Action Now #14


Abe Polonsky, blacklisted director and screenwriter, joins in the protest at the 71st Academy Awards, March 21, 1999, over Elia Kazan receiving an Honorary Oscar for his career output.

7 comments:

MichaelRyerson said...

I'm with you Abe.

Fred said...

I understand where Abe was coming from, but I have a problem with the young protestors. Kazan, Polonsky and others from that time were given an impossible dilemma: rat out your friends to save your career, or risk going on a blacklist and never working again. No one should have to be forced to make decisions such as this in a free society. Blaming Kazan and the other filmakers who cooperated with HUAC and not the politicians (yes, even our beloved RFK and JFK) and studio heads who made these atrocious and un-American policies is just plain wrong. While Polonsky was a bigger victim than Kazan, I still can understand Kazan's decision. At the end of the day, Kazan didn't blacklist Polonsky; the studios and the politicians did. And anyone who was lucky enough to be too young to have to make the awful choices that confronted men and women like Polonsky and Kazan (yes, that's you Ed Harris and all those nice young LA residents pictured in the protest), should keep their mouths shut.

MichaelRyerson said...

Yeah, well Fred I'm not a youngster and I'm old enough to remember. The protest has to do with Kazan being given an award, an AWARD fer chrissakes. He had a career while guys like Polansky and Trumbo had to leave their country to find work. Kazan was a fine filmmaker and when he was faced by a choice no one should have to face he choose to save his career rather than his friends and acquaintances. I don't fault him for it, I don't know what I'd do in similar circumstances, but I certainly wouldn't be looking for a party in my 'honor' to celebrate a career I'd safeguarded by ratting out my friends. I feel your pain, it is a thoroughly shitty moral conundrum but I don't fete Kazan or Lee J. Cobb for having saved their livelihood at the expense of people unlucky enough to have once been their friends.

Fred said...

I think my point in all this Michael is that it is easy for us to question giving Kaza or Lee J. Cobb an award when we weren't faced with this horrible choice. By the same token, should any MLB player who played before 1948 be ineligible for Cooperstown, since they played when people of African decent were banned from the Major Leagues and did nothing to address this awful inequity? Maybe the equitable thing to do is to have Hollywood give lifetime achievement awards to the members of the Blacklist. Baseball took this path when they began admitting the greats of the Negro League into the Hall of Fame, including many like Cool Papa Bell, Josh Gibson and Buck O'Neill who never got to play one inning in the MLB because of the "Color Barrier." Don't punish Kazan for something that was outside his control.

Tom Sutpen said...

Michael:

I understand everything you're saying, but Kazan wasn't being given an Honorary Oscar for having named names before HUAC. It was for his long career as a director; not for his short one as a witness. If we're going to start disqualifying potential honorees for moral indiscretions in their pasts, then it's going to be tough finding anyone to hand a statuette to without turning the whole thing into a joke (well, more of a joke than it already is, anyway).

Arthur Miller . . . who was as personally devastated by Kazan's decision to cooperate as anyone; even those whose names he named (after all, nobody in that era gave up a name to HUAC that HUAC didn't already have) . . . thought he richly deserved that award. He also knew that people like Kazan were, in more subtle way, every bit as much victims of that time as those on the other end. It was a situation first imposed on the American film industry from without; later, the industry imposed it on itself. The people caught up in this institutional madness, Friendly or Unfriendly witnesses alike, did not bring it on themselves, nor was there much they could do to make it disappear.

Denying Elia Kazan that award solely because he named names . . . with no weight whatsoever given to his very real achievements in film . . . would have made just as much sense as giving the same award to someone like Polonsky solely because he did not.

MichaelRyerson said...

Well there are 'moral indiscretions' and there are 'moral indiscretions'. Look I'm not Arthur Miller and don't feel obligated to follow his lead. I'm just a fan not a film critic who has trouble getting by Russell Crowes' slamming a telephone into some poor working stiff's face because he didn't move wquickly enough for Mr. Crowe. As good as she is I can't watch Jane Fonda in 'They Shoot Horses...' or 'Clute' without having a little corner of my brain preoccupied with her palying on that AAA gun. I grew up two blocks from Paramount Studios in a duplex (on Monroe Street) we shared with my uncle who was in the 'Business', Morris Ankrum lived across the street and frequently walked to work, a lady who worked in the office of my father's grocery store was married to a nice guy who'd been an actor (and a pretty good one at that) who suddenly stopped working when his name appeared on a list. As wonderful as On the Waterfront is, I can't watch it without also seeing this guy bagging groceries to make ends meet. Awards? For a body of work produced largely during those years many people were out of 'The Business' as a direct consequence of Kazan's testimony? Sorry, I'll leave that to the academics. I'm just a fan.

Kenmeer livermaile said...

Well, protest is protest, and that's that. Let 'em rant on (as we rant here); they earned the right to pee on the laurels of those who made a choice (easy or hard, we don't know) that put them out of the running for such an award.

I will say this: that soon after WWII/Hitler, not enough people considered Hitler's statement that had they been stopped in the streets, they wouldn't have risen to power.

Ultimately I want to blame the fans who were old enough to know the score for not throwing bricks and more at every studio and Congressional sumbitch as his limo drove by.

In the end, I'd say Kazan served his fans better than Polonsky in that respect, following their lead in submitting to the evil farce.