Filmmaker Stanley Kramer, who produced and directed some of Hollywood's most celebrated "message" films including High Noon, The Defiant Ones and Judgment at Nuremberg, died Monday. He was 87
He had recently developed pneumonia, his wife, Karen Sharpe Kramer, said.
"This morning he seemed to be doing very well," she said. "I was getting dressed and coming out to see him. I said, 'I'll be there in an hour and a half,' and he said, 'Fine, I'll just take a nap, then,' and 20 minutes later he was gone."
Kramer's films drew 80 Oscar nominations and 16 victories, including those for Gary Cooper (High Noon), Maximilian Schell (Judgment at Nuremberg) and Katharine Hepburn (Guess Who's Coming to Dinner).
Films Dealt With Range of Serious Issues
As producer or producer-director, Kramer was responsible for films dealing with race (The Defiant Ones, Guess Who's Coming to Dinner), Nazi war crimes (Judgment at Nuremberg), fundamentalism vs. modern science (Inherit the Wind), nuclear holocaust (On the Beach) and counterculture (The Wild Ones, RPM).
The famous showdown of High Noon showed a man of courage standing up to evil while others in his community cowered in the shadows.
"Stanley Kramer is 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," Steven Spielberg once said.
Kramer himself said he didn't want to be typecast as a "message director." Asked, then, why he took on such films, he replied, "I suppose the best answer is that emotionally I am drawn to these subjects."
But as for changing the world, he said, "If two people came out of a theater in Kansas City, Mo., and one said, `You know, I never thought of it that way before,' that would satisfy me."
While none of his films won the Oscar for best picture, among those nominated were: High Noon, The Caine Mutiny, The Defiant Ones, Judgment at Nuremberg, Ship of Fools and Guess Who's Coming to Dinner. Kramer was nominated as best director three times, and in 1962 he was presented with a special Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award for doing consistently high-quality work.
"He was a serious director," Gregory Peck, who starred in On the Beach, once said. "He kept trying. Sometimes he failed, but now and then he hit, and he made a difference."
Supported Blacklisted Writers
Kramer put his ideals to work behind the screen, too, hiring blacklisted writers such as Ned Young, who used the pseudonym Nathan E. Douglas and got an Oscar for his work on The Defiant Ones and a nomination for Inherit the Wind.
In It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World Kramer made a rare foray into comedy — on a grand scale. The 1963 film about a madcap race for buried treasure ran more than three hours, and the cast included such comic heavyweights as Milton Berle, Sid Caesar, Phil Silvers, Buster Keaton, Ethel Merman, Mickey Rooney, Terry-Thomas, Buddy Hackett, Jimmy Durante, Joe E. Brown, Zasu Pitts and Jonathan Winters.
Kramer called it "the happiest experience I had with a film."
Spencer Tracy also was in the film, one of four he did with Kramer. Tracy died shortly after completing the last of the four, Guess Who's Coming to Dinner.
Critics sometimes felt the idealism and sheer length of Kramer's films got in the way of art, and in the late '60s, as a younger generation became dominant in Hollywood, the days of the large-scale musicals and message films waned.
Still, Kramer made several more films in the '70s, including Bless the Beasts and the Children and his last picture, The Runner Stumbles, which came out in 1979.
Born in New York City, Kramer entered film in the mid-1930s as a researcher, editor and writer. After military service in World War II, he formed an independent production company.
In the early '50s, he produced several films based on famous plays, including Death of a Salesman and The Member of the Wedding. For part of the decade, he was associated with Columbia Pictures. His first film as both producer and director was Not as a Stranger, 1955.