Be sure to read this interesting New Yorker retrospective on Elia Kazan ’30’s life and career, including the following anecdote about his admission to and time at Williams:
Through his teen-age years, Kazan wrote in his autobiography, “A Life,” published in 1988, he had “one enduring friend,” his mother. He was Athena’s “special child” and her confidant. “We entered a secret life together, which Father never breached,” he wrote. “That is where the conspiracy began. Perhaps I represented what she thought she might have been if she’d not been swallowed alive by a marriage.” Unbeknownst to George Kazan, who wanted his son to enter the family business, Kazan was encouraged by his mother and a middle-school teacher to take up the liberal arts. When Athena notified her husband that Elia had been accepted by the prestigious Williams College, he knocked her to the ground. After graduating from Williams cum laude, Kazan told his father that he wanted to become an actor. “Didn’t you look in the mirror?” his father replied.
Kazan was not handsome: he had a scrawny body, a long nose, and a craggy face that marked him as foreign. At Williams, his otherness fuelled both his sense of inferiority and his tenacity. “I was what you would now call a freak, someone who is out of things,” he said. He walked around the campus with his eyes down, speaking only when spoken to, and he washed dishes and waited on tables at the fraternities, which he was not invited to join. “Baby, you’re a nigger, too,” his friend James Baldwin once told him. An outsider in a Wasp enclave, Kazan developed an appetite for revenge and its corollary, vindictive triumph. “I . . . wanted what they had: their style, their looks, their clothes, their cars, their money, the jobs they had waiting for them,” he wrote in “A Life.” “I wanted all that, and I wanted it soon.”
I also enjoyed a subsequent passage in which Kazan is described as a “cocksman of note.” And no, that is not referring to his rowing prowess … I didn’t know that Kazan, errr, “dated” Marilyn Monroe. Kazan: noted cocksman, former Communist turned namer-of-names, multiple Academy Award winner, actor, mentor to Tennessee Williams and Marlon Brando, Monroe flame, Actor’s Studio founder … love him or hate him, he is the original most interesting man in the world.