Elia Kazan (Director) – Overview, Biography

Name:Elia Kazan
Occupation: Director
Birth Day: September 7,
Death Date:Sep 28, 2003 (age 94)
Age: Aged 94
Birth Place: Istanbul,
Zodiac Sign:Virgo

Elia Kazan

Elia Kazan was born on September 7, 1909 in Istanbul, Turkey (94 years old). Elia Kazan is a Director, zodiac sign: Virgo. Nationality: Turkey. Approx. Net Worth: Undisclosed.


He and Lee Strasberg brought method acting to the forefront and founded The Actors Studio. He preferred casting little-known actors and gave performers like Warren Beatty their first major roles.

Net Worth 2020

Find out more about Elia Kazan net worth here.

Does Elia Kazan Dead or Alive?

As per our current Database, Elia Kazan died on Sep 28, 2003 (age 94).


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Before Fame

He waited tables and washed dishes to afford to go to Williams College.


Biography Timeline


Elia Kazan was born in the Fener district of Istanbul, to Cappadocian Greek parents originally from Kayseri in Anatolia. He arrived with his parents, George and Athena Kazantzoglou (née Shishmanoglou), to the United States on 8 July 1913. He was named after his paternal grandfather, Elia Kazantzoglou. His maternal grandfather was Isaak Shishmanoglou. Elia’s brother, Avraam, was born in Berlin and later became a psychiatrist.


In 1932, after spending two years at the Yale University School of Drama, he moved to New York City to become a professional stage actor. He continued his professional studies at the Juilliard School where he studied singing with Lucia Dunham. His first opportunity came with a small group of actors engaged in presenting plays containing “social commentary”. They were called the Group Theatre, which showcased many lesser known plays with deep social or political messages. After struggling to be accepted by them, he discovered his first strong sense of self in America within the “family of the Group Theatre, and more loosely in the radical social and cultural movements of the time,” writes film author Joanna E. Rapf.


Kazan’s first national success came as a New York theatrical director. Although initially he worked as an actor on stage, and told early in his acting career that he had no acting ability, he surprised many critics by becoming one of the Group’s most capable actors. In 1935 he played the role of a strike-leading taxi driver in a drama by Clifford Odets, Waiting for Lefty, and his performance was called “dynamic,” leading some to describe him as the “proletarian thunderbolt.”


By the mid-1930s, when he was 26, he began directing a number of the Group Theatre’s plays, including Robert Ardrey’s well-known play Thunder Rock. In 1942 he achieved his first notable success by directing a play by Thornton Wilder, The Skin of Our Teeth, starring Tallulah Bankhead and Fredric March. The play, though controversial, was a critical and commercial success and won Wilder a Pulitzer Prize. Kazan won the New York Drama Critics Award for Best Director and Bankhead for best actress. Kazan then went on to direct Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller, and then directed A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams, both of which were also successful. Kazan’s wife, Molly Thacher, the reader for the Group, discovered Williams and awarded him a “prize that launched his career.”


In 1947, he founded the Actors Studio, a non-profit workshop, with actors Robert Lewis and Cheryl Crawford. In 1951, Lee Strasberg became its director after Kazan left for Hollywood to focus on his career as a movie director. It remained a non-profit enterprise. Strasberg introduced the “Method” to the Actors Studio, an umbrella term for a constellation of systemizations of Konstantin Stanislavski’s teachings. The “Method” school of acting became the predominant system of post-World War II Hollywood.

In 1947, he directed the courtroom drama Boomerang!, and in 1950 he directed Panic in the Streets, starring Richard Widmark, in a thriller shot on the streets of New Orleans. In that film, Kazan experimented with a documentary style of cinematography, which succeeded in “energizing” the action scenes. He won the Venice Film Festival International Award as director, and the film also won two Academy Awards. Kazan had requested that Zero Mostel also act in the film, despite Mostel being “blacklisted” as a result of HCUA testimony a few years earlier. Kazan writes of his decision:


Though at the height of his stage success, Kazan turned to Hollywood as a director of motion pictures. He first directed two short films, but his first feature film was A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1945), one of his first attempts to film dramas focused on contemporary concerns, which later became his forte. Two years later he directed Gentleman’s Agreement, where he tackled a seldom-discussed topic in America, antisemitism, for which he won his first Oscar as Best Director. In 1949 he again dealt with a controversial subject when he directed Pinky, which dealt with issues of racism in America, and was nominated for 3 Academy Awards.


In 1951, after introducing and directing Marlon Brando and Karl Malden in the stage version, he went on to cast both in the film version of the play, A Streetcar Named Desire, which won 4 Oscars, being nominated for 12.


Kazan testified before the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HCUA) in 1952, during the postwar era that journalist Michael Mills, calls “arguably the most controversial period in Hollywood history.” When Kazan was in his mid-20s, during the Depression years 1934 to 1936, he had been a member of the American Communist Party in New York, for a year and a half.

In April 1952, the Committee called on Kazan, under oath, to identify Communists from that period 16 years earlier. Kazan initially refused to provide names, but eventually named eight former Group Theatre members who he said had been Communists: Clifford Odets, J. Edward Bromberg, Lewis Leverett, Morris Carnovsky, Phoebe Brand, Tony Kraber, Ted Wellman, and Paula Miller, who later married Lee Strasberg. He testified that Odets quit the party at the same time that he did. Kazan claimed that all the persons named were already known to HCUA, although this has been contested. Kazan recounts how he received a letter detailing how his naming of Art Smith (actor) damaged the actor’s career. Kazan’s naming names cost him many friends within the film industry, including playwright Arthur Miller, although Kazan notes the two did work together again.

His controversial stand during his testimony in front of the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HCUA) in 1952, became the low point in his career, although he remained convinced that he made the right decision to give the names of Communist Party members. He stated in an interview in 1976 that “I would rather do what I did than crawl in front of a ritualistic Left and lie the way those other comrades did, and betray my own soul. I didn’t betray it. I made a difficult decision.”


In 1954 he again used Brando as a star in On the Waterfront. As a continuation of the socially relevant themes that he developed in New York, the film exposed corruption within New York’s longshoremen’s union. It too was nominated for 12 Academy Awards, and won 8, including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actor, for Marlon Brando.

After the success of On the Waterfront, he went on to direct another screen adaptation of a John Steinbeck novel, East of Eden (1955). As director, Kazan again used another unknown actor, James Dean. Kazan had seen Dean on stage in New York and after an audition gave him the starring role along with an exclusive contract with Warner Bros. Dean flew back to Los Angeles with Kazan in 1954, the first time he had ever flown in a plane, bringing his clothes in a brown paper bag. The film’s success introduced James Dean to the world and established him as a popular actor. He went on to star in Rebel Without a Cause (1955), directed by Kazan’s friend Nicholas Ray, and then Giant (1956), directed by George Stevens.

Nonetheless, there have been clear messages in some of his films that involved politics in various ways. In 1954, he directed On the Waterfront, written by screenwriter Budd Schulberg, which was a film about union corruption in New York. Some critics consider it “one of the greatest films in the history of international cinema.” Another political film was A Face in the Crowd (1957). His protagonist, played by Andy Griffith (in his film debut) is not a politician, yet his career suddenly becomes deeply involved in politics. According to film author Harry Keyishian, Kazan and screenwriter Budd Schulberg were using the film to warn audiences about the dangerous potential of the new medium of television. Kazan explains that he and Schulberg were trying to warn “of the power TV would have in the political life of the nation.” Kazan states, “Listen to what the candidate says; don’t be taken in by his charm or his trust-inspiring personality. Don’t buy the advertisement; buy what’s in the package.”


Williams became one of Kazan’s closest and most loyal friends, and Kazan often pulled Williams out of “creative slumps” by redirecting his focus with new ideas. In 1959, in a letter to Kazan, he writes, “Some day you will know how much I value the great things you did with my work, how you lifted it above its measure by your great gift.”


In 1961, he introduced Warren Beatty in his first screen appearance with a starring role in Splendor in the Grass (1961), with Natalie Wood; the film was nominated for two Oscars and won one. Author Peter Biskind points out that Kazan “was the first in a string of major directors Beatty sought out, mentors or father figures from whom he wanted to learn.” Biskind notes also that they “were wildly dissimilar—mentor vs. protégé, director vs. actor, immigrant outsider vs. native son. Kazan was armed with the confidence born of age and success, while Beatty was virtually aflame with the arrogance of youth.” Kazan recalls his impressions of Beatty:

Beatty’s costar, Natalie Wood, was in a transition period in her career, having mostly been cast in roles as a child or teenager, and she was now hoping to be cast in adult roles. Biographer Suzanne Finstad notes that a “turning point” in her life as an actress was upon seeing the film A Streetcar Named Desire: “She was transformed, in awe of Kazan and of Vivien Leigh’s performance … [who] became a role model for Natalie.” In 1961, after a “series of bad films, her career was already in decline,” notes Rathgeb. Kazan writes that the “sages” of the film community declared her as “washed up” as an actress, although he still wanted to interview her for his next film:


As a young boy, he was remembered as being shy, and his college classmates described him as more of a loner. Much of his early life was portrayed in his autobiographical book, America America, which he made into a film in 1963. In it, he describes his family as “alienated” from both their parents’ Greek Orthodox values and from those of mainstream America. His mother’s family were cotton merchants who imported cotton from England and sold it wholesale. His father had become a rug merchant after emigrating to the United States and expected that his son would go into the same business.

Elia Kazan was married three times. His first wife was playwright Molly Day Thacher. They were married from 1932 until her death in 1963; this marriage produced two daughters and two sons, including screenwriter Nicholas Kazan. His second marriage, to the actress Barbara Loden, lasted from 1967 until her death in 1980, and produced one son. His marriage, in 1982, to Frances Rudge continued until his death, in 2003, aged 94.


In 1978, the U.S. government paid for Kazan and his family to travel to Kazan’s birthplace where many of his films were to be shown. During a speech in Athens, he discussed his films and his personal and business life in the U.S., along with the messages he tried to convey:


In 1982, Orson Welles was asked a question about Kazan at the Cinémathèque française in Paris. Welles replied, “Chère mademoiselle, you have chosen the wrong metteur en scène, because Elia Kazan is a traitor. He is a man who sold to McCarthy all his companions at a time when he could continue to work in New York at high salary, and having sold all his people to McCarthy, he then made a film called On the Waterfront which was a celebration of the informer.”

During his career, Kazan won both Tony and Oscar Awards for directing on stage and screen. In 1982, President Ronald Reagan presented him with the Kennedy Center honors award, a national tribute for lifetime achievement in the arts. At the ceremony, screenwriter Budd Schulberg, who wrote On the Waterfront, thanked his lifelong friend saying, “Elia Kazan has touched us all with his capacity to honor not only the heroic man, but the hero in every man.”


As a product of the Group Theatre and Actors Studio, he was most noted for his use of “Method” actors, especially Brando and Dean. During an interview in 1988, Kazan said, “I did whatever was necessary to get a good performance including so-called Method acting. I made them run around the set, I scolded them, I inspired jealousy in their girlfriends … The director is a desperate beast! … You don’t deal with actors as dolls. You deal with them as people who are poets to a certain degree.” Actor Robert De Niro called him a “master of a new kind of psychological and behavioral faith in acting.”


Kazan would later write in his autobiography of the “warrior pleasure at withstanding his ‘enemies.” When Kazan received an Honorary Academy Award in 1999, the audience was noticeably divided in their reaction, with some including Nick Nolte, Ed Harris, Ian McKellen, and Amy Madigan refusing to applaud, and many others, such as actors Kathy Bates, Meryl Streep, Karl Malden, and Warren Beatty, and producer George Stevens, Jr. standing and applauding. Stevens speculates on why he, Beatty, and many others in the audience chose to stand and applaud:

In 1999, at the 71st Academy Awards, Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro presented the Honorary Oscar to Kazan. This would be a controversial pick for the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences due to Kazan’s past history regarding his involvement with the Hollywood Blacklist in the 1950s. Several members of the audience including Nick Nolte and Ed Harris refused to applaud Kazan when he received the award while others such as Warren Beatty, Meryl Streep, Kathy Bates, and Kurt Russell gave him a standing ovation.


Kazan was noted for his close collaboration with screenwriters. On Broadway, he worked with Arthur Miller, Tennessee Williams, and William Inge; in film, he worked again with Willams (A Streetcar Named Desire and Baby Doll), Inge (Splendor in the Grass), Budd Schulberg (On the Waterfront and A Face in the Crowd), John Steinbeck (Viva Zapata!), and Harold Pinter (The Last Tycoon). As an instrumental figure in the careers of many of the best writers of his time, “he always treated them and their work with the utmost respect.” In 2009, a previously unproduced screenplay by Williams, The Loss of a Teardrop Diamond, was released as a film. Williams wrote the screenplay specifically for Kazan to direct during the 1950s.


Martin Scorsese has directed a film documentary, A Letter to Elia (2010), considered to be an “intensely personal and deeply moving tribute” to Kazan. Scorsese was “captivated” by Kazan’s films as a young man, and the documentary mirrors his own life story while he also credits Kazan as the inspiration for his becoming a filmmaker. It won a Peabody Award in 2010.

🎂 Upcoming Birthday

Currently, Elia Kazan is 112 years, 11 months and 8 days old. Elia Kazan will celebrate 113th birthday on a Wednesday 7th of September 2022.

Find out about Elia Kazan birthday activities in timeline view here.

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