Kazan book hits stands after Oscars

GOOD MORNING: Call it incredible serendipity but “Kazan — The Master Discusses His Films — Interviews with Elia Kazan” by Jeff Young hits the bookstalls shortly after the March 21 Oscars. Young is the nephew of blacklisted writer Ned Young, whose career was killed by the HUAC; Ned Young’s wife (Jeff’s aunt) committed suicide in despondency over that period’s hardships. The book’s publication was planned long before the honorary Oscar was voted for Kazan and its date has not been upped by the controversy. Nor have any of the book’s contents been changed, author Young assured me. (He is now writing a screenplay based on master jewel thief Walter Shaw.) For the book, Young conducted his interviews with Kazan in 1974-75 and agreed not to publish until after Kazan’s autobio was released. At the outset, he told Kazan he “wanted to deal” with the issue of Kazan’s “friendly” testimony before the HUAC. “I made my position very clear to Kazan. He was not fazed or at least he didn’t show it.” In one of the interviews, Kazan admitted to him, “Anybody who informs on other people is doing something disturbing and even disgusting. It doesn’t sit well on anyone’s conscience. But at that time I felt a certain way and I think it has to be judged from the perspective of 1952.” Author Young told him, “All my sentiments are diametrically opposed to yours. Nothing you’ve said changes that. If you truly believed that there was a Communist conspiracy and that it presented a real danger to our country, why did you stop there? Why didn’t you go further? Why didn’t you tell them things that they didn’t know, give them names that they didn’t already have, get rid of all the Red Bastards?” Kazan answered him, “I don’t have to defend myself to you or anyone else” … After the interviews, Young went on to head three production companies and was involved in more than 20 major projects. He’s now a screenwriter, as was his uncle Ned, whom he says, “I loved very much” — he gets teary-eyed recalling him and those days. He said, “My family paid for it dearly. The last thing I’d do is defend (Kazan’s) behavior — it was contemptible — but I don’t think his work as a director applies here (the honorary Oscar). However, if they gave him the Jean Hersholt award (for humanitarianism), I’d be the first guy there on the picket line.”

THE CONTROVERSY ABOUT ELIA KAZAN’S Honorary Oscar has brought unusual mail. Included was a videotape of “A Crime to Fit the Punishment.” It was made 20 years ago about the making of “The Salt of the Earth,” a film made by blacklisted filmmakers Paul Jarrico (producer), Abner J. Biberman (director) and Michael Wilson (writer). It tells how they were banned from making the film but were able to produce “Salt” despite bars by studios and unions in Hollywood. Despite those difficulties, Variety‘s Fred Hift, reviewing the film on March 17, 1954, noted, “It comes as something of a surprise to find it is a good, highly dramatic and emotion-charged piece of work.” However, he noted “it belongs in union halls rather than in theaters.” It was also effectively blacklisted in its distribution. The “Crime to Fit the Punishment” documentary was narrated by Lee Grant, blacklisted when she refused to testify against her then-husband Arnold Manoff before the HUAC. She had won an Oscar nomination for her first film, the 1951 “Detective Story,” but after the HUAC hearings she worked mostly on stage and only occasionally in features. But starting in the late 1960s, her film work increased dramatically and she has had a new career: Grant has been busy with husband Joe Feury producing-directing documentaries like the PBS American Masters series (most recently Sidney Poitier). And Lifetime documentaries like the upcoming “Confronting the Crisis: Children in America.” It is a powerful story about the lack of education facilities for children, emphasizing, “An educated child is a safe neighbor.” It will be shown April 20 as part of National Child Care Month. I, of course, asked Grant her opinion of the Kazan Honorary Oscar. She said, “What a dumb choice to have made. If I never worked again, I would never have done that.”

BIG BAD VOODOO DADDY is the group entertaining tonight when President Clinton attends the Saxophone Club and Women’s Leadership Forum at the Century Plaza … The three drag queens who were supposed to background Sheryl Crow in “There Goes the Neighborhood” must have celebrated too early — they didn’t make it to rehearsals and thus not on the show! Celine Dion does another special with Grammys exec producer Pierre Cossette and CBS in April, following their successful Christmas show … Elizabeth Taylor celebrates her 67th birthday Saturday in Las Vegas with friend Jose Eber who celebrates his birthday today. Tommy Tune is toasted on his 60th birthday Saturday night at the MGM Grand, where he is starring in “EFX.” Tune, a multi-Tony winner, in his Vegas debut, told me, “I’m very brave! It’s treacherous — but I am having such fun!” Wednesday night for the first time, he was flown across the entire MGM Grand Hotel theater audience in the Lucifer number. He’s signed for a year and during this time he hopes to encourage Las Vegas to “initiate” original shows for B’way. His next production is “Easter Parade.”

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