Elia Kazan's Private Letters: Rape, Promiscuity in 'A Streetcar Named Desire' Defended

Everett Collection
Elia Kazan, Vivien Leigh on set, 1951

Kazan took made a passionate argument about Blanche's character in a 1950 letter about production code censor Joseph Breen's proposed changes.

This story first appeared in the April 18 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

Of all his movies, Kazan had the longest history with Tennessee WilliamsA Streetcar Named Desire. Kazan's wife had discovered Williams and got him his first agent, and Kazan directed Streetcar on Broadway in 1947. He forged his relationship with Brando in both the play and movie, and in this letter to Streetcar producer Charles K. Feldman, Kazan passionately defends the film's risque scenes against cuts from production code censor Joseph Breen.

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May 8, 1950

To Charles K. Feldman

I'm leaving here a week from today, and will arrive there on Wednesday morning's Super Chief. Is it possible for me to meet with Mr. Joseph Breen immediately?

I don't feel at all relieved by the reports you sent me from the Breen office conference. I haven't the least intention of cutting out the scene with the young Collector. All this scene contains is the longing every woman has, in fact, every person has during moments of great loneliness and despair, for love and closeness and romance. There is nothing homosexual about the young Collector. A boy can be gentle and shy and delicate without being a fairy. On the contrary, there is something innocent and pure about him and Blanche's taste for him is not degenerate, but romantic and wistful. Every woman knows how she feels, Charlie, it's normal. The only thing unhealthy is if you think it's degenerate.

I detest the idea that everyone at the meeting hailed so eagerly. That Blanche calls a lot of fellows "Alan." Once and for all, Blanche is not crazy when she comes in, she is a very, very disturbed and upset girl. Frankly, Charlie, I have no intention of giving in on a damn thing that I consider essential to the honesty of this story. I want you to know this, Charlie. I say it with no bitterness or truculence. I don't think you should either, but then you have a different problem and I can appreciate what that is. I still think the Breen Office can be fought on this, not fighting them by "cooperating."

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Let me be very clear: First, neither Tennessee nor I will go for the "Alan" stuff. Neither Tennessee nor I will cut out the Collector scene. We will not specify that it was an older woman in the room with Alan when Blanche happened in.

And for the life of me, I don't see what can be done about Blanche's promiscuity. IT'S THE STORY OF THE PLAY, and for Christ's sake, she pays, and pays, and PAYS! What more do they want?

I will not have Stanley stop short of the rape. I don't believe he would have, do you? Also, the rape is his final act in destroying her. If you want a "heavy" in the piece, it's Stanley. Perhaps Blanche could never have been saved, but I certainly think it should look that way for the moment, with Mitch. The story of the latter half of this play is that Stanley doggedly hunts her down, down, down into the ground and finally makes her dirt by taking her against her will. She acts to bring it on, but he does it.

Tell Mr. Breen that Christ didn't condemn the whore or move away from her, he said: "Let him throw the first stone, etc. etc." Mr. Williams' story is about the greatest of Christian virtues, of Charity. Some people call it compassion. I know Mr. Breen's job is difficult. He is administering a Code that he didn't write. He is subject to constant pressure. But I don't think the Code can be applied mechanically or without some imagination and to a stage masterpiece that has won every prize in the theatre world.


Excerpted from THE SELECTED LETTERS OF ELIA KAZAN, edited by Albert J. Devlin with Marlene J. Devlin. copyright © 2014 by FrancesKazan published by Arrangement with Alfred A. Knopf, An imprint of the Knopf DoubledAy publishing group, A division of Random House LLC