In this way, the biography demands a musing, contemplative andante to join Leader on a stroll through byways that suddenly lead to open and mighty vistas, doubling back to look at dead ends, crawling through barely passable thickets to consider the allure of paths that Bellow probed and tested and then spurned. From his youth onward, he lived an amazingly full life—filled with sex and romance sometimes together , a wide range of intense friendships and bitter disputes, intellectual adventures, political action he was a Communist, then a Trotskyist , sudden changes in circumstance, and wide travels—many schools, many jobs, many cities, many countries.
Through it all, the constant was writing. Throughout the thirties, forties—and, for that matter, through the early sixties, until he was nearly fifty—Bellow pieced together an income with freelance teaching jobs, freelance writing jobs, grants, fellowships, lectures, and scant advances which nonetheless left him thousands of dollars in debt to his publisher.
He married, divorced, married, divorced, and married, had alimony and child support to pay, while wrenching the time to write from his whirlwind of practical demands and emotional disturbances. Along with his past, Bellow liberated his voice; the novel, as Leader details, virtually poured out of Bellow, in a great rush of demotic flamboyance.
It was Bellow with the superego unlatched. The tumultuous passions of his own travels and travails, his family and friends—and politics and sex—were exalted as an exemplary literary subject. Sensibly, Schickel wastes little space on family history, or on Kazan's studies at Williams College and the Yale Drama School, from neither of which the young man felt he had gained much. Not so, however, from the Group Theater, into which he inveigled his way through charm and sweat, eventually reaching the top echelon.
He had some respect for Harold Clurman, but scant use for Lee Strasberg, whom he resolved to supplant. Beginning as a character actor, he specialized in gangster roles; no less a critic than J. Edgar Hoover proclaimed him the most authentic hood he had seen.
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He befriended Clifford Odets and appeared in "Waiting for Lefty" and "Golden Boy"; in Chicago, the Mafia was so impressed as to get him better housing than he could afford. Still, Clurman had told him, "You may have talent for the theater, but it's certainly not for acting. He also joined the Communist Party in , but left it in disgust after 19 months. Next he wangled the job directing Thornton Wilder's demanding "Skin of Our Teeth" with a notable cast. He was only 34 and inexperienced, but his services came cheap.
That piece was a milestone. Tallulah did her level best to get him fired, but he survived her tantrums and maneuvers.
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Later he said she had "made a director of me," because "every fighter has one fight that makes or breaks him. That was my fight. Soon Kazan was working with Helen Hayes, for whom he could do nothing, and Mary Martin, whom, in "One Touch of Venus," he was able to make "more down-to-earth, less of a soubrette. He also realized that his great successes were to be built around star turns, without which his shows would fail. View all New York Times newsletters.
Pretty soon he branched out into movies, where his first success was "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn" in Here he developed his technique, which often consisted of setting up creative antagonisms between actors, or, as in the case of the young Peggy Ann Garner, of tormenting her into evincing grief for her alcoholic father, played by the excellent James Dunn. The film allowed Kazan to address one of his perennially favorite topics, that of "the immigrant outsider, ever the imperfect American," which no success could quite uproot from his mind, producing a neediness that "drove almost all his actions -- from his marriages to his politics.
We are taken in breathtaking, often riotous but never excessive, detail through Kazan's many achievements. We get the making of such hits as "A Streetcar Named Desire" and "Death of a Salesman," plus several more by Williams and Miller, vividly conveying how much the plays owed to him, how different their authors' careers might have been without him. Even a number of flops provide compelling evidence of how effectively, even if sometimes adversarially, Kazan worked with different playwrights and players.
Especially gripping is the interaction with Marlon Brando, whom he loved, and James Dean, whom he didn't. A ND then all those movies!
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The fine "Viva Zapata! The biography goes exuberantly to town on "On the Waterfront," the collaboration with Budd Schulberg, an account so rich in funny and grim particulars that it could form a terse, mandatory volume for all film courses. It is Brando's on-screen best, later prompting Martin Scorsese's observation that Kazan "was forging a new acting style. Indeed, Brando and Eva Marie Saint infused the film with great tenderness. As Saint was to comment about her director, "There was such empathy felt from this man.
Another major success was "East of Eden," again with assistance from Steinbeck. Here the technique of sharpening intramural antagonism was perfected, in this case between Dean and Raymond Massey as his father, eliciting rewardingly taut performances. For autobiographical reasons, the father-son conflict kept running through, and lending power to, Kazan's oeuvre. Schickel's pungent account of "Baby Doll" reawakens interest in that memorable but neglected comedy, Kazan's most erotic picture. As his wife, the patrician, puritanical Molly, hitherto a useful literary adviser, became ever more "calcified" to him, Kazan started an affair with Barbara Loden.
Molly's opposite, she was passionately lower-class, free from abstract ideas, very attractive and, of course, blond. With the satirical "Face in the Crowd," Kazan returned to a favorite theme, "the hidden ambiguity of idealistic enterprises.
Kazan's last hit movie was "Splendor in the Grass" in , with Warren Beatty in his film debut and Natalie Wood, from whom Kazan evoked superb performances, well beyond Inge's script and powerfully caught by Boris Kaufman's camera. Onstage, meanwhile, Kazan was stuck with Arthur Miller's political and marital auto-whitewash, "After the Fall," which, in spite of the shaky writing, provided Loden with her greatest success.
Kazan's scrappiness comes across in such statements as "It's stimulating to dislike someone, don't you think? The marriage to Loden soured, and though his unremarkable novels kept morale and cash flow going, the Kazan star was fading.
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Yet there was still a happy adventure with a recent widow on a romantic trip to Europe. And Elia faithfully nursed the by-then-estranged Barbara through her two-year-long losing battle with cancer. His final movie, "The Last Tycoon," flopped: "The resilience has gone out of me.
And the fun. His last novel, "Beyond the Aegean," a sequel to his family-historical book and movie "America, America," was reviewed practically nowhere. Afflicted with deafness and arteriosclerosis, he was only half there when receiving his controversial lifetime-achievement Oscar in Four years later he died, having just turned Schickel got to know Kazan by making a television documentary about him. He also put together the film clips introducing that rather stormy Oscar presentation. He is cogent about Kazan's politics, and makes a convincing case for Kazan's naming of names to HUAC -- hardly heroic, but far from indefensible.
L ong ago, Schickel and I edited an obscure anthology together, but since those days we never communed or even communicated. I neglected, probably wrongly, his many books and TV documentaries.
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So I was stunned by the sharpness, levelheadedness and multifariousness of "Elia Kazan," some errors notwithstanding. Also problems of accidence "whom some thought was a journalist" , subject and verb agreement, tautology "reverted back" and the nonword "thusly. But let's forgive a book that, without any flab, manages to be, over and above a biography, a stirring bit of social history and a panorama of Broadway and Hollywood during what may have been their glory days. It could not be a more pertinent study of a spellbinding subject. A review in the Book Review on Nov.