiveness. "I don't mind honoring him as a director, but where does the Academy come off to give forgiveness to anybody?" Gordon asks.

Gordon admits he in the minority, but he and others hope to be a visible albeit silent minority at the Oscars when Kazan walks onstage.

"Instead of standing up and applauding, we want them to keep seated and sit on their hands and not applaud. And I would like to see the cameras pick that up as an expression of resistance to what's going on," says Gordon.

CNN Cold War Experience: Culture
Academy in love with 'Shakespeare In Love'
February 9, 1999
Spielberg, Paltrow win at Golden Globes
January 24, 1999
Los Angeles film critics give 'Saving Private Ryan' top award
December 13, 1998

IMDb: Elia Kazan The Official Academy Awards Site
Screen Actors Guild
Writers Guild of America
Directors Guild of America
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