On today’s date, September 29 in 1913, the celebrated Stanley Kramer, the director and producer was born in New York City. Throughout his career, Kramer had his share of flops, but his great films tackled previously taboo subjects as racism, nuclear war antisemitism – always putting the problem right there in the audiences face where it couldn’t ignored. Many thought that his films lacked subtlety in this respect – became known as the maker of “message pictures”. And while his best work was often nominated for Academy Award’s, Kramer never won the Oscar Statue himself.
Kramer Arrives in Hollywood
Kramer arrived in Hollywood aspiring to be a writer and signed up to MGM, working various jobs such as carpenter, scenery mover, and then wound up as an Editor for three years. He worked also for Columbia pictures, and on radio as well. But in the early 1940’s he formed his own production company. His first picture there bombed at the box office, but his next one, “The Champion”,
an exciting and intense anti-boxing picture was a hit, which propelled its star, Kirk Douglas to star status. Next came a string of hits, all of them hitting some nerve in American life. There was racial bigotry in “Home of the Brave” (1949). Then came the issue of disabled veterans in “The Men” (1950), and then the superb film “High Noon” (1952) which starred Gary Cooper (right) as a Martial who finds that the town whom he loved him was leaving him to face an old enemy on his own.
Kramer’s Best Period = 1954 – 1961
Kramer then signed on with Columbia Pictures to make a string of films, all of them excellent. In 1954 he made “The Caine Mutiny” with Humphrey Bogart as the captain of a ship, who appears to go to pieces in a typhoon. The Court Room scene where Bogie breaks down, along with the party afterward where the attorney played by Jose’ Ferrer reads them all the riot act about who really was guilty is a classic. “The Defiant Ones” (1958), dealt with racism when Tony Curtis and Sydney
Portier play a pair of escaped convicts who were chained together. There was the drama “On the Beach” (1959) which dealt with nuclear war. Then came a pair of magnificent courtroom dramas; “Inherit the Wind” (1960) dealing with freedom of speech and my own favorite: “Judgment at Nuremberg” (1961) which laid the question of responsibility for the Holocaust right there in the open. Spencer Tracy was in both off those last two, as were Gene Kelly in the first, and a whole raft of stars in the latter; Marlene Dietrich, Richard Widmark, Judy Garland, and Montgomery Clift to name just a few.
Kramer’s Later Years
Stanley Kramer took a wild comedy turn in “It’s A Mad Mad Mad Mad World” (1963) (below) about a group of strangers run across an old man (Jimmy Durante) who with his dying breaths gives them the directions to a cache of gold. This launches them on a wild cross country race to beat each other to the gold. This cast was simply to large to list them all here; let if suffice to say that the main roles are played by Spencer Tracy, Milton Berle, Ethel Merman, and a completely hilarious Jonathan
Winters. In 1967 Kramer directed “Guess Who’s Coming Together” which tackled, albeit in a rather sugary-sweet Hollywood fashion, the subject of inter-racial marriage. Yes it was a very sweet handling, but a handling nevertheless of an extremely taboo subject as late as 1967. And the screenplay by William Rose contained some excellent dialogue on the subject. Stanley Kramer died at the age of 87 in Woodland Hills, California, on February 19, 2001. His autobiography was titled “It’s A Mad Mad Mad Mad World – A Life in Hollywood.”