By Sherrie Li
By Falling James
By Amanda Lewis
By Amy Nicholson
By Amy Nicholson
By Jennifer Swann
By Scott Foundas
By Sherrie Li
GIVE ELIA KAZAN AN OSCAR? WHY NOT? Who cares? What's all this Kazanomania anyhow? Why are the L.A. Weekly, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times and The New York Times giving it space? This past January, in the cloistered chambers of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, actor Karl Malden spoke with such passion and conviction that the board of governors voted without a single dissenting voice to present an Oscar to Elia Kazan -- an Oscar to celebrate his lifetime contribution to the motion-picture industry. Kazan already has received two Oscars as a director, one for On the Waterfront, the other for Gentlemen's Agreement. This third and very special Oscar would recognize the breadth of his contribution to motion pictures, the extent of which the Academy board apparently thought insufficiently recognized.
There were others, not members of the Academy board of directors, who also were aware of Elia Kazan's lifetime achievement in film and, precisely because of it, believed that to give him this third Oscar was not at all a good idea. They remembered that there had been a blacklist in Hollywood; they remembered that Elia Kazan had been on the side of the blacklisters. They started speaking out; they started writing letters; they decided to take out ads; they started appearing on television with their side of the story. That's why I've written this article.
The Academy has hunkered down low in the bush and maintains a stony silence. Its decision is made. Kazan will get his Oscar. But the protest against Kazan has caused at least some who originally supported Kazan to reconsider their original vote. Hal Kanter, a member of the Academy board who voted for Kazan, has since said, "My first impulse, always as a human being, is to forgive and let bygones go by. But in the current controversy over an Academy Award, I am ambivalent about honoring Elia Kazan." Haskell Wexler, another member of the board and an Academy Award winner in his own right, echoes Kanter's declaration.
Once Kazan's complete past was again brought to light, many who had been silent began to speak out. Faye Kanin, a former Academy board member, reflected, "I too wondered why the board of governors had decided to do this -- [Kazan] has received two Oscars for his work." Rod Steiger, who has an Oscar of his own, says of Kazan, "This man created hell for a lot of people."
While Academy insiders ponder the board's decision, outsiders are getting active. The Committee Against Silence, which opposes the Kazan Oscar, plans to picket the ceremony, setting up camp across from the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. Not to be outdone, the Ayn Rand Institute plans to protest the picketers. It promises to be a lively evening, indeed. But to get a proper grip on Kazanomania, you need to know something about the Hollywood blacklist. Here's the short course:
IN 1947 THE HOUSE COMMITTEE ON UN-AMERICAN Activities undertook an investigation of the motion picture industry. Hollywood studios and producers thought so highly of the committee and its aims that they refused to hire anyone who declined to cooperate with the committee's investigations and demands. The names of these people, these "unfriendly witnesses," were compiled to form a blacklist. Some of those people were Communists. Some of them used to be Communists but weren't anymore. Some of them had never been Communists. What they all had in common was that they would not cooperate with the committee. But whatever the political beliefs of the blacklistees, the studios agreed not to hire any of them. The Motion Picture Academy of Arts and Sciences, following suit in supporting the committee, passed a bylaw which said that no person who was blacklisted could get an Oscar.
It's always helpful to cite authorities in these matters, so I'm going to rely on Arthur Schlesinger Jr. to help me out. A staunch cold warrior, an impeccably credentialed anti-Communist, Schlesinger wrote an article for The New York Times on February 28 of this year, in which he said: "Little has disgraced Congress more than the House Committee on Un-American Activities. Its inquiry into Communism in Hollywood was among the most indefensible, scandalous and cruel episodes in the entire history of legislative investigations."
Which brings us to Elia Kazan. In 1952, Kazan appeared before that same committee, and in the furtherance of this "indefensible, scandalous and cruel episode," he gave the names of his left-leaning colleagues to the committee. If they did not see eye to eye with the committee, if they chose not to cooperate, they were blacklisted, consigned to professional oblivion. Not only did Kazan cooperate with the committee, he quickly took out a full-page ad in The New York Times justifying and rationalizing his testimony. And he continued to work for top dollar in Hollywood. Cooperate with a committee that has "disgraced Congress" and get right in on the ground floor where there's plenty of cash for those who can gauge the political wind correctly. It's truly a wonderful life.
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