Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro presenting Elia Kazan with an Honorary Academy award.
Sometimes the Academy Awards are embroiled in controversy. For 1998 the 71st year of the awards the commotion was about the Academy Board of Governors deciding to give Elia Kazan an Honorary Award in recognition of his indelible contributions to the art of motion picture direction. The only problem was some members of the Academy had long memories and did not forgive Kazan for appearing before the House Un-American Activities Committee during the McCarthy era in Washington D.C.
At that time it was damned if you do, damned if you don’t, so in 1952 Elia Kazan found himself between a rock and a hard place. Rat out your friends or go down with the ship. Mr. Kazan chose what some felt was the rat option. I find it is very easy for people to say they would have done this or they would have done that. No one really knows what they would do unless they were actually in Mr. Kazan’s shoes.
Elia Kazan was a brilliant director; he directed some of the most socially controversial films in our film history, subjects that had not been dealt with before. Gentlemen’s Agreement, Pinky, A Streetcar Named Desire, On the Waterfront, Splendor in the Grass, A Face in the Crowd to name a few. City for Conquest is the movie I remember him for the most since it was one of his few acting credits, it was a small but memorable part. You can read more about Kazan and his sins online or any of the books written about him. During the March 21, 1999 presentation many in the Academy audience stood and applauded Kazan but to those ‘holier than thou’s’ (who shall remain nameless) out there that sat on their hands and their derrières in front of an 89 year old man to show him their contempt I say ‘judge not least ye be judged’. Only history will judge Kazan’s actions, was naming names as bad as if he were um say an accused child molester? Who knows…