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Stanley Earl Kramer - biography

Stanley Earl Kramer (29 September 1913 – 19 February 2001) was an American film director and producer responsible for some of Hollywood's most famous "message" movies. His notable films include The Defiant Ones (1958), On the Beach (1959), Inherit the Wind (1960), Judgment at Nuremberg (1961), It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963), Ship of Fools (1965) and Guess Who's Coming to Dinner (1967). His work was recognized with the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award in 1961, and over the course of his career he received nine Academy Award nominations.

Director Steven Spielberg once described him as "one of our great filmmakers, not just for the art and passion he put on screen, but for the impact he has made on the conscience of the world." Film critic David Thomson described Kramer as a "hero of the 1950s" and an "enterprising producer," but also wrote of his later films that "commercialism, of the most crass and confusing kind, has devitalised all [of] his projects".


Early years

Kramer lived with his grandmother in the neighborhood of Manhattan known as Hell's Kitchen. From an early age, Kramer had connections with the film industry; his uncle, Earl Kramer, worked in distribution at Universal Pictures and then as an agent in Hollywood. Kramer's mother also worked in a secretarial position at Paramount Pictures. Kramer attended DeWitt Clinton High School in The Bronx and New York University where he was a member of the Pi Lambda Phi fraternity; in his final year at the university, he was offered a paid internship in the writing department of 20th Century Fox. Kramer took the job although he had originally planned on attending law school.

In 1941 he worked as a production assistant on the film version of The Moon and Sixpence and So Ends Our Night. Two years later, in 1943, Kramer was drafted, but avoided going to war by working for an army film unit in New York. In 1948 Kramer organized an independent production company, Screen Plays Inc. His partners in the company were with the writer Herbie Baker, publicist George Glass and producer Carl Foreman, whom he had met previously during his time with the army film unit. It was during Kramer's career as a producer that he began to receive recognition for his talent.

The first movie produced under his production company, So This Is New York (1948), directed by Richard Fleischer, was a failure. However, his next film, Champion, directed by Mark Robson and starring Kirk Douglas, was a success. The film received six Academy Award nominations: Best Actor in a Leading Role, Best Actor in a Supporting Role, Best Cinematography, Black and White, Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture and Best Writing, Screenplay. The film also won an Oscar for Best Film Editing. In the next three years, Kramer produced Home of the Brave (1949), which was another success for the budding producer. In 1950, he produced The Men, which featured Marlon Brando's screen debut. Also in that year, he produced Cyrano de Bergerac, the first English language film version of Edmond Rostand's 1897 French play. It won star José Ferrer his only Oscar for Best Actor.

In total, he produced and directed 23 different actors in Oscar-nominated performances: Kirk Douglas, Arthur Kennedy, José Ferrer, Fredric March, Kevin McCarthy, Gary Cooper, Julie Harris, Tom Tully, Humphrey Bogart, Tony Curtis, Sidney Poitier, Theodore Bikel, Cara Williams, Spencer Tracy (3 Times), Maximilian Schell, Montgomery Clift, Judy Garland, Oskar Werner, Michael Dunn, Simone Signoret, Cecil Kellaway, Beah Richards and Katharine Hepburn. Ferrer, Cooper, Schell and Hepburn won Oscars for their performances in Kramer films.

Columbia Pictures

In 1951, Columbia Pictures president Harry Cohn offered Kramer the opportunity to form a production unit working with his studio. Kramer was given free rein over what films he chose to make, along with a budget that topped at $980,000. Kramer accepted the job, and alongside his Columbia commitment, finished his last independent production, the film High Noon (1952), a Western drama directed by Fred Zinnemann. The movie was well received, winning four Oscars for Best Actor in a Leading Role, Best Film Editing, Best Music, Original Song and Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic of Comedy Picture, as well as three nominations for Best Director, Best Picture and Best Writing, Screenplay.

Unfortunately, the High Noon's production and release intersected with the Red Scare. Writer, producer and partner Carl Foreman was called before the House Un-American Activities Committee while he was writing the film. Foreman had been a member of the Communist Party ten years earlier, but declined to "name names" and was branded an "un-cooperative witness" by HUAC, and then blacklisted by the Hollywood companies. Kramer, citing a problem with the film's line of credit (Foreman had not signed certain financial papers), forced Foreman to sell his part of the company, and tried to end his involvement in the project entirely. Fred Zinnemann, Gary Cooper, and Bruce Church, the film's director, star, and producer, intervened, and Foreman remained on the production. He left the country before the film was released nationally, in the wake of intense pressure from Harry Cohn, John Wayne (who said "I'll never regret having helped run Foreman out of this country", and called High Noon "un-American") and Hedda Hopper of the Los Angeles Times, among others. Kramer claimed he did not support Foreman partly because Foreman threatened to falsely label him a Communist. Foreman contended that Kramer turned against him because he chose to invoke his Fifth Amendment rights rather than cooperate with the Committee. Howland Chamberlin was also blacklisted, while Floyd Crosby and Lloyd Bridges were 'gray listed'.

Kramer was still producing movies at Columbia, such as Death of a Salesman (1951), The Sniper (1952), The Member of the Wedding (1952), The Juggler (1953), The Wild One (1953) and The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T (1953). While the movies suffered heavy losses, some were very highly praised.

Kramer claimed to be hindered by the studio's "meanness", and in 1953 Cohn and Kramer agreed to terminate the five-year, 30-film contract Kramer had signed. However, with his last Columbia film, Kramer was determined to regain all of the losses Columbia had incurred as a result of his unsuccessful projects. The Caine Mutiny, was an adaptation of the book written by Herman Wouk and was directed by Edward Dmytryk. Kramer faced resistance from the U.S. Navy for what they considered an unfair portrayal. Kramer was able to negotiate a deal with the Navy that included the famous opening disclaimer reminding audiences that "...there has never been a mutiny aboard a United States Naval vessel." The film's cast included Humphrey Bogart, Van Johnson, Fred MacMurray and José Ferrer. Cohn kept Kramer under tight limitations, including a budget under two and half million dollars and a running time of two hours. The result was extremely successful. The $11 million it generated made up for all of Kramer's previous losses.


After The Caine Mutiny, Kramer left Columbia and resumed his independent production, but this time he occupied the role of the director. During this time, Kramer reestablished himself through Not As a Stranger (1955) and The Pride and the Passion (1957). He directed The Defiant Ones (1958), On the Beach (1959), Inherit the Wind (1960), and Judgment at Nuremberg (1961).

In contrast to his previous films, in 1963 Kramer produced and directed the multi-million dollar, all-star comedy It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. Kramer made Guess Who's Coming to Dinner (1967) starring Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy in their last film together, along with Sidney Poitier and Katharine Houghton. It was hugely successful, earning eight Academy Award nominations and winning Best Actress and Best Screenplay.

In the following years, Kramer directed films that sometimes generated interest and other times failed, such as Bless the Beasts and Children (1971), Oklahoma Crude (1973), The Domino Principle (1977) and The Runner Stumbles (1979). [edit]Retirement and Death

In the 1980s Kramer retired to Bellevue, Washington, and wrote a column on movies for the Seattle Times from 1980-1996. In 1997 Kramer published his autobiography, A Mad Mad Mad Mad World: A Life in Hollywood. He died on February 19, 2001 in Los Angeles, age 87, after contracting pneumonia.


Throughout his later years, it was widely believed that Kramer co-directed many of the films that he only produced, a misconception that was reflected in many of his obituaries.In her book, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, published in the 1960s, critic Pauline Kael observed that "Kramer's reputation as a great director [was] based on a series of errors", and went on to list the films that many people mistakenly thought Kramer had directed.

Kramer's was the first star to be completed on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on March 28, 1960 - not Joanne Woodward's as generally believed.

Article author: Zipora Galitski
Article tags: biography
The article is about these people:   Stanley Earl Kramer

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