Compiled by Terry Ballard


I set this page up a number of years ago to draw attention to the campaign to get a wide-screen version of East of Eden out on DVD. Two years ago this happened, but a number of people continue to visit the page, so I'm happy to keep it going.

June, 2007

On June 19, 2007, I visited the Cinema Archives at Wesleyan University in Middletown, CT. I had recently met Leith Johnson, a co-curator of the archive, who told me that they had the collection of Elia Kazan's personal papers. Since the campus is only a half hour from where I work, it was not hard to set up a time. Once there, I told Leith that I'd like to see the papers from 1953 to 1955. I was told that the boxes were arranged by movie, not by date. Better yet. He showed me the key documents that I'd be working with. Three spiral bound notebooks documented the film as it progressed from a concept to a reality. Also, Kazan's copy of the shooting script was loaded with notes, doodles, and screen shots in black and white. You know that every film has thought behind it, but I was left in a complete haze when I spent two hours finding out how much thought was directed at this project. I've read quite a bit about the making of this movie, but almost everything I encountered in these papers was new to me.

Spiral bound notebook 1 - labelled "EDEN"

The project took form in the Spring of 1953 with Kazan and Steinbeck working on the outline for a script that they intended to write. Initially, the plan was to cover the entire book. Here is one of the early notes: "Plot constructkion (sic)wise, Adam's goodness is the obstacle that the audience sits pondering. When is this going to break? Is he an idiot?" Kazan & Steinbeck initially saw Adam as the focal character in the movie, but described Cal as "the character in this book that the audience has got to know and understand." Aron is described as "smug."

In one fascinating plan, they had wanted to have each section of the story narrated by a different character. The progression was Adam, Charles, Sam Hamilton, Quinn, Lee, Boy Aron, Will, Older Aron, Abra, Cal, Kate and Quinn. By April 15, Kazan wrote that he had given up on doing the entire book, and decided on the well-known plan of filming only the final third of the novel. He called on Paul Osborn to create this script. A week later, he had a productive day with Steinbeck working on the outline, but it appears that Steinbeck didn't know that Kazan would be outsourcing the script, because it is all spelled out in a long letter to Steinbeck dated May 18, 1953 (The date was added by hand to the typed document - I couldn't help wondering if it was really written in April). Kazan was worried that the project might end up like "Viva Zapata," which pretty much landed with a thud critically and financially, and he blamed himself for the problems. He wrote that Kazan the director would never want hire Kazan the writer, and that Osborn was not a patch on Steinbeck as a writer but he was a fine script technician. By this time, the two had come to realize that the film should be more central to Cal's story, and he wrote that Osborn would take that concept even further. Kazan went on to say that this change was not prompted by his schedule. He was more interested in getting things right than adhering to a timeline. He promised Steinbeck that they would have final say over any line in the script. "Eden is the toughest job of dramatization that I have ever seen, and for one reason - it's so rich. There's so much of it...It calls for more thought. It's bigger and tougher and richer and it's got to be much better to live up to its promise. It sets its own measure and standards."

The next page in the notebook has two words: "John Agrees!"

Spiral bound notebook 2 - labelled "Characters - all tough"

"The audience should love and pity Aron."

In the director's notes to Cal, the character was described as odd, original, and full of longing. Kazan wrote that the success of this portrayal depends on comic timing. "Think of this as a comedy." Delightfully anarchistic. "It's not about the rejection - it's about the search for love." In bold print at the bottom of the page - "Make yourself a man for Chrissake!" An important thing is sudden mood alterations. It's not clear from this if he had already selected James Dean for the role when these notes were written.

Notes about Abra - "A desperate yearning for life...she is the aggressor with Cal...She must get Adam to free Cal so she will have a lover." Cal is not yet capable of falling in love with anyone.

The anti-German mob must be justified. Not really evil people but good neighbors of Adam who are panicked.

Kate dresses impeccably. On guard. Powerfully controlled. Proud. A suffragette - "Equal rights for women."

Third notebook - themes

This notebook was briefer and had notes on general themes in the movie. Love Premise - "Like Brando, he is not interested in anything but his own personal problems."

Story sections:

Healing of guilt.

"This is all there is to it. Don't complicate it."

Music - "Build the whole show on one tune."

"Positive side of rejection theme. The healing comes...only when the child forgives (understands) the parent...Our responsibility for the evil in others - we helped make it. We can help heal it."

In the first sequence (Mendocino location noted) you aren't supposed to see the faces of Cal or Kate. In the train ride home, Cal is supposed to be afraid and crying.

"He kills his brother. He really does. Do not soften this."

May, 2003

I just got back from the Steinbeck country of Monterey and Salinas and have a few thoughts. We visited the Steinbeck Center in Salinas, which has done a magnificent job of putting together a room that sums up the life's work of Steinbeck. Original manuscripts, movie clips, sound files and realia are put together in way that simply immerses one in Steinbeck's world. Finally, I just won an Ebay auction for a slim book entitled "James Dean in Mendocino," about the 1954 filming of the Mendocino section of the film. This is a collection of local photos, newspaper articles, and remembrances from people at the time. It is easily obtained from Ebay or, and it's a must for people who love this film. I'm also informed by a reader that this book and another called "Mendocino and the Movies" are available from their publisher, Pacific Transcriptions, P.O.Box 526, Mendocino, Calif. 95460.

Steinbeck birth home in Salinas

Links to East of Eden related sites.

Tim Dirks detailed review.

Senses of Cinema article about the film in 2001.

Entry for the film in Internet Movie Database

A new essay on East of Eden with an excellent selection of wide-screen images by Kurt Wahlner

James Dean : The official website.

Another Dean website at Reelclassics.

Critical essay on Frank Ohara's poems about the death of James Dean.

A Julie Harris interview.

A supportive summary of the career of Elia Kazan just before he received his lifetime achievement award.

Another page about Kazan with a good selection of links.