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Stanley Kramer

Stanley Kramer

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Also Known As: Stanley Earl Kramer, Stanley E Kramer Died: February 19, 2001
Born: September 29, 1913 Cause of Death: pneumonia and complications from diabetes
Birth Place: New York City, New York, USA Profession: producer, director, radio writer, editor, carpenter, scenery mover, screenwriter, researcher, editing assistant

Biography CLOSE THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

Stanley Kramer made his reputation during the 1950s and 60s as one of the few producers and directors willing to tackle issues most studios sought to avoid, such as racism, the Holocaust and nuclear annihilation. He came to Hollywood an aspiring writer and hooked on with MGM, working first as a scenery mover and carpenter and then in their research department before spending three years there as an editor. He wrote for radio as well as for Columbia and Republic Studios for awhile, but it was as a strong-willed independent producer that Kramer would finally make his mark. Though his first feature ("So This Is New York", 1948) flopped, he hit his stride with his next one, the intense and exciting anti-boxing pic "Champion" (1949), which propelled Kirk Douglas to stardom and launched Mark Robson's career as an important director.The series of commercially successful economy productions that followed, by turns prestigious and socially responsible and all scripted by "Champion" screenwriter Carl Foreman, established Kramer as bankable in the industry's eyes. Both Robson's "Home of the Brave" (1949), which addressed the persecution of a black soldier by his white comrades, and Fred Zinnemann's "The Men"...

Stanley Kramer made his reputation during the 1950s and 60s as one of the few producers and directors willing to tackle issues most studios sought to avoid, such as racism, the Holocaust and nuclear annihilation. He came to Hollywood an aspiring writer and hooked on with MGM, working first as a scenery mover and carpenter and then in their research department before spending three years there as an editor. He wrote for radio as well as for Columbia and Republic Studios for awhile, but it was as a strong-willed independent producer that Kramer would finally make his mark. Though his first feature ("So This Is New York", 1948) flopped, he hit his stride with his next one, the intense and exciting anti-boxing pic "Champion" (1949), which propelled Kirk Douglas to stardom and launched Mark Robson's career as an important director.

The series of commercially successful economy productions that followed, by turns prestigious and socially responsible and all scripted by "Champion" screenwriter Carl Foreman, established Kramer as bankable in the industry's eyes. Both Robson's "Home of the Brave" (1949), which addressed the persecution of a black soldier by his white comrades, and Fred Zinnemann's "The Men" (1950), a drama about paraplegic war veterans featuring Marlon Brando in his first screen role, were melodramas with provocatively modern and relevant situations and settings. Kramer then took a holiday from the contemporary tracts with "Cyrano de Bergerac" (1950), a film that earned a Best Actor Oscar for Jose Ferrer. By the time the last and best of these, the allegorical Western "High Noon" (1952), won an aging Gary Cooper a Best Actor Oscar (among the four it received), Kramer had already made his deal with the devil, having agreed to produce 30 films over a five year period for Columbia.

Money spoiled the look Kramer had managed to give his independent pictures. The films he oversaw for Columbia were glossier and closer in "production values" to other big-studio productions but lacked the do-it-yourself excitement of his earlier work, and all but the last one lost money. Edward Dmytryk's hugely successful screen version of Herman Wouk's "The Caine Mutiny" (1954) would cover the losses of the other nine, but Columbia had already seen enough and bought out his contract before the film's release, opening the door for him to fulfill a long-standing ambition to direct as well as produce his films. Although his films for Columbia fell below the standards he had set on his own, most boasted fine acting and probably deserved better than they got, but adaptations of "Death of a Salesman" (1951) and "Member of the Wedding" (1952) proved too highbrow for the public while the remarkable cult children's film "The Five Thousand Fingers of Dr T" (1953), a fantasy devised by Dr Seuss, was just a little too "out there" for the times.

"Not As a Stranger" (1955), a melodramatic hospital story which critics disparaged as well-acted fluff, started Kramer's directing career off with a commercial bang, but his second film, "The Pride and the Passion" (1957), was the silliest project he ever undertook. "The Defiant Ones" (1958), regarded by many as his best directorial effort, returned to the race card and began his ten-year run as one of the most successful (and certainly the most earnest) directors in Hollywood. Kramer then tackled the problem of The Bomb itself with "On the Beach" (1959), arranging its simultaneous release in 18 cities, including Moscow, to help save the world, before helming two courtroom dramas based on real events, "Inherit the Wind" (1960), the gripping tale of the Scopes' "monkey" trial, and "Judgment at Nuremberg" (1961), his indictment of Nazi war atrocities. Although the subject matter addressed was always important, Kramer's excessive forthrightness stacked the deck to manipulate sentiment, causing many critics to resent his heavy-handedness, no one more than Pauline Kael who repeatedly assailed his "self-righteous, self-congratulatory" tone.

After picking up the 1961 Irving G Thalberg Award from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for his social responsibility, Kramer switched to comedy, giving slapstick a black eye with his overly ambitious "It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World" (1963), before returning to the more serious terrain of Katherine Anne Porter's novel "Ship of Fools" (1995), which he dispatched in an absorbingly well-paced, tidily knit adaptation. Of course, the audience could not possibly miss the point that the world's weakness permitted Hitler's rise since there was an urbane and sardonic dwarf (Michael Dunn) to spell it out for them, yet despite the lack of subtlety exhibited during his heyday, Kramer consistently put great acting on display. His last big success, "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner" (1967), was no exception, offering sterling performances by Sidney Poitier, Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn that overcame a saccharine screenplay which nonetheless dealt with the then relatively taboo subject of interracial marriage. Could any eye stay dry at its end when he sustained that two shot of Tracy in profile on the left foreground of the screen and Hepburn, her eyes brimming with tears, in the right background looking at the love of her life knowing full well he is not long for the world?

Of Kramer's remaining six films, "Oklahoma Crude" (1973), with its careful attention to period detail and fine performances by Faye Dunaway, George C Scott and Jack Palance, was probably the best, but after increasingly negative notices for "The Domino Principle" (1977) and the downright disastrous "The Runner Stumbles" (1979), there were no longer any studios willing to sponsor the man once regarded as the "conscience" of Hollywood. The hostility of the critical establishment towards Kramer is no doubt to some extent a reaction against the excessive praise which greeted his early work, but there can also be little doubt that he achieved his highest quality of artistic expression as an independent producer of the late 40s and early 50s, benefiting from fine scripts by Carl Foreman and the complementary vision of his men at the helm. Though flawed by their lack of even-handedness, his pictures as a producer-director were invariably intelligent, ambitious and well-intentioned efforts striking morally (and commercially) responsive chords for their times. In his later years, Kramer often turned up on TV interview documentaries about Hollywood's past, proving himself a lively raconteur and unabashed fan of the many talented people with whom he had worked. In 1997, he published his memoirs, "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World: A Life in Hollywood".

VIEW THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

Filmographyclose complete filmography

DIRECTOR:

1.
  Runner Stumbles, The (1979) Director
2.
  Domino Principle, The (1977) Director
3.
  Oklahoma Crude (1973) Director
4.
5.
  R. P. M. (1970) Director
6.
7.
8.
  Ship of Fools (1965) Director
10.
  Judgment at Nuremberg (1961) Director

CAST: (feature film)

3.
 Journey Into Self (1969) Intro Spoken by
5.
 Anthony Quinn (1990)
7.
 Cary Grant: The Leading Man (1988) Interviewee
VIEW THE FULL FILMOGRAPHY

Milestones close milestones

:
Moved to Hollywood after graduating from college
:
Worked for MGM as a scenery mover and as a carpenter
:
Worked briefly for MGM's research department
1934:
Worked in MGM's editing department for three years (dates approximate)
1936:
Joined a short film unit at MGM headed by Jack Chertok; worked as a production assistant
:
Was on the writing staffs at both Columbia and Republic Studios
:
Wrote for radio programs including "Big Town", a CBS program featuring Edward G. Robinson, and "The Rudy Vallee Show"
1941:
Was a production assistant on the feature, "So Ends Our Night", directed by John Cromwell
1942:
Was an associate producer of "The Moon and Sixpence", directed by Albert Lewin
:
Made training and orientation films for the Signal Corps during WWII, emerging as a first lieutenant
:
Established Screen Plays Inc with Sam Katz, Carl Foreman and George Glass as partners, acquiring the rights to the stories of Ring Lardner
1948:
Produced first film, "So This Is New York", based on Lardner's "The Big Town"
1949:
Scored first commercial success as producer with "Champion" (also based on a Lardner tale), which brought stardom to Kirk Douglas, Ruth Roman and Lola Albright and launched Mark Robson's career as an important director
1949:
Began addressing social issues with "Home of the Brave"
1951:
Production unit became the Stanley Kramer Company, committed to producing 30 films in five years for Columbia
1952:
Garnered first Academy Award nomination as producer of "High Noon"
1954:
Columbia bought out his contract before release of "The Caine Mutiny", reacting to heavy losses incurred by its predecessors; film earned Kramer an Oscar nomination
1955:
First film as director, "Not as a Stranger", a smash hit which critics decried as a trashy trifle
1958:
Helmed "The Defiant Ones", regarded by most critics as his best directorial effort; Kramer earned Academy Award nominations for Best Picture (as producer) and Best Director
1959:
Depicted the world facing nuclear destruction in "On the Beach", arranging for it to open simultaneously in 18 cities, including Moscow; the noted scientist and anti-nuclear advocate Linus Pauling speculated, "It may be that some years from now we can look back and say that 'On the Beach' is the movie that saved the world."
1960:
First of four movies with Spencer Tracey, the screen adaptation of "Inherit the Wind", about the 1925 Scopes' "monkey" trial
1961:
Returned to the courtroom with "Judgment at Nurenberg", a fictionalized account of the prosecution of German War criminals following WWII; Oscar nominated as producer (Best Picture) and Best Director
1963:
Turned to comedy for "It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World", achieving mixed results
1964:
Last feature producing credit on a film he did not also direct, "Invitation to a Gunfighter", directed by Richard Wilson
1965:
Returned to more serious fare with film version of Katherine Anne Porter's "Ship of Fools"; film nominated for Best Picture Oscar
1967:
Last film with Tracy (and Tracy's last film), "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner", was also Kramer's last major success; earned Academy Award nominations for Best Picture and as Best Director
1967:
Appeared on the NBC documentary special, "Bogart", a portrait of Humphrey Bogart
1968:
Was an interviewee on the ABC documentary special, "Sophia", a biography of Sophia Loren
1974:
Directed the three ABC-TV documentary specials, "Judgment: The Trial of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg", "Judgment: The Court-Martial of the Tiger of Malaya, General Yamashita" and "Judgment: The Court-Martial of Lt. William Calley"; Kramer also produced and narrated
1975:
Created, produced and directed the ABC comedy pilot, "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner", based on his 1967 feature film
1979:
Last feature directing and producing credit to date, "The Runner Stumbles"
:
Moved from California to Seattle where he taught at the University of Washington and at Bellevue Community College
1982:
Was the subject of the TV documentary, "Stanley Kramer on Film"
:
Appeared on a number of Cinemax's "Crazy About the Movies" specials focusing on Grace Kelly, Montgomery Clift, Cary Grant, and Anthony Quinn
1997:
Published autobiography, "It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World: A Life in Hollywood", written with Thomas M Coffey
VIEW ALL MILESTONES

Education

DeWitt Clinton High School: New York , New York -
New York University: New York , New York - 1933

Notes

Some sources list September 23 as Mr. Kramer's birthdate.

"I am not completely conscious of the political or social significance of a film at the time of the selection of material. It may be something which appeals to me very much, perhaps emotionally, and it may be that I am attracted by things which are social in terms of my own emotions. That seems . . . to be the premise on which I start . . . In the last three films we have dealt with the problems of the Negro in America; the problem on the nuclear family, as it's called; and the problem of the right of a schoolteacher to teach freely . . . These have been things which I felt were dramatic because they were a cross section of the times in which we live." --Stanley Kramer, quoted in FILMS AND FILMING, June 1960

Kramer's biggest disappointment was "Ship of Fools": "I thought it would be a classic. Boy, was I wrong. I overproduced it and overdirected it. I blame myself." --Kramer quoted by THE NEW YORK TIMES, September 19, 1997

Companions close complete companion listing

wife:
Anne Pearce. Writer, executive, producer. Married in 1950; divorced; died on December 3, 2000 at age 74.
wife:
Karen Kramer. Producer, former actor. Married in 1977.

Family close complete family listing

daughter:
Casey Kramer. Mother, Anne Pearce; acted in father's "The Runner Stumbles" (1979).
son:
Larry Kramer. Mother, Anne Pearce.
daughter:
Katherine Kramer. Singer producer. Born c. 1968; mother, Karen Sharpe; acted in "The Runner Stumbles".
daughter:
Jennifer Kramer. Actor. Studied acting with Mike Nichols; mother, Karen Sharpe; acted in "The Runner Stumbles".
VIEW COMPLETE FAMILY LISTING

Bibliography close complete biography

"It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World: A Life in Hollywood" Harcourt Brace

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