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The Ongoing Punishment of Elia Kazan?

February 11, 1996

While Elia Kazan made enormous thematic films that are among the absolute best of the art form, his legacy also includes his capitulation to the House Committee on Un-American Activities ("Why Won't Hollywood Forgive Elia Kazan?" by Patrick Goldstein, Jan. 14). That may have cost him some awards, but not winning a popularity vote is hardly the same as being denied one's livelihood as a result of and entire industry's collusion.

As a former Screen Actors Guild board member, I cannot forget Charlton Heston's own campaign of disinformation and Red-baiting against actor Edward Asner and against the Screen Actors Guild. After being presented with the facts proving the contrary, Heston repeatedly spread false charges of SAG involvement with what he termed communist guerrillas in El Salvador. The intent was to neutralize Asner as a highly visible critic of President Ronald Reagan.

Cowardly leaders of Hollywood institutions and right-wing zealots are what empowered the blacklist--not one director who gave in to save his own career.

Mark Schubb

general manager, KPFK

North Hollywood

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In reference to Charlton Heston's use of the word "appalled" in describing his reaction to the American Film Institute's refusal to consider Kazan for its Lifetime Achievement Award:

I am appalled that Kazan---- so enamored of power, publicity and recognition by an industry he, at times, seems to have little respect for----is now, because of age, expecting to be forgiven.

I am appalled by the deaths of those who, though never proven guilty of anything, had heart attacks from the stress of not being able to provide for their loved ones because their artistic careers were destroyed by myths. And by those who committed suicide, leaving families penniless, children wounded for life, wives doomed, perhaps, to loneliness.

I am appalled by the completely un-American behavior of executives who, fearing monetary loss, destroyed or crippled the lives of some of this country's most productive people just on hearsay.

I am appalled because, unfortunately, these victims cannot come back. There is no rebirth for those whose destruction was abetted by a financially comfortable arts leader.

Rod Steiger

Malibu

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Kazan, as an announced ex-communist, cannot be challenged for identifying Arthur Miller and others as party members. Of course there were communists in the New York theater of the 1930s, and of course some of them came to Hollywood.

By 1950, the USSR's Iron Curtain had turned the climate frigid, leaving many well-meaning filmmakers, who'd been seduced by the Marxist dream, crushed by the reality of Stalinism. Interestingly, none of them had actually made a Marxist film, nor had anyone else outside the U.S.S.R. Communist havoc here was wrought by people in the State Department, not by those in Hollywood.

The industry's left wing later served the Soviets as what Stalin called "useful idiots," demonizing Kazan and others for recanting their communist convictions and naming some former comrades. "He named names," they cried, outraged. What would they have said of, say, a French director who had not named those colleagues who had collaborated with the Nazis. There's a curious double standard here.

The Hollywood left will never forgive Kazan, who richly deserves the AFI award. Those who deny him should be ashamed.

Charlton Heston

Pacific Palisades

*

I met Elia Kazan only once, outside the LIttle Carnegie Theater the day "Burn," featuring Marlon Brando, opened in 1971. The two of us were among the few who had paid to see the Pontecorvo film, and we talked for am moment. He had a great face, wrong out of his Anatolian heritage. Ambition can seem to virtually project through features like that. And there's no doubt he was ambitious. He'd be the first to admit it.

He named the names as part of that ambition. He was wrong. He hurt people grievously. He wasn't alone. Those of the Left shredded themselves nearly as effectively as the ludicrous. Right tore them apart----a tendency they still have.

Many of Kazan's films seem now to suffer from liberal good intentions. Yet, it's amazing how few Hollywood works actually contain any politics. It's strange, for such a fund-raising community, that those who now testify against Kazan still don't put their own beliefs in their own work.

Kazan' long spill of an autobiography is at times a riff of self-justification, but it feels unmistakably truthful--the warty presentation of a complex man. While AFI members keep the award from him, wax bile at the mention of his name, cross the street when he comes by, blame him more than the HUAC and never forgive him, let the rest of us be grateful for his films, which are as striking, groundbreaking and luminous today as when they were made--as any ever put on film.

John Sacret Young

Santa Monica

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