The Selected Letters of Elia Kazan
The Selected Letters of Elia Kazan
Knopf Publishing Group, Hardcover, 9780307267160, 649pp.
Publication Date: April 22, 2014
Elia Kazan's lifelong determination to be a "sincere, conscious, practicing artist" resounds in these letters--fully annotated throughout--in every phase of his career: his exciting apprenticeship with the new and astonishing Group Theatre, as stagehand, stage manager, and actor ("Waiting for Lefty, Golden Boy") . . . his first tentative and then successful attempts at directing for the theater and movies ("The Skin of Our Teeth, ""A Tree Grows in Brooklyn") . . . his cofounding in 1947 of the Actors Studio and his codirection of the nascent Repertory Theater of Lincoln Center . . . his innovative and celebrated work on Broadway ("All My Sons, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, J.B.") and in Hollywood ("Gentleman's Agreement, Splendor in the Grass, A Face in the Crowd, Baby Doll") . . . his birth as a writer.
Kazan directed virtually back-to-back the greatest American dramas of the era--by Arthur Miller and Tennessee Williams--and helped shape their future productions. Here we see how he collaborated with these and other writers: Clifford Odets, Thornton Wilder, John Steinbeck, and Budd Schulberg among them. The letters give us a unique grasp of his luminous insights on acting, directing, producing, as he writes to and about Marlon Brando, James Dean, Warren Beatty, Robert De Niro, Boris Aronson, and Sam Spiegel, among others. We see Kazan's heated dealings with studio moguls Darryl Zanuck and Jack Warner, his principled resistance to film censorship, and the upheavals of his testimony before the House Committee on Un-American Activities.
These letters record as well the inner life of the artist and the man. We see his startling candor in writing to his first wife, his confidante and adviser, Molly Day Thacher--they did not mince words with each other. And we see a father's letters to and about his children.
An extraordinary portrait of a complex, intense, monumentally talented man who engaged the political, moral, and artistic currents of the twentieth century.
Albert J. Devlin, professor emeritus of English at the University of Missouri, has written and edited books on Eudora Welty and Tennessee Williams. He received a senior fellowship from the National Endowment for the Humanities for work on "The Selected Letters of Tennessee Williams, " which the Modern Language Association recognized as a "model edition" of letters and on which it bestowed the Morton N. Cohen Award in 2001. Marlene J. Devlin graduated from the University of Kansas. She taught at the University of Missouri and Columbia Public Schools.
“These vibrant, muscular, outspoken, take-no-prisoners letters tell you everything you will ever need to know about the theater, relationships between artists, Hollywood illusions, affairs of the heart, family. Kazan had an amazing life and a brilliant career, and he wrote with eloquence, passion, and truth. These letters are to be treasured.”
—André Bishop, Producing Artistic Director, Lincoln Center Theater
“Elia Kazan lived, directed, and wrote from his gut. He was a powerhouse. His scrupulously edited Selected Letters carries the same unflinching, instinctive, brilliant wallop: vividly alive, self-aware, fervent, resourceful—they exude the pulse of a man fighting for his identity and for his place in American theater. The letters cover his struggles with the Group Theatre and Actors Studio, with his collaborators (Tennessee Williams, Arthur Miller, William Inge, Marlon Brando, Thornton Wilder, Clifford Odets, among many), and with himself and his family. They are incandescent witness to the century he so fiercely bustled in. Taken together with Kazan's memoir, A Life, the volumes are among the essential documents of twentieth-century American theater.”
“Elia Kazan’s letters crackle with the impulsive exuberance of a vital, brilliant, ambitious man wholly devoted to craft. And they tell the not-to-be-missed story of American politics and American art, deeply entwined, during the fatally conflicted era that is our inheritance.”
“Engrossing . . . An impressive work of scholarship, this collection offers a sweeping look at sixty years of American popular culture and an intimate portrait of one complex man whirling at its center.”
“Compulsively readable . . . Few entertainment figures had the particular combination of passion, feistiness, diligence, and longevity that made Kazan such a prodigious letter writer. The Selected Letters is a history of the golden age of Broadway and Hollywood as seen through the eyes of a man who irrevocably transformed both industries, even as he ran afoul of them by naming names in the McCarthy hearings of 1952. It charts Kazan’s long, rocky friendship with Tennessee Williams, his beefs with Clifford Odets and John Steinbeck, his battles with the censors over A Streetcar Named Desire and with Marlon Brando over On the Waterfront, all the while displaying an artistic integrity and social consciousness so rare in film today.”
—Julian Sancton, Departures