An engrossing collection chronicles the acclaimed director’s life and work.
Kazan (1909–2003) directed both plays and movies, winning Tony Awards, Oscars and many other awards. He also wrote a handful of novels and more than 1,200 letters. The Devlins have judiciously chosen 300, providing an informative context of theater and film history spiced with a hefty dose of gossip. Kazan’s correspondents feature a prominent cast of producers, actors and playwrights, as well as his wife and children. He wrote to John D. Rockefeller III about establishing Lincoln Center’s Repertory Theatre, of which Kazan became co-director; to John Steinbeck about the filming of his novel East of Eden (1955), with the unknown actor James Dean; to writer Budd Schulberg, explaining why Marlon Brando was “WRONG” for On the Waterfront (Kazan considered the very young Paul Newman: “This boy will definitely be a film star”). The letters reveal Kazan as restless, opinionated and fiercely ambitious. “I always had a great thirst for knowledge,” he wrote when he was 23. “When I was younger I actually had a fear that some kid would know more about some subject than I did. I tried to know everything about everything.” That fear persisted: When he was 45, he confessed to having “very large self doubts, especially on an intellectual level.” His doubts, though, did not deter him from challenging projects, including Thornton Wilder’s enigmatic The Skin of Our Teeth (1942) and Arthur Miller’s All My Sons (1947), Death of a Salesman (1949) and After the Fall (1964). He was Tennessee Williams’ director of choice, beginning with A Streetcar Named Desire (1951) and including Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1956) and Sweet Bird of Youth (1960). Copious letters to his wife reveal both his passion for his work and his many affairs (one with the “touching pathetic waif” Marilyn Monroe).
An impressive work of scholarship, this collection offers a sweeping look at 60 years of American popular culture and an intimate portrait of one complex man whirling at its center.