"Miller, Kazan, and the Blacklast:
None Without Sin"
posted to www.marxmail.org
on September 4, 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
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.
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 was given a jail sentence that was ultimately suspended. 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 raised 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
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.