Stanley Kramer (1913-2001)

Stanley Kramer
Stanley Kramer

Stanley Kramer was an independent producer and director who specialized in "message"pictures about topical issues such as racism and nuclear war, which were normally avoided by the large studios. He began his cinema career in the 1930's, working in a variety of capacities, including editor, writer, and researcher, before achieving the status of associate producer by the 1940's. After military service in World War II, Kramer began his own company, Screen Plays, before joining Columbia Pictures in 1951 to gain greater distribution and economic backing for his projects.

His movies received 80 Academy Award nominations in total, and he was personally nominated nine times for Oscars, including for Best Director for 'The Defiant Ones' in 1958, 'Judgement at Nuremberg' in 1961 and 'Guess Who's Coming to Dinner' in 1967. He never won the coveted Oscar but he did win the prestigious Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award in 1962.


He was born Stanley Earl Abramson into a Jewish family in a tough area of Manhattan known as Hell's Kitchen. His mother worked for Paramount Pictures and his uncle at Universal Pictures. After DeWitt Clinton High School in The Bronx, Kramer attended New York University to study business administration with the intention of becoming a lawyer. He graduated in 1933 and accepted a paid internship with 20th Century Fox as a production assistant.


Kramer's early years in Hollywood involved moving from job to job and from studio to studio. In 1933 he worked as a production assistant on 'Flying Down to Rio' for RKO and on 'Lady for a Day' for Columbia. He was a scene shifter at MGM for a short time before joining their editing department for three years from 1934. He was learning different facets of the movie business and for a while worked as a writer at both Columbia and Republic Studios. He also wrote for radio programs during this period, including "Big Town", starring Edward G. Robinson, and "The Rudy Vallee Show" These formative years in the business enabled him to grasp the structure of the films he worked on and were an important factor in his ability later as a director to compose and edit "in camera," as he shot scenes.

World War II

During the war he served in the Army Signal Corps, making training and orientation films. He met other Hollywood filmmakers including Carl Foreman, Frank Capra and Anatole Litvak, ending the war in 1947 with the rank of first lieutenant.

Independent Producer

After the war Kramer, realising that the big studios were starting to shrink with the advent of television, created an independent production company, 'Screen Plays Inc.', partnering writer Herbie Baker, publicist George Glass and producer Carl Foreman, Their first creative coup was in acquiring the rights to the stories of Ring Lardner.

The new company was able to create independent films for a fraction of the cost the larger studios needed, and did so without any studio control. Kramer also saw this as an opportunity to produce films dealing with subjects the studios previously avoided.

His first feature film as producer, 'So This Is New York', in 1948 fared badly but his second, the anti-boxing movie 'Champion', starring Kirk Douglas, was a great success. He followed it with a series of socially responsible, yet successful films,'Home of the Brave' in 1949, 'The Men' the following year and, most successful and best known of all, 'High Noon' in 1952 which won 4 Academy Awards including a Best Actor Oscar for Gary Cooper.

Kramer was by now becoming well known as a creative force and he signed a contract to produce 20 films over five years for Harry Cohn of Columbia Pictures. In so doing he lost some of his cherished independence.

Kramer continued producing critically well received movies at Columbia, including 'Death of a Salesman' in 1951, 'The Sniper' in 1952, 'The Juggler' and 'The Wild One' in 1953. He worked with a larger budget and his films looked more professional, but they all lost money with the exception of ' his last Columbia film, 'The Caine Mutiny' directed by Edward Dmytryk in 1954 which was a huge success.

After this Columbia bought out his contract and Kramer formed his own production company, Stanley Kramer Productions. He was free to pursue his dream of directing as well as producing films.

Movie Director

He hit the ground running with his first movie as a director in 1955,, 'Not as a Stranger' which, although trashed by the critics, made a lot of money for Kramer's production company. He continued making commercially successful films which had an underlying moral message, such as 'The Defiant Ones' in 1958, in which two escaped convicts, played by Tony Curtis and Sidney Poitier, run for their lives in the segregated U.S. South. The film was a commercial success and won five nominations and two Oscars for the screenplay and cinematography.

Kramer pictured the world facing nuclear destruction in "On the Beach" in 1959. Starring Gregory Peck, Ava Gardner and Fred Astaire, the movie received mainly positive reviews and Kramer was praised for tackling such a sensitive subject.

His most famous movie is probably 'Judgment at Nuremberg' in 1961, and features a memorable and shattering performance by Montgomery Clift as a survivor of Nazi Brutality.

In 'It's A Mad Mad Mad Mad World' in 1963, surely the most spectacular and vicious comedy ever filmed, Kramer displays a deft hand at unmasking the greed and prejudice underlying U.S.society.

His last big success was 'Guess Who's Coming to Dinner' in 1967 which dealt with the then unusual and almost taboo subject of interracial marriage. It starred Sidney Poitier, Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn and earned Academy Award nominations for Best Picture and for Kramer as Best Director.

Later Life

During 1974-75 Kramer directed, produced and narrated three 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. Calley'.

None of his last few feature films were well received and after the critically mauled 'The Runner Stumbles' in 1979, he could not find a studio to sponsor him. He made no further movies.

In his later years, Kramer was interviewed often for TV documentaries about past Hollywood's past, and proved to be a popular and interesting guest.

From 1980-86 Kramer wrote a column on movies for the Seattle Times and also hosted a weekly television show on KCPQ television.

In 1997, he published his memoirs, "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World: A Life in Hollywood."


Kramer was married three times, firstly to actress Marilyn Erskine in 1945. The marriage was annulled after two months. His second marriage, from 1950 to 1964 was to Anne Pierce with whom he had two children. He married Karen Sharpe in 1966 and the couple had two children, the marriage ending with Kramer's death.

Stanley Kramer died on February 19, 2001 from pneumonia. He was aged 87 years.

Kramer's movies all share a desire for engagement with the major political and social issues of their era, and although with his later movies he seemed more out of touch with what those issues were, he was a genuine original. Although, when directing his own movies, Kramer too often fell into the trap of transparent moralizing, he made movies that he believed in, and straddled the fence between art and commerce for more than 30 years in the industry.

Stanley Kramer Academy Awards

Winner of the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award (1962)
Nine Unsuccessful Nominations:
Best Picture ... High Noon (1952)
Best Picture ... The Caine Mutiny (1954)
Best Director … The Defiant Ones (1958)
Best Picture ... The Defiant Ones (1958)
Best Director … Judgment at Nuremberg (1961)
Best Picture ... Judgment at Nuremberg (1961)
Best Picture ... Ship of Fools (1965)
Best Director … Guess Who's Coming to Dinner (1967)
Best Picture … Guess Who's Coming to Dinner 1967)

Stanley Kramer Filmography (as Director and Producer}

The Moon and Sixpence (associate producer)
So This Is New York (producer)
Champion (producer)
Home of the Brave (producer)
The Men (producer)
Cyrano de Bergerac (producer)
Death of a Salesman (producer)
The Sniper (producer)
My Six Convicts (producer)
High Noon(producer - uncredited)
The Four Poster (producer)
The Happy Time (producer)
Eight Iron Men (producer)
The Member of the Wedding (producer)
The Juggler (producer)
The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T. (producer)
The Wild One (producer - uncredited)
The Caine Mutiny (producer)
Not as a Stranger (producer and director)
The Pride and the Passion (producer and director)
The Defiant Ones (producer and director)
On the Beach (producer and director)