Quotes from Elia Kazan A Life —
New York, Da Capo Press, paperback edition 1997
(originally published 1988)
67"The links of meaning are always more relevant than those of time. For this reason, events that took place fifty years ago stand out vividly in my memory, whereas I can’t remember what I did last week."
71"The one thing any ambitious outsider seeking recognition in an alien society cannot tolerate is to be trapped in an enclosure where the gate is locked and he doesn’t have a key. The freedom to chose my next step is what I live by. Anything that threatens this freedom throws me — still! — into a fury."
72On insecurity: "I’ve never felt totally secure, even when I was most successful and every author wanted me to direct his new play. I’ve thought affluence uncertain and praise temporary. I am obsessively aware that money in the bank leaks, that it shrinks. I don’t trust the state — whatever state. Do you? Really? I fear authority. I don’t believe that those who exercise it will continue to be friendly. I trust authority — to be unfriendly. I feel I will be apprehended as much for my thoughts as for past deeds and omissions."
124"It’s our way with artists that when they become famous for their work, they’re made an authority in fields outside their ken — politics, for instance."
126"When the irritations, the problems, and the conflicts that existed before [an artist’s] big success are eased and removed, when the struggle is (apparently) over and one lives behind a permanent Don’t Disturb sign, it soon becomes evident that these troubles, now put behind, were the source and the genesis of the talent that brought on the success. Fame and money [insulate the artist] from the discomforts and challenges of the earlier years but, at the same time, "save" him from those abrasions that were the source of his "genius." There’s a price for everything."
128 On his leaving the Communist party: "What they (the Communists) blamed most was my character. I was an opportunist who’d do anything to get to the top. I’ve been accused of this many times by many people. The fact is that I do have — call it elitism — strong feelings that some people are smarter, more educated, more energetic, and altogether better qualified to lead than others. I also believed than and believe now that a person’s agreeing with me politically is not a guarantee of his or her artistic talent."
131"The (Party) Man from Detroit had been sent to stop the most dangerous thing the Party had to cope with: people thinking for themselves."
139On the importance to him of the inner life: "My intense life has always been the one within me. From the day I was aware of who I was and what my fate was to be (outside general society) I wished I were someone I was not — an American for instance. What I did not dare do in my life I did in my daydreams. Even now, as I walk the street, I find myself involved in unspoken dialogue with someone who exists only in my mind. I live a twenty-four hour movie, one in which I play many parts, some heroic, some defiant, some terrified, some amorous (X-rated). I’m not always the hero, but always bolder than I am in life."
160 On moving from New York to Hollywood: "I’d come to detest the "Los Angeles area" as the airline people call it. I hated the phony buildings, the fumes of heat rising from the macadam by day and the damp cold of the region at night. I hated the look of the people, their suntans were like what a funeral director’s assistant applies to the faces of the dead to make them look healthier than when they were alive. I hated the traffic and the trees, the restaurants and the stores, and I missed the New York Times. In years to come, although I was to work there several times for extended periods, I never found what there was about Hollywoodland to like."
"What I missed most….was the Group I’d been part of, and the people in it. […] It came over me again how important it was to my sense of life and my sense of humor to be close to comrades in art, people who had the same hopes and the same values I had and aspired to the same goals. Yes, to my surprise I missed the Group — not the organization, not all the personnel, not the leadership; simply the fact and the feeling of being together and united and living in harmony with people you liked, instead of the disharmony and indifference I felt around me in California.
It had needed the Group to break up for me to find out how important it was to me — and to them too, not as a theatre so much as way of life."
161"It is a unique man…who can sustain the fever of his dreams when he has money to eat regularly. Perhaps this was a hangover from my old Communist-days motto: "Only trust the working class."
191On always being ready to run: "I come from a family of voyagers; my uncle and my father were transients, less from disposition than from necessity. They were slippery, had to be. Raised in a world of memories, they grew up distrustful of fate. "Don’t worry," my uncle used to say, "everything will turn out bad." He knew that no matter how well things appeared to be going, a fall was ahead. Neither man was analytical. The habit of years had become instinct. Like deer who crop the grasses and, as they raise their head to chew, look one way and then the other for predators, my people lived ready to run. This instinct was in me at birth."
245On the effect on him of "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn:" "I was overwhelmed by [the play] on that second reading, cried and had other emotions of a most personal kind. Perhaps it was because I’d just seen my children and felt my loss of them keenly. Perhaps it was because I saw no solution ahead for me, so was sympathetic to the man who was addicted to alcohol. Perhaps the figure of his ramrod wife reminded me of everything unyielding I admired about [my own wife]. This, I saw, was the first piece of material offered me that made me think about my own life and my own dilemma. […]"
I realized that I’d never directed a play that meant anything personal to me. My career up to then had been that of a mechanic, an able technician. Doing plays that meant very little to me, I’d gained the reputation of a myth. It was the triumph of the disconnected."
246"All my life, whenever I’ve committed myself to a job, I’ve immediately wondered how I could get out of it."
251On his reaction to the frontiersman’s individualism of Bud Lighton (producer for the Fox movie studio): "Lighton made films one by one to satisfy himself. Each film he made contained the same themes, the same values. He had convictions, felt them strongly, talked about them constantly. They dealt with individual standards, never politics; with courage and decency, privileges and responsibilities. He was against the New Deal of Roosevelt, believed that a real man would not accept relief, that it amounted to pity. He despised the East Coast, its ideology and the civilization there. He was for the frontiersman, who lived on a large tract of semiwilderness and asked no favors of his neighbor or of nature, the man who lived where he couldn’t hear his neighbor’s dog bark. Lighton despised communism but despised "liberals" even more."
"This was the first time in my life that I disagreed with a man’s politics but loved the man. Suddenly political choice seemed less important. Bud aroused something more fundamental in me. Call it pride and individualism, speaking out on your own, asking no favors, fearing no one, enjoying courage in the face of adversity. When I listened to him, my left-wing positions seemed provincial, my convictions shallow. He appealed to that other, more conservative side of my ambivalent self…"
258On differences over shooting an emotional scene in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn: "What Bud was saying to me, in effect, was that it is better to arouse an audience to wonder than to show them the plain truth of what is happening. I recalled a bit of old theatre wisdom: When the actor cries, the audience won’t. It is better for an audience to ask itself, "I wonder what she’s feeling now: I wonder if she’s crying." In this respect, too, less is more."
260On being addicted to work: "I realize now that work was my drug. It held me together. It kept me high. When I wasn’t working, I didn’t know who I was or what I was supposed to do. This is general in the film world. You are so absorbed in making a film, you can’t think of anything else. It’s your identity, and when you’re done you are nobody."
273On the dissipating and dislocating effects of success: "And Orson Welles, the most talented and inventive theater man of my day: What an ass he seemed in the posh restaurants and hotels of Europe’s capitals, and how sad later, in financial desperation, making TV commercials. I was to watch with an awful pain how lost Tennessee Williams was as he shuttled around the bright spots of the world. The money his great success brought him allowed him to live in a way that squashed his talent. He would have been better off living in his native South, the part of the world where he was uncomfortable, even outraged, because he felt he was an outsider."
299On why artists are different: "Artists are different from other people, and they do behave differently. I’ve already expressed my opinion that vanity — one of the seven deadly sins — is often a spur to creation in a filmmaker. Now consider the seven deadly virtues for the artist. Here are seven: Agreeable. Accommodating. Fair-minded. Well-balanced. Obliging. Generous. Democratic. You don’t agree with my choices? How about these: Controlled. Kind. Unprejudiced. Yielding. Unassertive. Faithful. Self-effacing. And for good measure: Co-operative. They are all deadly — for the artist. They add up to what is suggested by "nice guy," "sweet", "pleasant," "lovable," "on the side of the angels." None of which an artist is, should be, or ever has been. If he seems that way, he is concealing his true nature. He should better be a disrupter, on the side of the devil. In the years ahead, every time I was a nice guy, cooperative, and yielding to the point of view of others, I had a disaster."
322 On art as an expression of the individual personality, not a collective: "I came to the conclusion that artists should not have partners [in production]. If they’re any good at all, what they should produce is a piece of personal expression, theirs uniquely.
Nor was the theatre… a collective art. A fine artistic production expresses the vision, the conviction, and the insistent presence of one person. It is best when undiluted by artistic cooperation, when it is not characterized by any of the seven (or more) deadly virtues…. An acting company is best when it’s trained by its director (a benign tyrant) for a specific purpose: his production. […] The great theatre works I’d hear tell about were finally the product of a single artist, an individual who was his own man, a visionary with a special vision and a dominating ego. It had always been thus and it always would be."
336 On the bonds between himself and Tennessee Williams: "There was a bond between Williams and me. What the gay world — then still largely closeted — was to him, my foreignness was to me. We were both outsiders in the straight (or native) society we lived in. Life in America made us both quirky rebels."
"There was another unspoken sympathy that bound us. Just as I was, and have been all my life long, Tennessee seemed to be waiting all the day through for the morning to come, that time when he’d be safely alone. The first hours of the day were the dearest ones for this man, his openhearted time. Mornings were when he worked, the only time he could, it seemed, and work was why he lived. He was to write in his Memoirs: "Mornings! It sometimes appears to me that I have lived a life of morning after morning, since it is and has always been the mornings in which I’ve worked." And then: "Work, the loveliest of all four letter words, surpassing even the importance of love — most times." He also wrote of his most persisting and terrible fear. "An artist dies two deaths," he wrote, "not only his own as a physical being but that of his creative powers which die before his body does." Did he seek to prove to himself every morning that he was still alive?"
348Speculating on the inner conflicts of Tennessee Williams, when directing "A Streetcar Named Desire": "What a struggle it must have been for Tennessee to face his homosexuality in a society where it was thought shameful. There had to have been an early anguish in his way of life and a separation from the "normal" society around him.
Was there something of the Puritan guilt there, that he’d betrayed the moral standards of his people, that the way he behaved when he was most "himself" was sinful?… I wondered if the inner conflict I was scratching for was that of the gentleness of his true heart against the violent calls of his erotic nature? Was that clash the source of his gift? The play was certainly as autobiographical as I’d guessed. But I couldn’t think of him as a Puritan fighting a "baser" nature. I’d had considerable experience with the Puritan character — my beloved wife — and its outstanding characteristic was the compulsion to pressure others to do right. There was none of this in Williams; he went his own way and gave others the same space. He was not Arthur Miller; he had no need to teach. "The only unforgivable thing," Blanche says in Streetcar, "is deliberate cruelty to others — of which I have never been guilty." Art would never have written that."
353 On directing the Tennessee Williams play "A Streetcar Named Desire:" "When I finished work on his play, I was full of admiration for Tennessee, especially because he’d found his story in his own life’s struggles; the man had used his personal contradictions and the memory of his pain to make it. When I considered him, I saw that the true artist must have the courage to reveal what the rest of mankind conceals. […] He thought it an artist’s duty to deny nothing and avoid self-favoring. He should not apologize for anything, never beg for pity, be pitiless with himself. After this experience, I saw every play and every film that I worked on as a confession, veiled or partly exposed, but always its author’s self-revelation."
353-4On how he came to become a writer, and the genesis of America America: "I’d never thought of becoming a writer, believing (as I still do) that I have no gift for prose. But I did believe that I have an ear for dialogue, for speech under stress, and it was because of Williams that I thought I might someday dramatize the history of the people in my family. I didn’t write America America until many years later, but it was because of Tennessee that I came to believe that, in time, I might. I began to recall the events of my earliest days in Turkey and in the enclave of Anatolian Greeks on Manhattan’s 136th Street, to remember the stories my grandmother told me, and to value as dramatic material my parents and that most eccentric lot, my uncles and aunts. It was because of Williams that I began to look at my life, see it as drama, and think that I might someday become some kind of dramatist myself."
363-4 A self-assessment as a theatrical director: "In time I had to confront some facts. I am a mediocre director except when a play or film touches a part of my life’s experience. Other times my cleverness and facility will not overcome my inadequacies. When I rely on mechanics, I do only what a good stage manager should be able to do. I am not catholic in my tastes. I dislike Beckett — his work. I am not an intellectual. I don’t have great range. I am no good with music or spectacles. The classics are beyond me. I enjoy humor and the great clowns, but I can’t make up jokes or amusing bits of byplay and visual humor. What I need I steal. I have no ear for poetry. I have a pretty good eye but not a great eye. I do have courage, even some daring. I am able to talk to actors; I don’t fear them and their questions. I’ve been able to arouse them to better work. I have strong, even violent feelings, and they are assets. I am not shy about ripping the cover-guard off my own experiences; this encourages actors to overcome their inhibitions. I enjoy working with performers; they sense this and have been happy as well as successful with me. This is useful."
364-5 On theatre: "Something special has happened in the theatre; movies and television have taken over most of the traditional ground. What we see today on the screen, large or small, cannot be matched on a stage by any realistic stage production. Naturalism has been made redundant. This is not a setback; it’s an invitation to the imagination. […] Our most imaginative theatre work today is in dance and in our musicals. […] Facts no longer interest us. See the Today show if you want facts; wait for the seven o’clock news. But theatre as an event of the free fancy, one that involves its audience totally in a flight of the imagination, will exist always and I believe become less "realistic"," and so, like painting and dance, more of an art. Wonder is our need today, not information."
367On Arthur Miller: "Art was not a writer who made up stories. His material had to be experienced; he reported on his inner condition. Art had to go through a crisis; that would provide him with material for a play. He had to have that living connection with a subject before he could make a drama of it. […] At his best he is true to what happened to him. Out of experience came his good work, conceived in ambivalence and his own confusion and resolved in pity and a recognition of terror."
369On the perils of middle age — for men and women: "As the years pass — and I’m braving the wrath of my women friends — men always begin to look elsewhere for rejuvenation, poor things. Their penises, barometers of their continuing vitality, become less cooperative. This awakes anxiety. Men also search elsewhere for fresh entertainment — we have our geishas too. And for spiritual reassurance… But perhaps what they come to need most of all is hope. Desire, Tennessee Williams said, is the opposite of death. In desperation we do what we can.
It’s more difficult for women. They have the same needs — rejuvenation, entertainment, reassurance, hope — that men have. Most women have not been able to find relief and help as readily or as easily. I’ve noticed the faces of wives who, impelled by their notion of duty and even more by their fear of being abandoned (so many middle-class wives have confessed to me that they fear their husbands will find out what they really think — an unguarded mumble in their sleep — and quit them), do their duty all their lives through, preserving their real thoughts in silence and their deepest desires unfulfilled. The faces of these good creatures acquire a wistful aspect, a dreamy look, as they fade back permanently from life and the hope of solution. They live in a fog of neglect and longing. An experienced hunter can always tell when women like that are on the slippery edge and ready to tumble off. They are equally ambivalent with men. In time their children become more important to them than their husbands, but the day comes when the children leave home too. Then they face the final fact: They are alone."
370On his u2018womanizing': "The affairs I’ve had were sources of knowledge; they were my education. For many years, in this area and only in this area, I’ve used the lie, and I’m not proud of that. But I must add this. My "womanizing" saved my life. It kept the juices pumping and saved me from drying up, turning to dust, and blowing away, like some of my friends. The life-in-hazard that I lived kept me curious, interested, eager, searching, and in excellent health. I struggled with the impossible; how it make it all work together without shaming myself. I failed. But I did not settle for a solution which would have choked me to death.
As always, there was a price. I led a double life and became a double person. It marked me."
381"Film…is now the language of mankind"
381-2 On the night atmosphere in New Orleans: "New Orleans was full of the music I love. In my nocturnal wanderings, I got to meet a number of the jazz musicians.. After dark the city was full of pulsing sound. I’d walk down a street lined with u2018joints’ out of which jazz flooded into the soft night air. In New Orleans, on Panic on the Streets, I learned the importance of music in film….often it’s as important as anything except the sequence of pictures that will tell the story."
404On seducing Marilyn Monroe: "People talk of the technique of seduction as if it’s an art. In my experience it consisted of listening, paying attention, affording true sympathy, and letting some time pass; that is to say, being human and not pressing…. I’m still surprised at how quickly women will empty the most intimate secrets of their lives into a sympathetic ear."
407On Marilyn Monroe: "The girl had little education and no knowledge except the knowledge of her own experience; of that she had a great deal, and for an actor, that is the important kind of knowledge. For her, I found, everything was either completely meaningless or completely personal. She had no interest in abstract, formal or impersonal concepts but was passionately devoted to her own life’s experiences. What she needed above all was to have her own worth affirmed. Born out of wedlock, abandoned by her parents, kicked around, scorned by the men she’d been with…, she wanted more than anything else approval from men she could respect…. But there was a fatal contradiction in Marilyn. She deeply wanted reassurance of her worth, yet she respected the men who scorned her, because their estimate of her was her own."
425"Molly (Kazan’s first wife) could never accept the proposition that some disorder is inevitable in life, even preferable. She wanted a firmly controlled existence… Increasingly, I wanted a less ordered life. […] Nothing I’d seen of the world told me that relationships endure except by slow, gentle dissolution. They endure by shrinking; then there’s no conflict."
429 On directing Marlon Brando in "Viva Zapata": "I was telling him not to play the scenes with his wife in the kind of romantic love stupor American actors pretend…. Our kind of romantic love (if it is romantic, if you can call it love) is a product of our middle class. Zapata’s social concerns are his real concerns.
This wasn’t hard for Marlon to understand. He was that way in life…. What I described for the peasant Zapata was very close to the way Marlon lived his life. For both of them there were deeper needs than "romance.""
438On the aftermath of the Legion of Decency censorship issue over A Streetcar Named Desire: "The article Molly had rewritten for the New York Times had made me a cultural hero again, but I felt dissatisfied with what she’d done. I thought it temperate and reasonable and balanced, whereas my feelings were intemperate, unreasonable, and probably unbalanced. I’d made the film, worked like a demon and a slave, only to be forced to submit it to the will of a proud conspiracy, led by the gluttonous Pope of Fiftieth Street and the men who worked under his guidance to win his approval — "The Powerhouse" it was justly called."
455Recalling Darryl F. Zanuck’s comments on Washington: "He told me that he’d had a good deal of experience in Washington during the war, and "the idea there is not to be right but to win.""
458On his ambivalence regarding testifying to the House Unamerican Activities Committee: "Why had I posed as a left-oriented liberal for so long? Why had I tried so hard and for so long to stay in good with my old comrades when I no longer believed in anything they stood for? Answer: I’d been trying to stay in good with all sides, to be liked by everyone, to have it all, left, right and center, just as I’d managed to have both Broadway and Hollywood, commercial success and artistic eminence" (and, it may be added, his wife and a string of mistresses).
485"The only genuinely good and original films I’ve made, I made after my testimony. The ones before were professionally adept, not sufficient praise — that word "adept" — for a man as hungry for excellence in achievement as I was. The films after April 1, 1952 were personal, they came out of me, fired by what I’ve been describing. They’re films I still respect."
487 "I’d been selected as the number one blacklist target of "all right-thinking people" and was the frequent object of attacks by liberal columnists in newspapers I read every day."
488On his desire to make a waterfront (New York harbor) film: "I was.. determined to show my old "comrades," those who’d attacked me so viciously, that there was an anti-Communist left, and that we were the true progressives as they were not. I’d come back to fight."
489On the making of "Waterfront:" "The more serious and more concerned men of the waterfront’s work gangs had read what Budd [Schulberg, the screenwriter] had been writing about their struggle, particularly his pieces in Commonweal, the liberal Catholic magazine. Surprised that they knew the writer who’d done the articles, they were grateful for Budd’s honoring of the "waterfront priest," Father John Corridan, a man who’d made it his parochial duty to support the reform element in the corrupt union."
493/4"Men [of the waterfront] all respected [Budd] for what he knew and who he was, a writer who was with them in every way…. I would always remember that this was the way to prepare a screenplay — not to observe at arm’s length and scribble notes, but to make yourself one of the people in whom you’re interested and to make the essential story of that place and time your cause. My first impression had been that Budd was working cleverly as an investigative reporter, but then I saw that his interest was not a tactic of the trade but passionate and true, and that he saw the grim tragedies and grotesque humor of that place as great stories are seen, with compassion for the victims and devotion to the just. Budd had made himself more than a writer engaged to prepare a screenplay. He’d made himself a champion of humanity on that strip of shore. It was a great lesson for me, one I would not forget."
500"When critics say [about On the Waterfront] that I put my story and my feelings on the screen, to justify my informing, they are right. That transference of emotion from my own experience to the screen is the merit of those scenes."
504On the success of the play Tea and Sympathy (Spring 1953): "The most satisfying thing in the theatre at the climax of a serious play is not applause but that awed silence that comes when the audience is deeply moved. There is nothing so eloquent and so heartening. When we had that, I knew we were going to run a long time."
530"Here’s a question: Am I two-faced? The answer has to be: "Certainly, sometimes." I’ve made a great practice of getting along, just as most of you have, by concealing negative feelings about people… And I ask myself, haven’t I had enough of choking down memories that make me uncomfortable? Isn’t discretion a false solution? If I write about my life at all, I have to write as I feel about…the actors I’ve worked with."
531On making frank comments about others in his autobiography: "I don’t know what the answer is. Only the result, which will certainly be that everyone who feels hurt, exposed, or shamed by what I’ve written about him or her will be furious. So what can they do — punch me in the nose? I’m too small and too old for anyone to go after me that way. Am I sorry to have hurt the memory of men I’ve just said I liked? A little — or else I wouldn’t be writing all this, would I? But mainly I’m glad I have the power, the time and the memory to tell the truth about my own life. That is what experience means to me; let the chips fall where they may. I don’t know why I’ve lived through all that I’ve lived through, except for the privilege of telling it all as I believe it to have happened. People have been complaining for years that I’ve remained silent in the face of intolerable provocation. Now that I’m speaking up, I must say it feels good."
533"Don’t you get tired of hearing people who live with their mouths pressed to the tit of the film and TV industry complaining about their lack of artistic freedom? What did they think the rules of the game were? Money is magic, very simple. When On the Waterfront was filling theatres, my "artistic position," as it’s called, changed overnight, as if by magic, I could have even had my offices at the Warner Brothers studio in Burbank repainted any color I chose."
534On being given a free hand by Warner Brothers to cast and make the film East of Eden: "Being an Anatolian, I knew that all this beneficence was as temporary as anything else in life, including life itself. It would last as long as I brought in the money. A few years later, after two box office busts in a row, I no longer had final cut. After another losing effort, I couldn’t get backing at all."
563 On Baby Doll: "I thought we made a nice film. Many people said it seemed like a European movie, an artistic cousin to the films of Pagnol, a director I admired. I didn’t think Baby Doll was a masterpiece, but it was an original.
It took Cardinal Spellman to make it famous. The darned old fool came back from Korea, where he’d been conducting mass for the boys at Christmas, stood in the pulpit of St. Pat’s cathedral to tell about his experiences and how self-sacrificing our soldiers were, then said, quote, "What did I find when I came home? Baby Doll!" He went on: "I was anguished by the news that Baby Doll was about to be seen in theatres everywhere. The revolting theme of this picture is a contemptuous defiance of the natural law." And so on. He forbade Catholics to see the film, "under pain of sin." He said it was everyone’s patriotic duty — yes, he actually said patriotic! — to boycott the film.
All this from a power broker who played the market, consorted with politicians, promoters, and real estate speculators, a wheeler-dealer priest, a drinker, a bully who wore a mask of kindliness and who was called by Catholics who were ashamed of him "the Sammy Glick of the Catholic Church." But he did have power, as I would find out."
566 From the People’s World review of A Face in the Crowd: "When two stool pigeon witnesses before the Un-American Committee conspire to produce one of the finest progressive films we have seen in years, something more than oversimplification of motives is needed to explain it. Both Budd Schulberg, who wrote the screenplay, and Elia Kazan, who directed it, did not hesitate to betray what both believed in before the witch-hunting House Committee. But they must have learned something during their days in the progressive movement, and motion picture audiences will be the beneficiaries. A Face in the Crowd is a hard-hitting exposé of the television industry and the way a hillbilly guitar plucker can be built up to be a national menace. The film will help to educate the film audience into an understanding of how public opinion is manipulated in the US and for what purpose. Whether it is the residual understanding Schulberg and Kazan retain from their days in the progressive movement, or whether it is a guilty conscience (or both) that has prompted them to give us this picture, we should be grateful for what they have done."
571 On his need for uncertainty and unpredictability, quest and growth: "I became convinced that an artist needs an anarchist’s heart and has to be pulled more than one way at a time. I had to be open to the unexpected."
572 On the compunction to work: "In those days I had no tolerance for idleness. I always had to be doing something or else I’d begin to rattle."
582 "..indifference to her appeal, a heavier sin by far than infidelity."
583 "You mustn’t scorn me for my aversion to poetry. It’s another time, isn’t it? We talk by pictures now, and a well-chosen photograph often tells it all, faster and better. We simply listen less and suspect words because they’ve been used so treacherously. We are drowning in advertisements for products, mostly lies. But we know that an unposed picture, a simple snapshot, tells the truth. Remember Joe McCarthy whispering in Roy Cohn’s ear?"
583 "I am part of the picture era."
592 On refugees: "A refugee can’t afford pride. He must save his life. He can’t afford to be angry at anyone, because he isn’t provided with the weapons he would need in a fight and has lost the habit of courage."
"When you train yourself to choke down your feelings, you get so you no longer can feel. When someone who works in the arts can’t feel, he works from craft, not emotion. He stops being an artist and becomes a technician. But that was not what I wanted to be."
593 On being true to himself: "Speak now, I said to myself, release your true feelings before it’s too late. Be yourself. Take your place in the world. You are not a cosmic orphan. You have no reason to be timid. Respond as you feel. Awkwardly, crudely, vulgarly — but respond. Leave your throat open. You can have anything that the world has to offer, but the thing you need most and perhaps want most is to be yourself. Stop being anonymous. The anonymity you believed would protect you from pain and humiliation, shame and rejection, doesn’t work. Admit rejection, admit pain, admit frustration, admit pettiness, even that; admit shame, admit outrage, admit anything and everything that happens to you, respond with your true, uncalculated response, your emotions. The best and most human parts of you are those that you have inhibited and hidden from the world.
Work on it…."
595 "I’ve long since relieved myself of shame about any of [my life]. I feel the truth is rarely told about how most of us live — not until some terrible disaster breaks out and, in the case of public figures, newspapers uncover secrets. Until then a glossy front of hypocrisy prevails; the public face is the only face. […] What’s told about our own lives doesn’t correspond to what we prefer to believe. I have no special shame in revealing more about my life than a biographer would."
596 On Wild River: The film that resulted from all this is one of my favorites, possibly because of its social ambivalence. Jean Renoir’s famous phrase, "Everyone has his reasons" was true here. Both sides were "right." Wild River is also a favorite of certain French film critics [….] Skouras (the studio director) had an opposite view and treated the film deplorably, jerking it out of theatres before it had any chance to take hold and booking it thinly across the country. It was not exhibited in Europe until I staged a stormy scene in [the studio director’s] office and shamed him. I hope the negative is safe in one of Fox’s vaults, although I’ve heard a rumor that it was destroyed to make space for more successful films. This would not surprise me. Money makes the rules of the market, and by this rule, the film was a disaster."
602 On casting Natalie Wood in Splendor in the Grass: "When Natalie was first suggested to me, I backed off. I didn’t want a "washed-up child star." But when I saw her, I detected behind the well-mannered "young wife" front a desperate twinkle in her eyes. I knew there was an unsatisfied hunger there."
606 On always backing off: "I’ve acquired contradictory reputations over the years: aloof and social, secretive but open-faced, agreeable or cantankerous, concerned, indifferent, generous, cheap, given to unannounced appearances and to sudden disappearances. The reputation I’d rather not have picked up is for being a betrayer of trust. I haven’t liked that. I believe it unjust.
But there are reasons for it. Like many of you, I’ve worn the friendship mask; I often look friendlier than I feel. But then, when I have what I sought, the mask would clatter to the ground, and what I truly am would be revealed. From time to time, I do what no one is prepared for, then someone is hurt or insulted or abandoned or simply puzzled. I let people come skin-close, until they trust me entirely and feel sure that I like them. But when the need is eased, the production opened, the seduction completed, I back away, suddenly become cool and remote, and those I’ve lured close don’t know what happened. For years I declared myself an ardent liberal in politics, made all the popular declarations of faith, but the truth was — and is — that I am, like most of you, a bourgeois. I go along disarming people, but when it gets to a crunch, I am revealed to be a person interested only in what most artists are interested in, himself. I come on as a guy you can trust, searching-surviving get-alongnik, who doesn’t like to be crossed, never forgives an insult, and despite the ready smile, is angry a lot of the time — or at least looks angry, for reasons that are never quite clear. So I can’t blame people for what they think of me."
610 "I am not catholic in my tastes, and my talent’s range is not wide. It has, on occasion, been deep — within my limitations. I like only what I like."
612 On architecture: "A building of any kind expresses not only the requirements and perhaps the character of a client but also the architect’s feelings about the culture of his day. We can see in the pyramids, the complex of buildings at Delphi, the cathedral at Chartres, St. Peter’s in Rome, a Mayan temple in Guatemala, and the twin towers of our World Trade Center how different those cultures are and what are their basic values."
614 On death: "Death tells a secret: at the moment of death a person learns the bad news about his life. Or comes to see what was most important to him that he ignored.
Have you read Tolstoi’s The Death of Ivan Ilyich? If you have, you’ll remember the question that is the story’s theme. Ivan Ilyich, as he dies, begins to believe that "he had not spent his life as he should have." It occurs to him that his scarcely perceptible attempts to struggle against what was considered good by the most highly placed people, those scarcely noticeable impulses that he had immediately suppressed, might have been the real thing and the rest false. "All you have lived for," he says to himself, "and still live for is falsehood and deception, hiding life and death from you."
616 "What greater gift can we give each other than encouragement when it’s most needed? And support?"
629 On his imported Greek star of America America, Stathis Giallelis: "I brought the boy to America, made him speak English all day, encouraged him to find an American girlfriend — the best way to learn a new language. I found him devoted, honest, and loyal; all you had to do was look at him and you believed the story; he was too amateurish to contrive. It was to be not a characterization but a fact; this young man was it. […He] may have been hurt by his sudden importance; after my film, he went on trying to be an actor in America but never learned to speak English without a noticeable accent and didn’t have the patience to train himself. He was good boy, but was also what Greek mothers call sons they’re proud of: a rooster…[…He’d been spoiled in every way..] Most Greek men are mother spoiled."
658/9 On America America, his immigrant movie, and the genius of one of his collaborators, Manos Hadjikakis: "America America is now my favorite of the films I’ve made, but early in 1963 …I had doubts about its worth. Then when I needed luck, I got it. Manos Hadjikakis came my way from Athens and bolstered me… He was .. a genius.
Manos was not only a composer, he was a dramatist, and his sense of where the drama was, how to reinforce it, how to join various episodes so they’d have the most effect, surpassed my own. He also had the most overwhelming joy in working and in his work; it was easy for him, and once he started, he was like all the other geniuses I’ve known, a compulsive hard worker. He’d earned his success the hard way. The old saying that genius is ten percent inspiration and ninety percent perspiration underestimates the importance of relentless effort. But work doesn’t describe what these men do. There is a blacking out of everything else in their lives; it’s all secondary — love, greed, pleasure, family. The work experience is what they want from life. They don’t know how to "unwind," nor do they want to.
Necessarily there is an intense selfishness and arrogance about the men called geniuses, and there was about Manos. I’ve been called arrogant and selfish and self-centered, and I’m not, by any stretch of the imagination, a genius, but I’ve borne the accusationu2014if that’s what it isu2014and my answer is “Why not?” What’s more important, who’s worth more among us? Let the common man put up and suffer. A person of talent who can function with that talent is the finest thing on earth and the only answer to the old question: Who is man and why is man and what is man supposed to be? Manos did not tolerate any interference with how he wanted what he’d composed to sound. His musicians were terrified of him, and again, why not? So were Toscanini’s. It helped the end result.
Men called geniuses have been the joy of my existenceu2014but I didn’t know them as geniuses. All those I’ve known and worked withu2014Aaron Copland, Clifford Odets, Tennessee Williams, Harold Clurman, Orson Welles, Marlon Brandou2014have a joyous intensity in work and have passed it on to me. They are blessed. Along with all the other sparks, they all have great laughs. Laughing comes easy for them because life is what they want it to be; they are what they want to be, doing what they want to do. They don’t question their worth. They no longer respond to disapproval. Manos never, not once, showed any hesitation about what he wanted or what I’d think of it. He did wonderful things for my film at a time when the film most needed that contribution.
All the above is skipping over the essential question: Are these people born with the divine gift or do they acquire it? Granted they work harder than others, granted that their lives have usually been richer and therefore better soil for growth, granted that there is some special eagerness about them and usually an especially strong energyu2014granted all this, how does the phenomenon called a genius come to be?
I don’t know. But this I have noticed about people with mysterious gifts: in many cases, a wound has been inflicted early in life, which impels the person to strive harder or makes him or her extrasensitive. The talent, the genius is the scab on the wound, there to protect a weak place, an opening to death; that’s how it came to be. These are our heroes, those who have overcome what the rest of the race yields to with self-pity and many excuses. When I’ve worked with men and women who came successfully out of misfortune, I’ve found that they have strength that is extraordinary, and their strength is a gift to me. So it’s been, not only with Manos, but with other talented composers and with the actors and particularly the actresses I’ve worked with. Their precious gifts, for which they paid in pain, have made me successful when I was successful. I’ve relied on their talent; it’s the essence of what I’ve needed most from the rest of the race."
660 On being the u2018unchallenged source’ (his own master): "..during my experience of making America America, particularly in those months when I was overseas directing it and making all decisions every day, I’d felt totally myself in a way I never had before. In the making of that film, all activity had started from a directive I gave, and each day’s program was based on my wishes. That was what I wanted to be, the unchallenged source. I recognized that from now on I’d only be able to work that way."
665 "What is so terrible in our society is that people like ourselves (actors and theatre people) are only rarely in control of their own lives and destinies. We don’t do what we want to do. We do what we think we have to do. Or what’s worse, what other people want us to do, what "they" — whoever "they" are — want us to do."
670 On JFK: "Kennedy was hardly a statesman; he was a politician of the new breed, media made, as Roosevelt had been, but with more clout because the equipment he used was better. Like all the great show business personalities of his time, he had fine writers to meet every occasion, whether a speech or a quip. One never knew how much he said was his. This technique became the politics for our day. Sock it to them! Jack was in a line that would go onto Ronald Reagan. Like Reagan, he made what he said seem his own."
708 On excessive emotionalism in acting performance: "An actor [should not] behave on stage as if he knows his character is pathetic or tragic. He must not be constantly nudging the audience to observe how pitiful he is and how deep his pain. The great thing in life, when you detect that a person is in a tragic situation, is watching what he does to conceal his pain and to contain it. Often what people do is surprising and characteristic. Then the audience will see sorrow and courage, humor and honor, simultaneously. That is the essence of the life in the plays of Chekhov. In the production I’m discussing…I [would have preferred] more humor and verve and less self-indulgence, self-pity and self-awareness. I detest emotional stripteases."
712 On Lee Strasberg’s inability to confess error after a disastrously ill-prepared theatrical production of Chekhov’s The Three Sisters in London: "The one thing Lee should have done he could not do: tell the truth about what had happened. The company.. had been gathered in a haphazard way, had not had the time or the space to rehearse the delicate play properly, and the fault was his. Lee would have gained respect by admitting the truth. But he never allowed himself to be held accountable for anything, always stood on the very treacherous ground of a man who was never wrong. What a burden to shoulder!"
720 On the immigrant boy-adapter experience: "Arriving in this country from a land where his people had existed in terror, an immigrant boy without the language and accompanied by a family of adults, foreigners who lived here in suspicion and fear and never gained secure positions in this society — such a boy became convinced that to survive on the streets and in the schools, to be accepted, he must do whatever was necessary to gain the favor of the powerful people around him, be they adults or kids his own age. This became my technique in life, doing whatever I had to do to gain the tolerance, the friendship, and the protection of the authority figures in my own life. I developed into a child-person and, inevitably, into an adult who, I’m embarrassed to confess, did whatever it was necessary to do and became whoever it was expeditious to become to get by. I created a non-self. I wasn’t anybody definite; I was many different people, depending on the circumstances. I was an adapter, taking on any color, yielding to any pressure, so long as I was accepted by those stronger than I and was therefore safe. That is what, decades later, I had to try to throw off by great effort, and with considerable pain.
This need, to get along by pleasing the authority-figures in my life — the ruling class of Anglo-Saxons, for instance — to show appropriate signs of liking and respect for them no matter what I truly felt, had an inevitable concomitant: resentment. As I tried to please those I thought had power over me, I resented them. As I yielded to pressures, some imagined, some real, I would be planning how when the day came, I’d turn the tables and have my revenge. I’d play up to those strong ones, reassuring them of my fidelity and admiration while, in a curious simultaneous way, I hated them because they had power over me. I’d play all sides, be all things; join a Boy Scout troop and, not too many years later, the Communist Party, neither of which I gave a damn about. All my moves came from the same need, to be in good with the power people, whether the kids on my block or the actors in the Group who were already Party members. I had only to find who and what it was most useful for me to serve."
733-4 On self-discovery during a visit to Greece in 1965: "I saw that my background (as an Anatolian Greek) had made me ideal for show business, where the basic interest is to please others — the audience, the critics, the moneymen, the playwrights, and the producers. It was perfectly natural for me to obey these cardinal laws: Please those who pay. Don’t say what will offend those in power. The native Greeks were not as shrewd as those of us who’d come from Anatolia: we were the clever ones, and our cunning taught us to be servile to the strong. Those born in Greece, particularly those who’d been there for generations, had a fearlessness close to arrogance, which I envied.
I was a man who’d spent his entire adult life working in the theatre and in films — that is, Hollywood — pleasing those with the power to give me jobs. Now, having sat for some time in …Paris, and being presently in a room with a view of the Acropolis, which still spoke of the public liberties of the fifth century B.C., I suddenly found that the change in my cousin reflected a corresponding change in me. In that year of 1965, I’d found joy, not from a good notice on Broadway or a new conquest who "responds," but from a more central thing: I was now my own boss, doing what I wanted, saying what it pleased me to say. I’d finally paid myself the respect that came from believing that my own material was worth investing the time of my life in, and possibly that what I felt and what I’d gone through were important and that people would listen.
This had never happened before. I had always lured people to pay attention to other men. Implicit in what I was now doing was this: that I considered myself, at least for myself, more worthy of attention than anyone else. It was the most confident thing I’d done in my life, this writing, and it would change the course of my life."
747 James Baldwin on Kazan’s book The Arrangement:
"The tone of the book does not seem to depend on anything that we think of as a literary tradition but on something older than that: the tale told by a member of the tribe to the tribe. It has the urgency of a confession and the stammering authority of a plea. Kazan is talking, trying to tell us something and not only for his sake… but for ours. u2018I don’t like my life! How have I become what I have become? These men who cried, America America!, as the century died, had come here looking of freedom and all they found was the freedom to make as much money as possible.’ This is not the official version of American history but that t very nearly sums it up can scarcely be doubted by anyone with the encourage to look into the faces one encounters all over this land, who listens to the voices, hearing the buried uneasiness, translating itself hourly into a hatred of all that is strange or vivid, into a hatred, at last, of life."
818-819 Reflecting on the death of his second wife from cancer at the age of 48, and the deaths of other close friends: "I knew that their spirit had been, bit by bit, torn down, fragmented, and destroyed. They’d been left without those essential defenses that night have protected them against a surrender of hope. So I came to my own theory about what brings on a mortal disease, a notion..that doctors will consider foolish or, at best, half-baked. But they should be cautious about challenging speculation. They’ve not found the cause — or a reliable treatment — for cancer or for high blood pressure or for the disintegration of a heart due to "stress."
I’ve seen it demonstrated in person after person close to me… There is a vital core in a human being where his or her self-esteem lives. When that core is crushed, the person may not let it be seen because of pride or fear or ignorance or bewilderment, but a terrible thing has happened: that person’s body defenses have been rendered ineffective and have given yup guarding the body and resisting disease. That’s the road to the grave.
The flesh and the spirit are interdependent. Something mysterious and devastating happens in a person when he or she, consciously or unconsciously, doesn’t care about continuing as him- or herself. The soul passes the message on, and the body’s protective force — the immune system, it’s called — surrenders the body to the malignancy, which has waited for this opening. The human organism is one piece, and its core is what used to be called the spirit, sometimes the holy spirit, for it is indeed holy. That is what has to survive, and when it doesn’t, we don’t survive."
822 On death and memorials: "When the dead person had [sic] achieved some importance in theatre or films, I’m sometimes asked to attend a memorial service and speak. Generally I refuse — graciously, I hope. I don’t like memorial services. If praise is the purpose, it should have been offered while the person was alive."
Richard Wall (send him mail) has a Master’s degree in International Relations from the London School of Economics & Political Science, and lives in Estoril, Portugal, where he currently works as a freelance writer and translator.