December 15, 1963: Greek-American Elia Kazan’s movie “America America” is released.
Greek-American Elia Kazan, born Elias Kazantzoglou in 1909 in the Phanar district of Constantinople (Istanbul), Ottoman Empire, to Greek parents. He 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 “A Streetcar Named Desire” (1951) and “On the Waterfront” (1954).
On December 15, 1962, his film, “America America” was released, which showed the main character, Stavos’ hardships of immigrating to the United States in the 1890s. Although Stavros was a Greek from the Ottoman Empire, the film and its message transcended ethnic boundaries to show the plight of the immigrant.
Kazan adapted the screenplay from his own novel of the same title. It was based on the life of his uncle, Avraam Elia Kazantzoglou. The film starred unknown actors, including Greek actor, Stathis Giallelis, Frank Wolff, Harry Davis, Elena Karam, Estelle Hemsley, Gregory Rozakis, Lou Antonio, Salem Ludwig, John Marley, Joanna Frank, Paul Mann, Linda Marsh, Robert Harris, and Katharine Balfour.
The film was nominated for Best Picture, Best Director (Kazan), and Best Writing, Story and Screenplay (Kazan) in the 36th Academy Awards in 1962. It did win Best Art Direction – Gene Callahan. Kazan won Best Director at the 26th Golden Globe Awards, together with Giallelis, who won a Golden Globe Award for New Star of the Year Actor and was nominated for Best Actor. “America America” was selected for perseveration by the United States Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”
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. Legendary director, Martin Scorsese, credits Kazan as the inspiration for his becoming a filmmaker.