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Lifetime Achievement Stokes The Fire
Kazan's McCarthy era controversy hits apex...

22 March 1999  |  Written by   

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Allegedly, he shopped his pals in the McCarthy era - an act many equated to making a pact with the devil. Last night, 89-year-old Elia Kazan - creator of some of Hollywood's greatest films - received a lifetime achievement award. However, a troop of big-name stars refused to forget and snubbed him for his supposed sins against a Hollywood society.

Among those silently protesting, Oscar-nominated actors Nick Nolte, Ed Harris - who sat cross-armed in defiance - and Sir Ian McKellen, who sat with his hands decidedly inanimate while the remainder of the crowd applauded.

The protest stems from his having named eight communists in testimony before the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1952, an act that many say opened the floodgates in Hollywood and resulted in hundreds of writers, artists and directors being 'blacklisted' for their left-wing beliefs.

Indeed, upon the announcement of the award winner, only about half the hall rose to a standing ovation and those that did weren't quick about getting to their feet. Onlookers attending the ceremony commented that in fact, only about 20 per cent of the crowd actually bothered to stand at all. Director Steven Spielberg applauded but remained seated.

Kazan, however, appeared to acknowledge the nigh-on 50 year controversy when he accepted the award, saying, "I want to thank the Academy for its courage and generosity. I want to thank you all very much,'' he said, before finally adding, "I think I can just slip away now'' Which he evidently did, as he made no appearance backstage for a quizzing by waiting reporters.

In his time, Kazan has won best director Oscars for On the Waterfront and Gentleman's Agreement, but is still today seen as a symbol of the McCarthy era and the days when artists were blacklisted for their political beliefs. A point that wasn't missed by a 300-strong army of protesters who stood across the street from the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion where the awards were being presented, carrying signs saying, 'Don't Whitewash the Blacklist' and 'Blacklists Shred the Bill of Rights', shouting all the while "Don't stand for Kazan!"

Nominated for best actor for his role in Gods and Monsters, McKellen said in one interview that he did not clap. "I just sat and watched. A few people stood up but not too many where I was sitting'' He also described the presentation and the controversy surrounding it as "a piece of real theatre"

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