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Oscar Winner Kazan Leaves Bitter Legacy

Elia Kazan | Denzel and Dido | Kudos

Kazan Leaves Bitter Legacy

Not everyone is mourning director Elia Kazan, who died yesterday at age 94.

Revered by some as a great artist, Kazan is also remembered for his self-motivated testimony before the House Un-American Activities Committee in the early 1950s. Kazan named names, sold out his friends and in the process destroyed lives.

Two of those lives belonged to Morris Carnovsky and his wife Phoebe Brand. They were blacklisted, and their careers ruined, when Kazan named them in 1951. Carnovsky, who went on to become America's leading Shakespearean actor, died in 1992 at age 95.

Kazan also named Lillian Hellman, Dashiell Hammett, Clifford Odets, Pamela Miller, Tony Kraber and J. Edward Bromberg.

Carnovsky, who had made more than two dozen movies since 1937 and was a member with Brand, Kazan, and Odets of the Group Theatre, knew immediately his career was over. I interviewed Brand, who is now 96, four years ago about what happened when Kazan identified her and her husband in front of Congress as communists in order to save himself.

"What we felt was terror," she recalled.

Kazan, of course, survived the HUAC testimony and went on to direct many brilliant movies such as "On the Waterfront." He never looked back. And he never apologized.

With the exception of Hellman, who went on to write a trilogy of successful memoirs, the others named by Kazan were more or less finished. For the Carnovskys, it wasn't a question of never eating lunch in this town again. They had to leave town. In a hurry.

"That's when we came back to New York from Hollywood," Brand said. "Hitler had done a good job. And that's exactly what the McCarthy era felt like. We didn't know what was going to happen. We were taking no chances. We were moving away out of the storm, as it were."

The blacklist was particularly devastating to Carnovsky's career. He is generally regarded as this country's Olivier, one of the greatest American actors of all time. But because of Kazan, little of his work is captured on film, only in memory.

Carnovsky can still be seen in 1950's "Cyrano de Bergerac" with Jose Ferrer and in "Rhapsody in Blue" as George Gershwin's father, as well as in "Dead Reckoning" and "Cornered."

"We preferred to work on the stage," said Brand, which is likely a true but helpful rationalization for what had been lost.

Carnovsky's troubles did not begin with his testimony in 1951, but in the 1930s.

"We were progressives," Brand observed. "In those days it was a time of great unionization. The Wobblies were a very radical unionizing group who were killed," she said, referring to the International Workers of the World, the famous union that took on Arizona copper-mining companies in 1917.

"We thought you had to have unions. We started Equity and the CIO," Brand continues. "There were sit-in strikes. Gangsters owned New York City. So you had to do something. You had to see a way out. So many people were radical, especially people in the theater. It was the only way at that time that we could see a future, whether it's the right one or wrong one."

But Kazan, who had himself been a member of the Communist Party, seemed to forget what had been his own interest in that world when he'd been a young member of the Group Theatre with the couple. Even though Carnovsky had not been a member of the party, Kazan insisted he had and HUAC brought the actor to Washington.

"Morris was bolstered by other people behaving badly," Brand recalled. "He heard someone testify that they had joined the Party to meet girls and he, Morris, was disgusted. He said, 'I could never be that crude.'"

Carnovsky invoked the Fifth Amendment, refused to name names, and was dismissed. The damage was done.

The blacklist at one time comprised 324 names and destroyed the film community for two decades. It stalled and nearly finished the careers of actors who found some fame later, such as Zero Mostel, Lee Grant, Lee J. Cobb and Betty Garrett, as well as writers Walter Bernstein and Dalton Trumbo.

"So many beautiful, lovely people died of heart attacks," Brand said of the victims. As for the accusers: "Almost everyone who named names died shortly after it, they were so guilty. But not Kazan. He felt he did the right thing. But what kind of person is that? He was an opportunist."

Brand, who directed theater and taught acting, made one movie in her lifetime, Louis Malle's "Vanya on 42nd Street."

Carnovsky, until his death, wrote, taught and carved a niche for himself as this country's pre-eminent Shakespearean. To this day, his performances are spoken of reverently.

Kazan, meantime, was rewarded for his betrayals with a second Oscar for best director in 1954 for "On the Waterfront," which was written by Budd Schulberg, who also named names. (Kazan's first Oscar, seven years earlier, was for "Gentlemen's Agreement.")

It seems odd now, with actors advocating causes and taking political positions, that one time they were punished for having views. Susan Sarandon, for example, has become a lightning rod for issues.

"I've always admired Susan Sarandon," said Brand. "People have to say what they believe. You have to fight for what you think is right. Otherwise what are you? Nothing."

For years, few outside the industry thought much about Kazan's tricky position in Hollywood history. Even after it became quite clear what he'd done, it didn't stop such well-known names as Marlon Brando, Natalie Wood, Faye Dunaway or Robert De Niro from working with him. Warren Beatty made his debut in Kazan's "Splendor in the Grass."

Brand was not bitter about Kazan, even when he received his honorary Oscar in 1999.

"In the end, the people saved us," she said. "The people of this country will not stand for oppression of any kind. They save us all the time. I have to trust them. They did it then, they did it with Nixon, they did it just now. The American people are wonderful."

Denzel's Son Runs All the Way; So Does Dido

Denzel Washington's college-football-star son, John, set a record Saturday. He ran for a school-record 242 yards and a touchdown as Morehouse College beat Johnson C. Smith 39-21 on Saturday night. It was the team's first win in five games.

At last: Some light at the end of the tunnel for Arista Records and L.A. Reid. After a wobbly start, and several iffy fiscal quarters, Reid is poised to have some big chart hits in the next few weeks. He's got solid albums from Aretha Franklin and Outkast already in stores, a new one from Dido being released tomorrow and another one from Pink in six weeks.

Dido, the real question mark in the group, should find sophomore success (to use an old Cashbox expression) with "Life for Rent." Franklin's going to get a bunch of Grammy nominations, including one for Best Album. Kudos all around.

Yesterday's New York Times, front page, story about the new Daily News columnist Lloyd Grove. As usual, the Times misses the real story, but we'll wait a couple of weeks and see if they figure it out.