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Elia Kazan and screenwriter Budd Schulberg met thanks in part to the House Un-American Activities Committee.
Both were concerned about social equality and had each separately joined the Communist Party, which they thought could bring about change.
Schulberg said, “Going into it, we went in full of illusions about how this would help the oppressed and the working class.”
But that wasn’t what they experienced.
Andy Griffith, star of A Face in the Crowd, said “Elia Kazan joined the communist party because, as so many young people did, he thought it was a fine option, and he discovered later that is was just another kind of slavery and got out of it.”
Kazan was called to testify twice before HUAC, a committee which investigated communist activities in the 1940s and 1950s.
When first called, Kazan refused to divulge names, but when threatened with being blacklisted, he turned over eight names the second time. Even though HUAC already had these names, many felt Elia’s actions were a betrayal, and he experienced a different sort of blacklisting as a result.
Kazan said, “It did make it more difficult for me to work. But I don’t mind losing friends if it’s for a good cause. And I also gained a lot of friends. A lot of people admired what I did and said it took courage.”
In fact, to punctuate his testimony, Kazan even took out a full-page advertisement in the New York Times to speak further. He wrote:
“To be a member of the Communist Party is to have a taste of the police state. It is a diluted taste but it is bitter and unforgettable… Firsthand experience of dictatorship and thought control left me with an abiding hatred… of Communist philosophy and methods, and the conviction that these must be resisted always.”
After his testimony, Schulberg, who had also left the Communist Party, wrote to Kazan, and the two began talking about projects together. At the time, Schulberg didn’t want to work in movies, but nevertheless, the pair eventually collaborated on their first film together On the Waterfront. The movie was a success and earned eight Academy Awards, including one for Best Director.
Schulberg and Kazan then teamed again for A Face in the Crowd, based on the short story “Your Arkansas Traveler”.
Schulberg said, “The film was really meant as a kind of a warning that with the phenomenon of television that politics would never be the same.”
While at first a challenge to find the lead actor, Kazan believed that Andy Griffith, who was on Broadway performing in No Time For Sergeants (read about that here), was the perfect fit.
“I read the first twelve pages, called my agent, and said, ‘I have to do this,’” Griffith said. “This movie was about the ability for power and I’ve always called him a megalomaniac. This very evil man could put on a face and fool people.”
But playing such a role wasn’t without its challenges, and Griffith even felt like his personality changed.
“While I was on that picture, I became Lonesome Roads. I was not a very nice man.”
Yet despite the complex work, Griffith enjoyed working with Kazan, who he credited with helping him draw out the best performance.
“I loved the experience. It was very hard.”
While the film wasn’t well-received at the time – especially in comparison to On the Waterfront – it has since found acclaim.
Schulberg said, “It took a while for the public to catch up to it.”