Sixty-two years ago today, the film, A Streetcar Named Desire, based on the Pulitzer Prize winning stage play by Tennessee Williams, had its United States release on September 18, 1951. Its director was the Greek-American, Elia Kazan, born, Elias Kazantzoglou, in 1909 in the Phanar district of Constantinople (Istanbul), Ottoman Empire, to Greek parents.
Kazan, who emigrated to the United States when he was four years old, attended Williams College in Massachusetts and graduated cum laude. He waited tables, washed dishes, and was a bartender to survive. In 1932 he attended Yale University School of Drama and joined a theater group. His first feature film as a director was A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1945) and he went on to direct many more iconic films including On The Waterfront (1954). Not forgetting his Greek roots, Kazan documented his journey from Constantinople to America, in the film, America America (1963).
A Streetcar Named Desire, received four Academy Award wins and set a record when it became the first film to win in three acting categories – Vivien Leigh, Best Actress; Karl Malden, Best Supporting Actor; and Kim Hunter, Best Supporting Actress. Marlon Brando was nominated for Best Actor but did not win. It also won an Oscar for Art Direction. It has been selected by the American Film Institute as one of the greatest American movies of all time.
In 1999, at age 90 years old, Kazan was presented with the Oscar for lifetime achievement. Elia Kazan died in 2003 and age 94 in Manhattan. One of his legacies, besides his triumphant cinematic accomplishments, was that he was known as an actor’s director and he had a preference to use unknown actors and gave starts to many such as Lee Remick, Jo Van Fleet, Warren Beatty, Andy Griffith, James Dean, and Jack Palance, all who became stars. Legendary director, Martin Scorsese, credits Kazan as the inspiration for his becoming a filmmaker.