"Miller, Kazan, and the Blacklast: None Without Sin"

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Thu Sep 4 08:59:39 MDT 2003

Last Night "American Masters" (http://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/)
aired a documentary on the political, personal and artistic
relationships between Arthur Miller and Elia Kazan that was a rare
fulfillment of the promise of a Public Broadcasting System that remains
marred by cheesy pop music concerts, inside-the-beltway current affairs
and costume dramas imported from Great Britain.

Although like most people, I was aware that Miller was punished for not
naming names during the witch-hunt and that Kazan was rewarded for doing
the exact opposite, I never really knew how deeply entangled their
careers and lives were.

Kazan was Miller's director on Broadway when "Death of a Salesman"
premiered in 1947 to universal acclaim. Not only were they united by a
common artistic vision, they shared radical politics. Kazan was a member
of the CPUSA in the 1930s for over a year, while Miller--who never
joined--was friendly to the party.

They both were radicalized by the Great Depression in general and
specifically by the total devastation of their families. Kazan's father
was an Anatolian Greek from Turkey whose rug business collapsed in Los
Angeles, while Miller's father was a well-to-do Jew from New York City
who lost everything in the stock market.

Like many other left-wingers who had made it big in NYC theater, Miller
and Kazan moved out to Tinseltown in 1951 in order to launch careers in
the film industry. They would run into the same sort of frustrations
that met Clifford Odets and others who had come before them. Unless you
were content to make high-quality but essentially politically muted
films like the CP'ers, you would eventually clash with the studio bosses
who lived by the adage: "If you wanna send a message, call Western Union."

Miller and Kazan wanted to make a film called "The Hook", which was set
on the Brooklyn waterfront and that had a militant trade unionist hero
struggling with mobsters in the dockworkers union. When Fox Studio boss
Darryl Zanuck read the script, he was taken aback. Although Hollywood
was not in the business of making militant trade unionists the heroes of
any film, they were that less eager to do so in 1951 during the depths
of the witch-hunt. He turned the script over to the FBI for review and
they told him not to make the movie because it might foment unrest on
the docks and hamper the war effort in Korea.

Eventually both Miller and Kazan ran into Marilyn Monroe and started an
affair with her simultaneously even though both were married at the
time. Kazan saw nothing special about the actress, who was not yet a big
star. But Miller not only saw her as a complex reflection of America's
lost soul; he fell in love with her.

In 1952 both men were summoned before HUAC. Miller refused to name names
and went to jail. Kazan decided that his career was more important than
anything and identified 17 CP'ers he had worked with in the theater,
including Clifford Odets. All of these names were already known to the
FBI and HUAC. They were not that interested in the names themselves but
in destroying the will to resist among the radical and artistic elite.
Evidently Kazan was not a man given to half-measures and took out a
full-page ad in the NY Times justifying himself. From that point on, he
became a pariah among the Hollywood and Broadway left. At a 1999 press
conference, on the eve of Kazan's acceptance of a lifetime achievement
Oscar, Norma Barzman said, "He ruined and destroyed their careers, their
families, their lives." In contrast, Dalton Trumbo, a blacklistee, once
said that in that battle there were no heroes or villains, only victims.

After their encounters with HUAC, the two men did not speak to each
other for 12 years.

In 1954 Kazan made "On the Waterfront", which is both a reworking of the
material in "The Hook" and a self-justification. Marlin Brando plays a
longshoreman who "rats out" his mobster friends in the union before a
congressional committee. Everybody understood that Kazan saw himself in
this character. Despite the fact that this is one of the greatest movies
ever made, it is troubling to think of it in this light.

Meanwhile, Miller made his own artistic interpretation of the witch-hunt
with the Broadway play "The Crucible", which was nominally about the
Salem witch-hunt but understood widely as a commentary on McCarthyism.
So deep was the repressive climate in the USA at the time that newspaper
reviewers were intimidated from giving the play a favorable review. It
is the most produced of all of Miller's plays today, even more so than
"Death of a Salesman".

Miller went on to write his own waterfront play that was is in effect an
answer to "On the Waterfront". "A View from the Bridge" is a play about
longshoreman Eddie Carbone incestuous desire for an orphaned niece as
his own daughter. His actions, like Kazan's, violate the community's
unspoken "code of honor".

Eventually Miller and Kazan had a reconciliation of sorts after Marilyn
Monroe took the hands of both men, who were at the same party and more
or less forced them to shake hands. They decided to collaborate on a
production of Miller's "After the Fall" at Lincoln Center in 1964. This
is the most intensely autobiographical of Miller's plays and depicts a
character being hounded by a congressional committee for his CP membership.

It is remarkable that Kazan would have directed this play given his
redbaiting past. But Lee Grant, who could not work for 12 years because
of the witch-hunt, told the documentary interviewers that Kazan retained
certain of his pre-HUAC values, including a willingness to tackle social
problems. This was why she accepted the lifetime achievement award given
to him. One example is the 1957 "Face in the Crowd", which was written
by Budd Schulberg. (Schulberg wrote "On the Waterfront" and was also an
ex-CP'er who named names.) "Face in the Crowd" stars Andy Griffith as a
demagogic radio personality who uses his show to advance a fascist-like
political career.

The show includes numerous excerpts from "On the Waterfront", "The
Crucible" and other works by the two men to illustrate its points. PBS
generally repeats such shows and it would be a good idea to keep your
eye open for it.


The Marxism list: www.marxmail.org

PLEASE clip all extraneous text before replying to a message.

More information about the Marxism mailing list