By Elia Kazan
You want a monument? Well, here’s one: the tombstone-sized autobiography of one of the major American cultural figures of the mid-20th century, an epic life of 94 years featuring a Herculean set of achievements on both Broadway and in Hollywood—A Streetcar Named Desire, Death of a Salesman, On the Waterfront, East of Eden, et al. It was a life loaded with triumph, controversy, arrogance, and self-laceration—fueled by an enormous reservoir of self-confidence, and popping with resentments and apologia (less of the latter, to be sure). Kazan’s epic account of the century and his life in it is as magnificent an achievement as many of his plays and movies, and is possibly the best autobiography ever written by a movie director. Here we witness—amid stirring and definitive accounts of working with Brando, Dean, Steinbeck, Schulberg, Arthur Miller, and Tennessee Williams—Kazan’s HUAC testimony and its half-century of bitter repercussions, and hear the full litany of his regrets over the matter—along with a robust defense of his actions. Kazan’s voice is combative, poetical, disputatious, ego-driven—in short, he’s great company.
By Richard Schickel
Schickel’s no less disputatious critical biography makes a fine counterbalance, framing HUAC more sympathetically, deploring Kazan’s aging “Stalinist” tormentors and upwardly reassessing some of the director’s less well-known movies, particularly the stunningly prescient A Face in the Crowd
. A complicated man, an epic life, a marvelous memoir.
Review written by John Patterson.