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Kazan’s Oscar Gets Praise, Protest

March 22, 1999

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ He didn’t apologize for naming names. He didn’t criticize his opponents or even mention politics. Instead, 89-year-old Elia Kazan sounded a lot like any other grateful recipient of an Academy Award.

``I think I can just slip away. You want me to say anything more?″ the Oscar-winning director said at the conclusion of his speech at the Academy Awards, where he became the most controversial winner in recent memory of an honorary prize.

No one could forget films such as ``On the Waterfront″ and ``A Streetcar Named Desire.″ But some had not forgotten, or forgiven, that in the 1950s he had named names to a Congressional committee investigating communist influence in Hollywood.

While some, including Oscar nominees Nick Nolte and Ed Harris, refused to applaud, there was a warm response by many to the director’s lifetime achievement award.

``I thank you very much. I really like to hear that and I want to thank the Academy for its courage, generosity,″ Kazan said of the applause that greeted him after he was presented the lifetime achievement award by director Martin Scorsese and actor Robert De Niro.

Those enthusiastically applauding the award included Lynn Redgrave, Meryl Streep, Helen Hunt and Kurt Russell. Others, particularly in the front of the auditorium, rose to their feet.

The moment sickened her, said Joan Scott, the widow of blacklisted writer Adrian Scott.

``We had hoped for a silent reaction,″ she said in a telephone interview after the ceremony. ``I wish they would have expressed some objection to an informer who badly hurt other people to save his skin.″

``The Academy seems to have learned nothing from history. It seems to have learned nothing from collaborating with McCarthyism,″ said Becca Wilson, whose blacklisted father was Michael Wilson, a co-writer of the screenplay for ``Bridge on the River Kwai.″

The decision to honor Kazan, whose Oscar-winning films include ``On the Waterfront″ and ``Gentleman’s Agreement,″ seemed to split the Hollywood community.

But the angry remarks exchanged by supporters and detractors leading up to the awards didn’t overshadow the ceremony _ as some had predicted.

There were few references to Kazan throughout the evening; Robin Williams even offered a light-hearted joke.

``In terms of the Kazan controversy, let Lainie sing,″ Williams said, referring to singer-actress Lainie Kazan, no relation to the director.

But the hundreds of protesters who gathered before the ceremony, including blacklisted writers, could see only tragedy. A band of 60 Kazan supporters also were outside the Music Center.

``Kazan: Snitch,″ read one sign. Another said, ``Elia Kazan: Benedict Arnold.″ His backers carried competing placards: ``Kazan: Defender of Free Speech″ and ``Thanks for Not Apologizing.″

``We believe he was a moral giant,″ said Scott McConnell, a spokesman for the Ayn Rand Institute, which helped organize the rally. ``Mr. Kazan had the courage of his conviction to speak against evil.″

The director became known in the 1930s and ’40s as one of Broadway’s finest, with productions including Tennessee Williams’ ``A Streetcar Named Desire″ and Arthur Miller’s ``Death of a Salesman.″

Kazan joined the Communist Party in the ’30s, but left after he was pressured to make party-directed changes in the running of New York’s influential Group Theatre. He had been a Communist for less than two years, from summer 1934 to spring 1936.

In January 1952, Kazan testified before the House Un-American Activities Committee, admitting to his party membership but refusing to give the names of others involved in the movement.

Four months later, he changed his mind. Playwright Clifford Odets, actress Phoebe Brand and Paula Miller, the actress-wife of Group Theatre leader Lee Strasberg, were among the eight he identified as Communists.

Most, if not all, had been named in other testimony.

Critics say Kazan acted at the urging of producer Darryl Zanuck to selfishly preserve his Hollywood career. But in his 1988 autobiography, ``A Life,″ Kazan writes that he had come to disagree with the Communist program.

After his testimony was released, Kazan placed an ad in The New York Times.

``Secrecy serves the Communists,″ the statement insisted. ``At the other pole, it serves those who are interested in silencing liberal voices. The employment of good liberals is threatened because they have allowed themselves to become associated with or silenced by the Communists.

``Liberals must speak out.″