By Eve Berliner
By Eve Berliner
America, America, it moved him, this immigrant child of dark Anatolian descent, the dream of America in his blood, a cry that went from generation to generation.
He was born in Constantinople on September 7, 1909, his roots reaching back to the village of Kayseri in the back country of Turkey, under the feared tyranny of the Mohammedans, in the time of the Ottoman Empire.
It was a long history of subjugation and slaughter for the Anatolian Greeks living under harsh Turkish domination.
"I am a Greek by blood, a Turk by birth and an American because my uncle made a journey," Kazan would declare.
It was his father's brother, Avraam-Elia Kazanjioglou, who gave up all, soul included, to claw his way to America, followed by his father who became a merchant of rugs in New York City and sent for his family shortly before the outbreak of World War I.
At the age of 4, Elia Kazanjioglou arrived with his mother and four brothers on the shores of America, America.
* * *
He would peer into the mirror and there it was: "And when I see it I don't like it. It's my father's sly face. I call it the Anatolian Smile, the smile that covers resentment. And fear. I see the cunning in that smile."
The Anatolian smile like a serpent that mocked him, the smile of deceit, guile and capitulation.
Kazan, a man who shed skins, like the sinuous black snake he had come to know intimately during his walks in the country, its skin delicate as a butterfly when he would discover the fragile membrane lying by the side of the road in the early spring, its luminous black occupant having slithered noiselessly away.
"I've shed several skins in my time, lived several lives, and known violent and cruel changes."
"I've known regret. And guilt. Also pride. Oh, yes, there've been days.!"
* * *
His father, the man he feared more than anyone in his life, brutal especially to Elia, his eldest son, a collision between father and son of rancorous misunderstanding and hostility.
The father, violent and severe inside the walls of his house; subservient and deceitful to the world outside his door.
There was a rage inside the boy, a rage at submission and degradation and it festered into manhood, that dark explosive anger deeply etched in the scowl of his face.
Shut up, say nothing, don't fight back, his father's credo of survival.
His uncle meanwhile had transformed himself into an American. He was no longer Avraam-Elia Kazanjioglou. He was now A.E. Kazan, otherwise known as "Joe," founder of the prestigious George Kazan Inc. Oriental Rugs & Carpets, a charismatic personality profiled by the legendary writer/agent Sam Behrman in the pages of The New Yorker Magazine.
Elia's father was second in command.
During long summer vacations from school, Elia would work in the store, surrounded by lush beautiful rugs and pungent oriental aromas, as he would roll and unroll the heavy carpets for potential buyers, folding them, beating the carpets with wire instruments as plumes of dust rose out of their mysterious interiors.
But the boy had other dreams, inchoate, being born inside of him.
As he grew older, he would conceal his books in the pages of the large accounting ledger -- Samuel Butler's The Way of All Flesh, Somerset Maugham's Of Human Bondage, his mind far from the trading of rugs.
His performance at the store aroused his father's wrath.
He took to calling his son by a new nickname: "Good for Nothing."
The young boy was very close to his mother, Athena Shishmanoglou. He took refuge in her tenderness. And when the father would fall off to sleep after his evening meal, Elia and his mother would sit close together on the sofa and she would quietly read to him. She opened the world of books to him -- Tom Swift and O'Henry and Treasure Island and Victor Hugo's Les Miserables. She would read to him until she fell asleep.
"It was during those nights that I became her special child."
Years later, his mother took it upon herself to break the news to his father that Elia, unbeknownst to him, had applied for and been accepted to Williams College in Massachusetts, The Class of 1930.
He smashed her viciously across the face and knocked her to the floor.
"Mother! I couldn't open my mouth," Elia would recall painfully,
From then on, his mother and father slept in separate bedrooms.
After graduation, "[W]hen I told him I was entering the Yale Drama School, where I would study acting, his response was: 'Didn't you look in the mirror?' I would resent that for years, just as he resented me for walking away from him when he needed me in his store. Even late in life, when he used to carry clippings about my shows in his pocket and make purposeless trips to New York on the commuter train so he could show these clippings to his old friends, I pitied him but still didn't love him. It would be years before I did, and it came about only when I'd made a voyage back to where he was born and brought up, and where I'd had something of the same experience that he'd had. But by then it was late, almost too late, and I was left with a persisting regret that I had never come to know my father."