By Keegan Hamilton
By Albert Samaha
By Village Voice staff
By Tessa Stuart
By Albert Samaha
By Steve Weinstein
By Devon Maloney
By Tessa Stuart
The next spring, HUAC returned to Hollywood with a vengeance and, among many others, subpoenaed Kazan's Group Theatre comrades. Most took refuge in the Fifth Amendment and refused to discuss their past political associations. The exception was John Garfield. The Bronx street kid who was Hollywood's pre-Brando Brando blandly told the Committee that no one in Hollywood had ever discussed the CP with him. HUAC was not satisfied. Garfield was blacklisted along with the rest.
HUAC was then out to snare a Red movie star. Edward G. Robinson, Larry Parks, Sterling Hayden, José Ferrer, and Judy Holliday were also candidates. But Garfield remained the prime target. Kazan, who worked with Garfield both at the Group and in Hollywood, was sure to be subpoenaed. Arthur Miller, who was then collaborating with Kazan on a never-produced script about labor-racketeering on the Brooklyn waterfront, would recall the director's telling him he was afraid of being blacklisted. To complicate Kazan's situation, he had just finished Viva Zapata! for 20th Century Fox directing Brando as a Mexican revolutionary in a project originally brainstormed by Hollywood Ten member Lester Cole.
Kazan's subpoena arrived in early 1952, along with one for playwright Clifford Odets. In his autobiography, the director maintains that up until then he had posed as a "left- oriented liberal." Screenwriter Walter Bernstein first met Kazan when the director was researching his waterfront project; Kazan asked Bernstein to introduce him to the Communist leader of the National Maritime Union. Bernstein set up a meeting and recalls that afterward Kazan told him "how much he admired [him] and how that was the side he was on." Miller has written that Kazan "identified himself with the idealism of the left. . . . Like Odets, [Kazan] wore the fading colors of the thirties into the forties and fifties, the resonances of the culture of antifascism that had once united artists everywhere." Was it not the young Kazan who, in the original Group production of Odets's Waiting for Lefty, incited a stunned opening-night audience to yell "Strike!" and moved New Masses to dub him "Proletariat Thunderbolt"?
Summoned before HUAC, Kazan confessed in closed session his own long-ago Communist past, but declined to name former comrades. This would not do. Although Kazan has always denied that Fox studio boss Spyros Skouras gave him an ultimatum to cooperate, it is known that, in his anxiety regarding Viva Zapata!, Skouras requested everyone connected with the movie to provide written accounts of their political views and that these were forwarded to gossip columnist George Sokolsky at The Hollywood Reporter. Before long, the Reporter received the secret transcript of Kazan's "uncooperative" testimony and made public the story that although the director had "confessed Commie membership," he "refused to supply any new evidence on his old pals from the Group Theatre days, among them John Garfield."
Kazan was trapped. In April, he returned to HUAC at his own behest and named Odets as a Communist, plus the seven Group actors who had been in his cell Lewis Leverett, J. Edward Bromberg (who had already suffered a fatal heart attack after his unfriendly testimony), Phoebe Brand and her husband Morris Carnovsky, his old roommate Tony Kraber (soon to lose his job at CBS), Paula Miller Strasberg, and Art Smith. Kazan supplemented his testimony with an annotated résumé explaining, in servile detail, why every play or movie he had ever directed was already anti-Communist.
It's easy to forget that, once upon a time, joining the Communist Party might have been a career move. In his testimony, Kazan admitted bringing Brand into the CP and Kraber would maintain that gung-ho Kazan had recruited him as well. Back then the Party was happening. There were secret meetings where the Group's Red fraction plotted to make Odets's Awake and Sing! their next production and screw director Lee Strasberg's opposition. (One of the more bizarre aspects of this backstage intrigue was that Strasberg's wife was a member of this supposedly clandestine cell.)
Kazan drew the line, he told HUAC, when he refused to support a CP directive that the actors take over the Group and transform it into a collective. The Party took him to task for this, importing a Detroit labor organizer who branded Kazan an opportunistic "foreman type." Rather than accept this criticism, Kazan explained that he chose to resign (although not perhaps right away). Located in a chapter of his autobiography that begins with a tribute to an "inspiring" former comrade, Kazan's account of his HUAC testimony is a startling example of crablike motion and profound ambivalence. The director covers his tracks and doubles back to make new ones. Then, like Groucho Marx in Duck Soup, he pumps himself up for a declaration of war. The memory of his Party trial makes him so angry that he decides to name everybody although he calls a few of them up to get their permission first.
Phoebe Brand would later maintain that Kazan had testified selectively, naming his enemies but not his friends. Certainly, he could have done more damage he might have volunteered the name of his old Theatre of Action comrade Nicholas Ray, for example, and thus denied the world Ray's Johnny Guitar and Rebel Without a Cause. He could surely have provided additional information on Garfield, whom he knew to be the Committee's main interest. Garfield, like Bromberg, became a HUAC fatality. He suffered a massive heart attack at 39 while under increasing pressure to give friendly testimony. Kazan was made of tougher stuff.