The two-time Oscar winner is torn by a special Academy Award for a blacklist collaborator

By Liane Bonin
Updated March 19, 1999 at 05:00 AM EST
Steve Granitz

Forget ”Saving Private Ryan” or Gwyneth Paltrow’s hair extensions. The biggest buzz surrounding this Sunday’s Academy Awards shindig is about the lifetime-achievement award being presented to ”On the Waterfront” director Elia Kazan, who earned lifelong enemies by naming names during the ’50s blacklist. While some are refusing to applaud when the 89-year-old Kazan is given his award, fans like Warren Beatty and Steven Spielberg have come to the director’s defense. With everyone choosing sides, two-time Oscar winner Dustin Hoffman is having a hard time knowing where to stand this weekend.

The actor is inclined to condemn Kazan’s actions but still opt for a little peace, love, and understanding. ”It’s not a black-or-white issue,” says the 61-year-old Hoffman. ”I appreciated what Arthur Miller said, which is that what Kazan did was wrong, but he’s a great artist, and wouldn’t it be nice if we could separate the two. Ironically, that’s the thing that communism didn’t do in its totalitarian way of trying to erase the individual.”

Hoffman, who says Kazan’s work with Marlon Brando in ”Waterfront” and James Dean in ”East of Eden” first inspired him to take up acting, thinks the director has become something of a scapegoat. ”My tendency is not to focus on Kazan solely. He wasn’t the only person to give names, but that’s what always happens in the media culture is that one person becomes a designated hitter.”

Hoffman hopes that, instead of pouting in their seats, Hollywood types will find a more positive way to exorcise the pain of the blacklist. ”I wish there could be a lifetime-achievement award given to all those people who were blacklisted. Why can’t this community give awards to people like Abraham Polonsky (the blacklisted writer of 1948’s ”Force of Evil”)? Give these blacklisted writers or their survivors lifetime-achievement awards. Don’t just say, ‘Don’t give something to this one man.”’