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Stanley Kramer

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Title: Stanley Kramer  
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Subject: BAFTA Award for Best Film, Academy Award for Best Picture, The Pride and the Passion, Bless the Beasts and Children (film), Guess Who's Coming to Dinner
Collection: 1913 Births, 2001 Deaths, Academy Honorary Award Recipients, American Autobiographers, American Film Directors, American Film Producers, American Jews, Best Director Golden Globe Winners, Deaths from Pneumonia, English-Language Film Directors, Film Directors from New York City, German-Language Film Directors, Golden Globe Award Winning Producers, New York University Alumni, People from Bellevue, Washington, People from Brooklyn, People from Hell's Kitchen, Manhattan, Silver Gavel Award Winners, Stern School of Business Alumni
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Stanley Kramer

Stanley Kramer
circa 1955
Born Stanley Earl Kramer
September 29, 1913
Manhattan, New York City, US
Died February 19, 2001(2001-02-19) (aged 87)
Woodland Hills, Los Angeles, California, US
Years active 1933–1979
Spouse(s) Marilyn Erskine (1945–1945; annulled)
Anne Pearce Kramer (1926-2000) (1950–1963; divorced; 2 children)
Karen Sharpe (1966–2001; his death; 2 children)

Stanley Earl Kramer (September 29, 1913 – February 19, 2001) was an American film director and producer, responsible for making many of Hollywood's most famous "message films".[1] As an independent producer and director, he brought attention to topical social issues that most studios avoided. Among the subjects covered in his films were racism (in The Defiant Ones and Guess Who's Coming to Dinner), nuclear war (in On the Beach), greed (in It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World), creationism vs. evolution (in Inherit the Wind) and the causes and effects of fascism (in Judgement at Nuremberg). His other notable films included High Noon (1952, as producer), The Caine Mutiny (1954, as producer), and Ship of Fools (1965).

Director Steven Spielberg described him as an "incredibly talented visionary,"[2] and "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."[1] Kramer was recognized for his fierce independence as a producer-director, with author Victor Navasky writing that "among the independents . . . none seemed more vocal, more liberal, more pugnacious than young Stanley Kramer." His friend, Kevin Spacey, during his acceptance speech at the 2015 Golden Globes, honored Kramer's work, calling him "one of the great filmmakers of all time."[3][4]

Despite mixed critical reception, both then and now, the film industry heavily promoted Kramer's work with numerous awards. His films received 16 Academy Awards and 80 nominations, and he was nominated nine times as either producer or director.[5] In 1961 he received the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award. In 1963 he was a member of the jury at the 3rd Moscow International Film Festival.[6] In 1998 was awarded the first NAACP Vanguard Award "in recognition of the strong social themes that ran through his body of work." In 2002, the Stanley Kramer Award was created, to be given to recipients for work that "dramatically illustrates provocative social issues."[2]


  • Early years 1
  • Film career 2
    • Move to Hollywood 2.1
    • Producer 2.2
      • Films with Columbia Pictures 2.2.1
    • Director 2.3
      • The Pride and the Passion (1957) 2.3.1
      • The Defiant Ones (1958) 2.3.2
      • On the Beach (1959) 2.3.3
      • Inherit the Wind (1960) 2.3.4
      • Judgment at Nuremberg (1961) 2.3.5
      • It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963) 2.3.6
      • Ship of Fools (1965) 2.3.7
      • Guess Who's Coming to Dinner (1967) 2.3.8
  • Retirement and death 3
  • Legacy 4
  • Filmography 5
    • As director 5.1
    • As producer 5.2
  • Academy Awards 6
  • References 7
  • External links 8

Early years

Stanley Kramer was born in Manhattan, New York, in a neighborhood known as Hell's Kitchen due to its reputation as a tough, gang-ridden area. His parents were Jewish, and having separated when he was very young, he remembered little about his father.[7]:102 His mother worked at a New York office of Paramount Pictures, during which time his grandparents took care of him at home.[8]:23 His uncle, Earl Kramer, worked in distribution at Universal Pictures.

Kramer attended DeWitt Clinton High School in The Bronx, where he graduated at age fifteen. He then enrolled in New York University where he became a member of the Pi Lambda Phi fraternity[9] and wrote a weekly column for the Medley newspaper. He graduated in 1933 at the age of nineteen with a degree in business administration. After developing a "zest for writing" with the newspaper, notes biographer Donald Spoto, he was offered a paid internship in the writing department of 20th Century Fox and moved to Hollywood.[8]:23 Until receiving that writing job, he had planned to enroll in law school.[10]

Film career

Move to Hollywood

Over the following years, during the period of the Great Depression, he took odd jobs in the film industry: He worked as a set furniture mover and film cutter at MGM, writer and researcher for Columbia Pictures, writer for Republic Pictures, and associate producer with Loew-Lewin productions. These years of work as an apprentice in Hollywood, as writer and editor, helped him acquire an "exceptional aptitude" in editing and overall film structure which, according to some critics, enabled him to later edit his own films "in the camera," with minimal wastage.[11]

He was drafted into the Army in 1943, during World War II, where he helped make training films with the Signal Corps in New York, along with other Hollywood filmmakers including Frank Capra and Anatole Litvak.[10] He left the army with the rank of first lieutenant.[12]

After the war, Kramer soon discovered that there were no available jobs in Hollywood. Kramer decided to create an independent production company, Screen Plays Inc. in 1947. His partners in the company were the writer Carl Foreman, whom he befriended while in the army film unit. Foreman, explaining the need to form an independent production company, claimed that the "big studios were dinosaurs who jettisoned virtually everything" in order to survive and "blundered by failing to develop cadres of younger creative talent."[5] He adds:

The whole surge of independent production came about because the major film companies, the studios, were shocked by the onrush of television.[5]


Kramer's new company was able to take advantage of unused production facilities by renting time, allowing him to create independent films for a fraction of the cost the larger studios had required, and he did so without studio control. Kramer also saw this as an opportunity to produce films dealing with subjects the studios previously avoided, especially those about controversial topics.

However, Kramer soon learned that financing such independent films was a major obstacle, as he was forced to approach banks or else take on private investors. He did both when necessary.[5] But with studios no longer involved, rival independent companies were created which all competed for those limited funds. According to Byman, "there were no fewer than ninety-six" other companies in competition during that period, and included some of Hollywood's biggest names:

  • (1949) sceneChampion on YouTube
  • (1950)The Men on YouTube
  • (1952)High Noon on YouTube
  • (1953)The Wild One on YouTube
  • (1954)The Caine Mutiny on YouTube
  • (1955) sceneNot as a Stranger on YouTube
  • (1957)The Pride and the Passion on YouTube
  • (1958)The Defiant Ones on YouTube
  • (1959)On the Beach on YouTube
  • (1960)Inherit the Wind on YouTube
  • (1961)Judgment At Nuremberg on YouTube
  • (1963)It's A Mad Mad Mad Mad World on YouTube
  • (1965)Ship of Fools on YouTube
  • (1967)Guess Who's Coming to Dinner on YouTube
  • The secret of Santa Vittoria (1968) scene on YouTube
  • (1971)Bless the Beasts & Children on YouTube

Film trailers

External links

  1. ^ a b Film-maker Stanley Kramer dies, a February 2001 BBC obituary
  2. ^ a b "Tribute to Stanley Kramer" on YouTube with Tom Brokaw, Steven Spielberg, Quincy Jones, Harrison Ford and Al Gore
  3. ^ "Golden Globes' Most Touching Moment Wasn't Captured On TV",, Jan. 12, 2015
  4. ^ "Kevin Spacey drops F-bomb during Golden Globes speech", NY Daily News, Jan. 12, 2015
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Byman, Jeremy. Showdown at High Noon: Witch-hunts, Critics, and the End of the Western, Scarecrow Press (2004) pp. 9, 29-45; 73-76; Ch. 5
  6. ^ "3rd Moscow International Film Festival (1963)". MIFF. Retrieved 2012-11-25. 
  7. ^ a b c d Kramer, Stanley. A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World: a Life in Hollywood, Harcourt Brace (1997)
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r Spoto, Donald. Stanley Kramer: Film Maker, Putnam (1978)
  9. ^ Membership Directory, 2010, Pi Lambda Phi Inc.
  10. ^ a b c d e f Lyman, Rick. "Stanley Kramer, Filmmaker With Social Bent, Dies at 87", New York Times February 21, 2001
  11. ^ a b c d e f g h i Wakeman, John. Ed. World Film Directors: Volume II, 1945-1985, H. W. Wilson Company, N.Y. (1988) pp. 538-544
  12. ^ a b c d e f Dutka, Elaine. "Stanley Kramer; Acclaimed Movies Focused on Social Issues", Los Angeles Times, Feb. 20, 2001
  13. ^ Katz, Ephraim. The Macmillan International Film Encyclopedia, Macmillan (1998) p.767
  14. ^ a b c Stevens, George Jr. Conversations with the Great Moviemakers of Hollywood's Golden Age, Alfred A. Knopf (2006) pp. 558-584
  15. ^ Crowther, Bosley. The New York Times, film review, September 25, 1958
  16. ^ "Awards for Inherit the Wind" IMDB
  17. ^ Judgment at Nuremberg"Awards for IMDB
  18. ^ Shatner, William. Up Till Now: The Autobiography, Macmillan (2008) p. 76
  19. ^ "Awards for It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World IMDB
  20. ^ Awards for Ship of Fools, IMDB
  21. ^ Harris, Mark. Pictures at a Revolution: Five Films and the Birth of a New Hollywood. Penguin Press, 2008, p. 374.
  22. ^ Harris (2008). pp. 398–400. 
  23. ^ "8th Moscow International Film Festival (1973)". MIFF. Retrieved 2013-01-03. 
  24. ^ Cedar Rapids Gazette, September 19, 1979
  25. ^ "Director Stanley Kramer dies". The Seattle Times. February 20, 2001. 
  26. ^ 501 Movie Directors, Barrons Educational Series (2007) p. 210
  27. ^ Hillstrom, Laurie Collier (ed.) International Dictionary of Films and Filmmakers, vol 2, St. James Press (1997) pp. 548-550
  28. ^ Jet, Aug. 18, 2008
  29. ^ David Thomson The New Biographical Dictionary of Film, New York: Knopf; London: Little, Brown, 2002, p.477
  30. ^ History of WOF; Hollywood Chamber of Commerce. Retrieved 2010-05-31.
  31. ^ "Kramer First Name Put in Walk of Fame"(abstract). Los Angeles Times, March 29, 1960, p. 15. Full article: LA Times Archives Retrieved 2010-06-12.
  32. ^ Kat Kramer IMDB


Year Award Film Resulting Win
1952 Best Motion Picture High Noon Cecil B. DeMilleThe Greatest Show on Earth
1954 Best Motion Picture The Caine Mutiny Sam SpiegelOn the Waterfront
1958 Best Motion Picture The Defiant Ones Arthur FreedGigi
Best Director Vincente MinnelliGigi
1961 Best Picture Judgment at Nuremberg Robert WiseWest Side Story
Best Director Jerome Robbins and Robert WiseWest Side Story
Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award
1965 Best Picture Ship of Fools Robert WiseThe Sound of Music
1967 Best Picture Guess Who's Coming to Dinner Walter MirischIn the Heat of the Night
Best Director Mike NicholsThe Graduate

Academy Awards


One of his daughters, Kat Kramer, is co-producer of socially-relevant documentaries, part of her series, Films That Change The World.[32]

Kramer produced and directed 23 different actors in Oscar-nominated performances, with José Ferrer, Gary Cooper, Maximilian Schell and Katharine Hepburn winning for their performances. Kramer's was among the first stars to be placed on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on March 28, 1960.[30][31]

Any American film that contains criticism of the American fabric of life is accepted, both critically and by the mass audience overseas, as being something that could never have been produced in a totalitarian state. This in itself builds tremendous respect for American society among foreigners—a respect I've always wanted to encourage.[8]:17

In extreme cases, Kramer was accused of being "anti-American" due to the themes of his films, many concerning social problems or pathologies. But Kramer notes that it was his ability to produce those films in a democracy which distinguishes them:

In the 1960s Kramer blamed the growing "youth culture" with having changed the "artistic landscape" as he remembered it from his own youth. "No longer," he said, "were writers or filmmakers interested in creating the Great American Novel or the great American film, or indeed with exploring what it meant to be American."[10]

Maybe I'm out of step with the times, because a lot of movies are made today with no statement at all, just shock and sensation, or a motivationless kind of approach to a story, a senseless crime, a pointless love affair. . . . Like lots of kids in the 1930s, I wanted to right all the wrongs of mankind. . . . I'm not interested in changing anyone's opinion, just in telling a story.[8]:18

Critics have often labeled Kramer's films as "message movies." Some, like Pauline Kael, were often critical of his subject matter for being "melodramas," and "irritatingly self-righteous," although she credits his films for their "redeeming social importance . . . [with] situations and settings nevertheless excitingly modern, relevant."[5]:44 Kramer, however, saw himself as "a storyteller with a point of view":

Film author Bill Nichols states that "Kramer's films continue a long-standing Hollywood tradition of marrying topical issues to dramatic form, a tradition in which we find many of Hollywood's more openly progressive films."[27] Among his themes, Kramer was one of the few filmmakers to delve into subjects relating to civil rights, and according to his wife, Karen Kramer, "put his reputation and finances on the line to present subject matter that meant something." He gave up his salary to make sure that Guess Who's Coming to Dinner would be completed.[28] He has not though been universally admired. Film critic David Thomson has written that Kramer's "films are middlebrow and overemphatic; at worst, they are among then most tedious and dispiriting productions the American cinema has to offer. Commercialism, of the most crass and confusing kind ... devitalised all [of] his projects."[29]

Kramer has been called "a genuine original" as a filmmaker. He made movies that he believed in, and "straddled the fence between art and commerce for more than 30 years."[26] Most of his films were noted for engaging the audience with political and social issues of the time. When asked why he gravitated to those kinds of themes, he stated, "emotionally I am drawn to these subjects,"[10] and thought that independent productions like his might help "return vitality to the motion picture industry. . . . If our industry is to flourish, we must break away from formula thinking."[10]


He died on February 19, 2001, in Los Angeles, aged 87, after contracting pneumonia. He was married three times and divorced twice. He was survived by his third wife, Karen, and four children, two from a previous marriage.

In 1997 Kramer published his autobiography, A Mad Mad Mad Mad World: A Life in Hollywood.

In the 1980s Kramer retired to Bellevue, Washington, and wrote a column on movies for the Seattle Times from 1980-1996.[25] During this time, he hosted his own weekly movie show on then-independent television station KCPQ.

Retirement and death

The film was Kramer's last major success, and his subsequent films were not profitable, although many had mixed reviews. Among those films were The Secret of Santa Vittoria (1968), R. P. M. (1970), Bless the Beasts and Children (1971), Oklahoma Crude (1973), The Domino Principle (1977) and The Runner Stumbles (1979). Oklahoma Crude was entered into the 8th Moscow International Film Festival where Kramer won the Golden Prize for Direction.[23] At the time of his retirement, he was attempting to bring a script entitled "Three Solitary Drinkers" to the screen, a film about a trio of alcoholics that he hoped would be played by Sidney Poitier, Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau.[24]

As a result of this film's commercial success, Kramer helped spur on Hollywood to reform its film marketing practices when it was observed that the film was doing excellent business everywhere in the US, including the southern states where it was assumed that films with African American lead actors would never be accepted. As a result, the prominent presence of Black actors in films would never again be considered a factor in Hollywood film marketing and distribution.[21] However, Kramer, bothered by the film's negative reviews and wanting respect as an important film artist like François Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard, undertook a nine college speaking tour to screen the film and discuss racial integration. The effort proved a dispiriting embarrassment for him with college students largely dismissing his film and preferring to discuss less conventional fare like Bonnie and Clyde, directed by Arthur Penn.[22]

The film was also important as it was the last film role for Spencer Tracy, who was aware he was dying while making the film, and died a few weeks after its completion. It was his fourth film directed by Kramer, and the ninth with Hepburn, who was so shaken she refused to watch it after it was completed. Kramer called Tracy "the greatest actor I ever worked with."[8]:280

No producer, no director could get the money, nor would theaters in America book it. But Kramer made people look at the issue for the first time. . . He treated the theme with humor, but so delicately, so humanly, so lovingly that he made everyone look at the question for the very first time in film history![8]:227

For Kramer and others involved in the production, it "was one of the most important events of their lives," writes Spoto.[8]:273 Partly because it was the first film that touched the subject since the 1920s silent era. "No one would touch this most explosive of social issues" until Kramer took on the challenge. Co-star Sidney Poitier called the film "revolutionary," and stated why:

For his fourth film about the sensitive subject of anti-racism, he both directed and produced Guess Who's Coming to Dinner (1967), a groundbreaking story about interracial marriage. It starred Spencer Tracy, Sidney Poitier and Katharine Hepburn, winning two Academy Awards with eight nominations. It has been listed in the top 100 films over the last 100 years by the American Film Institute. However, despite its popularity with the public and its box-office success, many critics gave it negative reviews.

Guess Who's Coming to Dinner (1967)

Some writers describe the film as a "microcosm" displaying a "weakness of the world that permitted the rise of Hitler."[11] Kramer does not disagree, and writes, "Even though we never mention him [Hitler] in the picture, his ascendancy is an ever-present factor. Most of the passengers on the ship are Germans, returning to their fatherland at a time when millions of other Germans are looking for ways to escape."[7]:204 In a scene noted by Spoto as an example, a Nazi passenger is "barking inanities" about how Germans should purify their race, to which a German-Jewish passenger responds, "There are nearly a million Jews in Germany. What are they going to do—kill us all?"[8]:268

Ship of Fools (1965) has been described as a "floating Grand Hotel," an earlier film which also had an all-star cast. Its story is about personal relationships among passengers, rather than any clear plot. It takes place on board a passenger liner returning to Germany in 1933, during the rise of Nazism. Spoto describes its theme as one of "conscious social and psychological significance."[8]:266 It won two Academy Awards and was nominated for six others.[20]

Ship of Fools (1965)

It played to mixed reviews, with some criticizing its excessive comedy with too many comedians, thereby losing its focus. Nonetheless, it was Kramer's biggest box office hit, and the public enjoyed its "socially disruptive and goofy" story and acting.[10] Film critic Dwight Macdonald writes that its "small army of actors—105 speaking roles—inflict mayhem on each other with cars, planes, explosives and other other devices . . . is simply too much for the human eye and ear to respond to, let alone the funny bone," calling it "hard-core slapstick."[11] It was nominated for six Academy Awards, winning for Best Sound Editing.[19]

After the seriousness of his previous films, Kramer "felt compelled to answer" for the "lack of lightness" in his earlier films, writes Spoto. As a result, he directed It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963), a film with a "gifted, wacky crew of comedians."[8]:257 Kramer describes it as a "comedy about greed."[8]:257 According to one writer, he directed it "to prove he could also handle comedy," and hired many of the leading comedic actors of the previous decades, from silent star Buster Keaton to emerging talent Jonathan Winters. Winters would later write that "Kramer was a man who took chances—as they say, he worked without a net."[7]

It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963)

These films had not yet been released to the public; very few people had seen them. We didn't know what to expect. . . We watched scenes of bulldozers shoving piles of bodies into mass graves. We saw survivors, their eyes bulging, their bones practically protruding from their bodies. We saw the crematoriums and the piles of shoes. People gasped in shock, others started crying. Certainly it was the most horrifying thing I had ever seen in my life . . . But from that night on we understood the importance of the film we were making.[18]

William Shatner, who had a supporting role, recalls that prior to filming, Kramer and screenwriter Abby Mann required that everyone involved in the production, actors and crew alike, watch some films taken by American soldiers at the liberation of the concentration camps. "They wanted us to understand what this film was about":

[Mayor] Willy Brandt stood up and warned the audience that they might not find the film pleasant, but that if Berlin was ever to regard itself as a capital city, then this film should be shown there because it was about all of them. "We may like or dislike or disagree with many things," he said, "but here it is."

Well, the film went on, and when it was over there was a deafening silence. . . . The film was totally rejected: it never did three cents' business in Germany. It played so many empty houses it just stopped.[8]:229

However, despite mostly rave reviews in the U.S. and many countries in Europe, biographer Spoto notes that during its various premiers overseas, "it shocked many, angered some, disgusted others. But it bored no one. . . "[8]:225 Of its world premier in Berlin, Kramer describes it as "the most frightening evening in my life,"[8]:229 which was attended by hundreds of dignitaries from throughout Germany:

Similarly, Arthur Knight credited Kramer for the film's significance: "from first to last, the director is in command of his material. . . . he has not only added hugely to his stature as a producer-director, but to the stature of the American film as well."[11]

Stanley Kramer has once again used film importantly and continues to emerge as the only truly responsible moviemaker in Hollywood."[11]

Like his previous film, Judgment at Nuremberg (1961) was also a fictionalized account of a real trial, this one about the Nuremberg Trials held after the defeat of the Nazis in World War II. It also starred Spencer Tracy as the leading judge, along with numerous other stars. Richard Widmark played the American military prosecutor and Maximilian Schell as the defense attorney. The film was nominated for eleven Academy Awards and won two, for Schell as Best Actor and Abby Mann for Best Screenplay.[17] Reviews were extremely positive. Critic Hollis Alpert wrote in his review:

Kramer directing

Judgment at Nuremberg (1961)

Kramer also notes that the film was the third part of a "trilogy of what have been called by some 'controversial pictures,'" of which the first two were The Defiant Ones and On the Beach. "I have attempted, and I hope succeeded, in making pictures that command attention," said Kramer.[8]:223

The spirit of the trial lives on, because the real issues of that trial were man's right to think and man's right to teach. . . the real theme of Inherit the Wind.[8]:223

For Tracy, who was nominated as Best Actor in the role, the film would become the first of four films he did for Kramer. "Everybody tells me how good I am," he said, "but only Stanley gives me work."[12] The film received "extravagant reviews," yet failed at the box office due to its poor distribution and advertising.[8]:220 In addition, fundamentalist groups labeled the film "anti-God" and called Kramer "anti-Christ."[8]:220 Kramer, however, explains that these groups failed to understand the real theme of the film and the actual court trial it portrayed:

Inherit the Wind (1960) became Kramer's next challenging film, this one taking on the highly charged subjects of creationism and evolution, and how they are taught in school. The film, an adaptation of the play of the same name, written by Jerome Lawrence and Robert Edwin Lee, was a fictionalized account of the 1925 Scopes Trial, which made it unlawful to teach evolution in any state-funded school in Tennessee. It starred Spencer Tracy, portraying the real Clarence Darrow defending the teacher, and Fredric March as his rival attorney, portraying William Jennings Bryan who insisted that creationism was the only valid subject that should be taught to children. It was nominated for four Academy Awards.[16]

Inherit the Wind (1960)

Critics Arthur Knight and Hollis Alpert likewise praised the film and admired Kramer for showing "courage in attempting such a theme."[11]

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."[11]

Reviews were mostly positive, not just from critics but from scientists. Linus Pauling, winner of two Nobel Prizes (Chemistry and Peace), commented:

With his next film, On the Beach (1959), Kramer tried to tackle the sensitive subject of nuclear war. The film takes place after World War III has annihilated most of the Northern hemisphere, with radioactive dust on a trajectory towards Australia. Kramer gave the film an "effective and eerie" documentary look at depopulated cities.[11] It starred Gregory Peck, Ava Gardner, Fred Astaire and Anthony Perkins.

On the Beach (1959)

The screening was one of the most emotional I have experienced. After the film, the crowd stood—many with tears in their eyes—and gave Poitier and Kramer an ovation that subsided only when we had left the auditorium. Stanley's visit to Moscow marked the high point in the cultural exchange between the two countries during those long years of estrangement.[14]

Five years after the film was released, producer Moscow Film Festival, which Kramer and co-star Sidney Poitier attended. Stevens writes that the showings of his films, especially The Defiant Ones, were a "great success in Moscow." He remembers that "filmmakers applauded his films, often chanting Kraaaamer, Kraaaaamer, Kraaaaamer," at their conclusion. Kramer spoke to the audience after each film, "making a fine impression for his country."[14] Stevens credits The Defiant Ones for having the most impact, however:

New York Times film critic Bosley Crowther lauded the production and the acting in the film, calling it "a remarkably apt and dramatic visualization of a social idea—the idea of men of different races brought together to face misfortune in a bond of brotherhood — is achieved by producer Stanley Kramer in his new film."[15] It was nominated for eight Academy Awards, winning two.

The following year, Kramer directed The Defiant Ones (1958), the story of two escaped convicts in the Deep South, one black, played by Sidney Poitier, and one white, Tony Curtis. To add to the intensity of the drama, both men are shackled together with chains, forcing them, despite their wishes, into a sense of brotherhood, suffering and fear.

The Defiant Ones (1958)

The Pride and the Passion (1957) is an adaptation from The Gun, a novel by C. S. Forester. It portrays in detail how a dedicated group of Spanish guerrillas dragged a gigantic cannon across half the country in an effort to defeat Napoleon's advancing army. It stars Frank Sinatra, Cary Grant and Sophia Loren.

The Pride and the Passion (1957)

His first film as director was Not as a Stranger (1955), the story of medical students and their career, some of whom lose their idealism and succumb to blind ambition, adultery and immoral behavior. The film was a "smash hit," although reviews were mixed. Pauline Kael claimed it "lacked rhythm and development."[11]

His films often 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).

Among some of those controversial films were Not as a Stranger (1955), The Pride and the Passion (1957), The Defiant Ones (1958), On the Beach (1959), Inherit the Wind (1960), Judgment at Nuremberg (1961) and Guess Who's Coming to Dinner (1967). Besides dramas, he also directed It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963), with an all-star cast of famous comedians.

After The Caine Mutiny, Kramer left Columbia and resumed his independent productions, this time in the role of the director. Over the next two decades, Kramer reestablished his reputation within the film industry by directing a continual series of often successful films dealing with social and controversial issues, such as racism, nuclear war, greed and the causes and effects of fascism. Critic Charles Champlin would later describe Kramer as "a guy who fought some hard battles. He took on social issues when it was not popular to do so in Hollywood."[12]

Stanley Kramer receives an Award at the 1960 Berlin Film Festival for Inherit the Wind


It was the day of Selznick and Thalberg and Goldwyn. They were the powers incarnate because the producer was boss.[14]:583

Kramer noted that during the 1940s and 1950s, "cinema was the producer's medium:"

In 1953 Cohn and Kramer agreed to terminate the five-year, 20-film contract Kramer had signed. However, his last Columbia film, The Caine Mutiny (1954), regained all of the losses Columbia had incurred as a result of his earlier projects. The Caine Mutiny, was an adaptation of the book written by Herman Wouk and was directed by Edward Dmytryk.

Kramer continued producing movies at Columbia, including 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). With a larger budget, his films took on a "glossier" more polished look, yet his next ten films all lost money, although some were nonetheless highly praised.

He finished his last independent production, High Noon (1952), a Western drama directed by Fred Zinnemann. The movie was well received, winning four Oscars, as well as three nominations. Unfortunately, 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, after which he sold his interest in the company.[5]

In 1951, Columbia Pictures president Harry Cohn offered Kramer's company an opportunity to form a production unit working with his studio.[13] Kramer was given free rein over what films he chose to make, along with a budget of nearly a million dollars each. Kramer agreed to a five-year contract during which time he would produce twenty films.[12][7]:116 However, Kramer would later state that the agreement was "one of the most dangerous and foolhardy moves of my entire career."[12] He agreed to the commitment because of his "deep-seated desire to direct," he states, along with the security of ready studio financing.[12]

Films with Columbia Pictures

Also released in 1950 was Kramer's production of Cyrano de Bergerac, the first English language film version of Edmond Rostand's 1897 French play. It made a star of José Ferrer, who won his only Oscar for Best Actor.

They struck me as being enormously efficient. Kramer was very inventive in finding quite unlikely sources of finance . . . This method of outside financing . . . was truly original and far ahead of its time. . . There were no luxurious offices, no major-studio bureaucracy, no small internal empires to be dealt with, no waste of time or effort. . . I was enthusiastic about this independent setup and the energy it created.[5]

Zinnemann said he was impressed with Kramer's company and the efficiency of their productions:

His renamed Stanley Kramer Company produced The Men (1950), which featured Marlon Brando's screen debut, in a drama about paraplegic war veterans. It was the first time Kramer and Foreman worked with director Fred Zinnemann, who had already been directing for twenty years and winning an Oscar. The film was another success for Kramer who took on a unique subject dealing with a world few knew about. Critic Bosley Crowther noted that its "striking and authentic documentary quality has been imported to the whole film in every detail, attitude and word."[5]

[5], "had a flavoring of courage."Nora Sayre Critics generally liked the film, which, notes [5] Kramer next produced

The first movie produced under his production company was the comedy, So This Is New York (1948), directed by Richard Fleischer, and based on Ring Lardner's The Big Town. It failed at the box office. It was followed with Champion (1949), another Lardner story, this one about an ambitious and unscrupulous boxer. Scripted by Foreman, it was tailored to fit the talents of Kirk Douglas, an ex-wrestler who had recently become an actor. Filmed in only twenty-three days with a relatively small budget, it became an immense box-office success. It won an Academy Award for Best Editing, with four other nominations, including Douglas for best actor and Foreman as screenwriter.

Instead of relying on star names, we pinned our faith in stories that had something to say. If it happened to be something that other movies hadn't said before, so much the better. The only basis of choice was personal taste.[5]

Kramer explains how he tried to differentiate his new company from the others, noting that he was less interested in the money than having the ability to make a statement through his films: [5]

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