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Marlon Brando and Director Elia Kazan on the Set of ‘A Streetcar Named Desire,’ 1951

Marlon Brando Elia Kazan
Marlon Brando Elia Kazan

It’s not often one photo captures some of the most legendary figures in all of cinema history. Marlon Brando needs no introduction. He could’ve been a contender. Then, he made an offer nobody could refuse. And then, oh then, the horror! Regarded as one of the greatest actors of all time, Marlon Brando is a household name.

But Brando may have created an entire generation of young actors. But who created Brando? The answer to that is one of the most important directors in cinema history: Elia Kazan. Coming from the theatre, Kazan was “an actor’s director.” He was a student of “the Method” style of acting. No, not the method acting you see when actors won’t break character or send rats to their co-stars. This is actually the term for the systems of acting derived from legendary acting teacher Constantin Stanislavsky

You can see Kazan’s use of this method in the way he directs his actors. The central premise of his is to encourage actors to use their own experiences to generate raw, authentic emotion on camera. Brando’s success was in no doubt derived from Kazan’s influence. Watch Brando deliver his famous monologue in “On the Waterfront”:

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Brando had a reputation for being difficult to work with. Despite this, he was an actor in a class of his own, and his memory will loom large for years to come. 

But Kazan’s legacy is somewhat more complicated. For about a year and a half in the 1930s, Kazan was a part of the Communist Party. In 1952, Elia Kazan gave the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) the names of 8 other members of the Communist Party, many of whom were dead or no longer politically active. To many, the director that named names was no longer worthy of any respect. Kazan would defend his position years later with “On the Waterfront”. In that film, Brando’s character would testify against his fellow colleagues as well, as Kazan attempted to rewrite his own legacy.

Check out this photo of Marlon Brando and Elia Kazan on the set of “A Streetcar Named Desire”. After originating the role of Stanley Kowalski in the original Broadway production of Tennessee Williams’ famous drama, which Kazan also directed, the duo brought it to the big screen in 1951. 

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Whatever you may think of Kazan’s actions, the director built screen legends like Marlon Brando and James Dean. He brought a new wave of acting to film, one which has its roots in genuine, realistic emotion. That style of acting would end up dominating the scene today, where most modern actors are not only descendants of the teachings Stanislavsky, but also of Elia Kazan himself.