"This is awesome, when you think of all those who have come before me," 77-year-old director Elia Kazan said, after being presented with the Directors Guild of America's coveted D.W. Griffith Award for career achievement Saturday night.
Kazan, the 19th Griffith Award winner since 1953, accepted the award at a ceremony held here for East Coast members of the DGA. Most of the 1986 DGA winners were in Los Angeles, attending a simultaneous dinner at the Sheraton Premiere Hotel.
"I have gotten some awards in the past, and to tell the truth, I always thought I deserved them," Kazan said. "But when I heard I was getting this one, I really had to ask myself what the hell I did to deserve it. I'm glad to get it, but it got me questioning my work and the films I've done, and got me thinking that maybe I still have some juice left and can direct another film, or two or three."
The Griffith award, considered the Guild's highest honor, is given periodically at the discretion of past DGA presidents. The first recipient was Cecil B. DeMille. Among the others have been John Ford, Frank Capra, Alfred Hitchcock, Orson Welles and Joseph L. Mankiewicz, who received it a year ago.
In presenting the award Saturday, Mankiewicz called Kazan "a master" at making films about ordinary human beings and their problems, such as "Tea and Sympathy," "On the Waterfront" and "A Streetcar Named Desire." "He's easily made a baker's dozen of the best films ever made about people," Mankiewicz told a spirited audience of about 500.
The eastern DGA dinner was held at 4-D, a new Manhattan disco, and managed to outdraw all previous affairs that had been held in ballroom settings. Though most of the formal action was in Los Angeles, two of the award recipients--in addition to Kazan--were here. They were Perry Miller Adato, who won the documentary film direction award for "Eugene O'Neill: A Glory of Ghosts," which was seen as part of Public Television's American Masters, and Lee Grant, who won the dramatic special award for "Nobody's Child," a CBS TV movie starring Marlo Thomas.
"I can't believe it," Grant said, stepping on the disco small dance floor proscenium. I've acted for many of you over the years, and I've won some (acting) awards for it too. But this is my first award as a director, and I cannot tell you how good it feels."