Elia Kazan on Directing

Elia Kazan was the mid-twentieth century’s most celebrated director of both stage and screen, and this book shows us the master at work.

Kazan directed virtually back to back the greatest American dramas of the era—by Arthur Miller and Tennessee Williams—and revolutionized theatre and film with dynamic action, poetic staging, and rigorous naturalism. His list of Broadway and Hollywood successes—A Streetcar Named Desire (stage and screen), All My Sons, Death of a Salesman, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, On the Waterfront, East of Eden, Baby Doll, America America, to name only a few—is a testament to his profound impact on the art of directing. Kazan’s insights into these and other classic stage works shaped their subsequent productions—and continue to do so. There is no directorial achievement in America equal to his.

This remarkable book, drawn from his notebooks, letters, interviews, and autobiography, reveals Kazan’s method: how he uncovered for himself the “spine” or core of each script and each character; how he analyzed each piece in terms of his own experience; how he determined the specifics of his production, from casting and costuming to set design and cinematography. And we see how he worked with writers on scripts and with actors on interpretation.

The final section, “The Pleasures of Directing”—essays Kazan was writing in his last decade—is informal, provocative, candid, and passionate; a wise old pro sharing the secrets of his craft, advising us how to search for ourselves in each project, how to fight the system, and how to have fun doing it.

Published in Kazan’s centenary year, this monumental, revelatory book, edited by Robert Cornfield, is essential reading for everyone interested in American movies and theatre.