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Tuesday, 20 February, 2001, 12:02 GMT
Stanley Kramer: Man of principle
Kramer tackled issues avoided by most film-makers
In his 30-year career, as both a film producer and director, Stanley Kramer - who has died aged 87 - came to be credited for making some of Hollywood's bravest movies.

Kramer excelled at challenging social injustice at a time when much of the industry was doing the opposite.

And though personally flying in he face of danger - as indeed did the characters in many of his movies - Kramer attracted the involvement and respect of some of the industry's greatest stars.

Guess Who Coming  Dinner
Guess Who's Coming Dinner was Spencer Tracy's last film

Gary Cooper, Grace Kelly, Humphrey Bogart, Katherine Hepburn, Spencer Tracy and Gregory Peck were just some of the screen legends who wanted to work with Kramer.

And a run down of his films now reads like a list of Hollywood's greatest moments, including The Caine Mutiny, The Wild Ones and Guess Who's Coming to Dinner.

Kramer was born in New York City in 1913 and grew up in Manhattan's tough Hell's Kitchen neighbourhood.

He studied at New York University and went into film in the mid-30s as a researcher, editor and writer.

After military service in World War II, he formed his own independent production company, Screen Plays Inc - which became part of Columbia in 1951.


As an independent producer, Kramer had the freedom to make the kind of powerful, controversial movies he wanted.

Even early on in 1949, Kramer was producing films such as the gritty boxing drama Champion, with Kirk Douglas, about racism in the army.

Champion tackled racism in the armed forces

Home of the Brave the same year dealt with the issue of paralysed war veterans.

Then in 1952, High Noon, starring Gary Cooper and Grace Kelly, proved majorly radical.

Under the guise of a dust and saddles Western, the movie went in hard to hit McCarthyism hard on the nose.

Kramer then signed with the big movie house Columbia and was allowed to continue producing films that changed ideas and got him noticed.

The first of these was The Wild One in 1954, the first "biker" trend-setting movie, starring burgeoning heart-throb Marlon Brando.

It was followed by The Caine Mutiny. In 1955, after which Kramer turned his hand to directing.

Big budget action movie The Pride and the Passion in 1957 tested Kramer's skills but the next year saw him return to social commentary.

Judgment at Nuremberg
Judgment at Nuremberg took on Nazi war criminals

He attacked racism in The Defiant Ones, for which both he and the film were Oscar nominated.

On the Beach in 1959 with Gregory Peck dealt with nuclear proliferation and Inherit the Wind in 1960 turned to creationism.

Judgment at Nuremberg in 1961 braved the subject of Nazi war criminals and won another best picture and best director Oscar nomination as a result.


But Kramer was determined not be serious all his career. In 1953, he had made the Dr Seuss musical fantasy, The 5,000 Fingers of Dr T.

The movie flopped but is now considered by many as a cult classic. In 1963, Kramer again said he felt challenged to make something "a little less serious".

He vowed to make the "comedy to end all comedies". His ambition led to the all-star blockbuster It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.

It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World
It's a Mad, Mad ... became Kramer's most popular film

Paradoxically, the film remains perhaps his most popular and commercially successful film. But the light-heartedness did not last and Kramer even seemed to start losing heart.

In 1965, he directed Ship of Fools which he said was his biggest disappointment.

"I thought it would be a classic," he told the New York Times in 1997, adding: "Boy, was I wrong."

His later films, including The Secret of Santa Vittoria and Oklahoma Crude were not successful.

In 1979, he made the thriller The Runner Stumbles which was dismissed by critics and audiences.

In 1980 he retired and moved to Seattle, where he taught and wrote a newspaper column.

Kramer is survived by his second wife, Karen Sharpe Kramer, daughters Katharine, Jennifer and Casey, and his son, Larry.

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20 Feb 01 | Entertainment
Stanley Kramer: Filmography
20 Feb 01 | Entertainment
Film-maker Stanley Kramer dies
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