Happy birthday to the very talented Elia Kazan, 9/7/1909 – 9/23/2003.
Kazan was born in Greece and immigrated to America with his parents. He studied drama at Yale before going on to work as an actor, director and writer. In addition to founding the Actor’s Studio, the same Actor’s Studio that James Lipton is “inside,” he directed a number of famous films, including my favorites A Streetcar Named Desire, On the Waterfront, Splendor in the Grass and East of Eden. These films alone launched or established the careers of Marlon Brando, Karl Malden, James Dean, Eva Marie Saint, Warren Beatty and Natalie Wood.
In his Actor’s Studio, Kazan promoted the Method, a style of acting that encourages complete immersion of the actor into character. To me, watching Marlon Brando in Streetcar for the first time must have been like seeing Elvis or hearing Nirvana for the first time–it’s just not like anything before it, but it changed everything after it.
I know and appreciate Kazan’s work in film, but he also had a huge impact on the theater and acting as a whole. He was interested in exploring social justice and controversial issues in his work, but his focus on acting and portraying realness are what set him apart.