Kazan's Oscar Gets Praise, Protest
Mar. 22, 1999
LOS ANGELES (AP) _ Elia Kazan accepted a special Oscar on Sunday to the applause of some colleagues and the stony silence of others unwilling to forgive his decision nearly 50 years ago to name names to a congressional committee during the McCarthy era.
``I thank you very much. I really like to hear that and I want to thank the academy for its courage, generosity,'' Kazan said after he was presented the award by director Martin Scorsese and actor Robert De Niro.
He ended his acceptance by saying, ``I think I can just slip away.''
There were those who refrained from applauding _ a pointed sign of the resentment that remains from his testimony to the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1952. Nick Nolte, a best actor nominee, sat with his arms crossed. A supporting actor nominee, Ed Harris, also did not applaud. Steven Spielberg applauded, but remained seated.
Others enthusiastically greeted the lifetime achievement award, including Lynn Redgrave, Meryl Streep, Helen Hunt and Kurt Russell. Others, particularly in front of the auditorium, rose to their feet.
The special award, proposed by board member and Kazan friend Karl Malden, had inflamed old warriors and opened old wounds.
Outside the Oscar ceremony, rival demonstrators carried signs and shouted slogans in response to the special Oscar.
Hundreds of protesters, including blacklisted writers, denounced the 89-year-old director as a destroyer of careers and lives.
``Kazan: Snitch,'' read one sign. Another said, ``Elia Kazan: Benedict Arnold.''
``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 ``The Bridge on the River Kwai.''
Across the street, about 100 more protesters demonstrated against communism _ and in support of Kazan _ with such signs as ``Thank you, Kazan, for not being silent'' and ``Hollywood communists supported Stalin.''
``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 protests were the latest in the mounting dispute over the award.
At a Thursday news conference, academy President Robert Rehme defended the Oscar as solely recognizing Kazan's work. But Rehme said protests had the value of highlighting ``that terrible period of our history.''
``To deny a filmmaker of Elia Kazan's abilities, to deny him the life achievement award is not only petty but shocking,'' said actor and conservative activist Charlton Heston.
``He has nothing to be contrite about. He did what he did out of principle,'' said Kazan's wife, Frances.
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.''
He won directing Oscars for 1947's ``Gentleman's Agreement'' and ``On the Waterfront,'' the 1954 film that starred Marlon Brando.
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 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 Phobe 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 and to despise the party's stealth.
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.''