Elia Kazan on Faye Dunaway: God And Will

Elia Kazan in Conversation
New York

This was an afternoon spent discussing the preparation of the artist, and the capricious ride most artists face in maintaining their talent and their integrity.

When the name of Faye Dunaway was mentioned, Kazan became agitated, defensive: He felt very protective toward Dunaway's talent and her person, and he felt that she had been treated in a particularly pernicious manner. These are Kazan's comments, unedited: They will be expanded and utilized in a larger work.

Faye Dunaway came to me a supremely endowed, hungry, curious, bright young talent. She was smart and she was willful--I would not have wanted to have come between her and any of her many goals. She worked her mind and her body and her heart, and she was never satisfied.

Make this note: The artist is rarely, if ever, satisfied. The artist is frequently grateful and intermittently amazed, but he or she is never satisfied. That Faye is unlikely to be satisfied with her efforts--or those with whom she works--is not a caprice; it is not the willful misbehavior of a spoiled actress: This is how artists operate.

I don't think Faye was satisfied with me, or with anything that had to do with the Lincoln Center Repertory Theatre. Who was? We failed. We did, however, try, as best we could, to create what this country has always needed and will never, I predict, have: a national theatre. Where we the best people for the job? Clearly, we were not. But we were in there, fighting.

Good to have someone like Faye Dunaway fighting along with you on such a suicidal mission. She will not lie to you; she will not comfort you with aphorisms; she will not bind the wounds with sweet evasions.

However, she will never leave your side or let you down.

Write that down, and come back in a few years and tell me how many people have had that said about them.

It will be a short list.

I was talking to another old director, and we were talking about awards and prizes. Not simply the chunks of gold and silver that they hand out, along with the parchments and the checks, but the real prizes: Fame, stardom, power, adulation.

The acclaim and the awards, you would think, would be for the work. You did well, they say, and here's a bibelot and a steak and a pat on the head. A star on the report card.

But that's not the way it works.

The performance or the film or the novel or the score is beside the point. The award--and its effects--are the point. No one will say that someone was great in a film, and weren't we wise and good to give them an Oscar. No, they'll say We gave them the Oscar; let's see how they handle it or repay us.

And a sick game begins.

This happens with fame all the time. The public wants a personal--a very personal--repayment of the time and the admiration and arousal that they have invested in your work and your skin and your hair and the way you make them feel. And woe upon you if you don't appear to adequately appreciate or repay this admiration.

I have loaded you with this heavy and long preface to tell you what I think has happened with Faye.

Elia Kazan directing Kirk Douglas and Faye Dunaway in The Arrangement (1969).

Faye is a brilliant actress and a shy, highly-strung woman. She is intelligent and she is strong-willed. Everything I have just said about her would no doubt please her, and it delights you, but I want you to know how threatening and poisonous this makes her to most of the men who write and produce and direct films.

Marlon Brando can question you and ridicule your intentions and work around your ineptitude, and he will be reviled and have photographs of his face slashed and rudely painted in offices. However, at the end of the day and the end of the shoot, Marlon Brando is a genius, and his eccentricities and his rudeness are simply small prices to pay for the honor of preserving the art of this great actor.

All the paint in all the countries of the world would dry and crack while James Dean looked at himself in a mirror or into a flame to decide how a scene should be played, but I wouldn't trade too many minutes of that irritation for what we got on the screen. And people griped and whispered, but he remained the young genius.

Faye Dunaway? A bitch.

Anna Magnani? A virago and a bitch.

I am not the man to whom you should be speaking when it comes to the treatment of women: I am no prince. However, I think that in the artistic arenas in which I've tromped around, I've been equally open to the opinions and the demands of artists who happen to be women.

Write that down and check that out and get back to me.

If Faye made a mistake in her career, it is that she gave a shit what people said or thought of her, but that is easy for me to say: I'm a man, and, sue me for this, but I think it is easier for a man to flip someone off and to tell them to get off than it is for a woman. No matter how fierce Faye has been in seeking the truth of her work, and virtually destroying herself to convey this truth, she is also terribly sensitive to how she is perceived and how she may have treated those around her.

This is admirable and it endears her to me, but it is fatal to the trajectory of one's work.

I am not implying that an artist is allowed to be rude or required to be, but I do think they should have a way cleared before them as they do their work, and I also think they do not owe us an explanation of how they do their work or live their lives.

Faye always felt she had to explain her rigorous standards, and this is all I will quibble with insofar as she is concerned.

I've read your chapters on how Tennessee was disappointed in her as Blanche. This is Tennessee's problem: He stupidly--yet understandably--agreed to no less than three productions of Streetcar on its twenty-fifth anniversary. He wanted me involved, but I've done that already. I'm over that. Give it to someone else. But why in God's name should we do a play--no matter how great--simply because a money-making celebration can be summoned? Tennessee needed some attention and some love, and so he agreed to these productions.

He was tough on Ellis [Rabb] and Rosemary Harris, and he was brutal to Faye and to James Bridges [the director of the Los Angeles production]. He told me Faye worked too hard. This is insanity. Faye works as hard as is necessary, and Blanche is heavy lifting. Tennessee's problem was not with Faye's performance: His problem was with the level of attention and affection she was able to give him. He wanted long nights of talking and commiserating, and Faye did not have it to give, because she was working and working hard.

I love Tennessee, but this was a period in his life when he was calling people up and asking for time and explanations and reparations, and this is an unfair burden to place on an actress who is taking on one of the most difficult roles in the American theatre.

The artist owes us a performance, a book, a symphony, a film, a dance. He owes the audience seated before him gratitude for attention given and time spent. He owes a polite greeting at the stage door or in the supermarket.

The artist does not, however, owe you a life or a fantasy or an explanation of how or why God and will transpired to make them into an artist.

Give Faye some great parts and let her fill them. Her story is in her work, and it is in testaments from friends like me that she is a present help in artistic times.

Faye and Kazan.

©2012 by James Grissom


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