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.
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!"
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."
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."
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.