Did you know that Elia Kazan ’31 was a work-study student? In an essay just published by his friend Budd Schulberg, a description of the college-aged Kazan:

A Greek born in Turkey, and coming to the US as a child, the son of a traditional rug dealer, Kazan was the quintessential outsider. At fashionable Williams College he was the unattractive little guy who paid his way by waiting on tables and doing odd jobs. The aristocratic Williams student body was unaware of his existence. They had no idea that within that unassuming human being so invisible to them was a little dynamo ready to move in and take over. He was like a secret agent placed in the midst of an unsuspecting organisation. He didn’t even go out for dramatic activities. It wasn’t until he got to the Yale drama school, where he met his wife, the aristocratic Molly Day Thacher, that his dramatic instincts were aroused.

Considered not good-looking enough to make it as an actor, he eagerly took on any subservient theatre job that came along. At the Group Theatre’s summer camp, he mostly did the volunteer small chores that kept the community going. Kazan was like a hidden time bomb set to wait its time and then explode. No one had thought of him as an actor – actors looked like Franchot Tone – but I’ll never forget seeing him in Irwin Shaw’s The Gentle People with Tone and Sylvia Sidney. From the moment Kazan bounded on stage, the very able and attractive Tone and Sidney disappeared. It’s been seven decades but I still remember his remarkable impact. He was the little engine that could. There was something fierce about that performance. It wasn’t theatrical. It was organic. He was wound up from the inside.

Remember the art, forget the politics: Budd Schulberg on forgiving director Elia Kazan [The Guardian]

Facebooktwitter
Print  •  Email