Ah the number 9: The pinnacle of all single digits, the most evolved of all numerological fancy: Associated with mastery, compassion and Mahatma Gandhi. So there could have been no date more fitting than the ninth day of the ultimate month of the year 2017 to have honored filmmaker, trailblazer, humanitarian and award-winning director/producer Stanley Kramer. The architect behind the lens of such groundbreaking films as The Defiant Ones, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, Judgement at Nuremberg, Inherit the Wind and It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (to name a few) Stanley Kramer is one of the most evolved, socially conscious directors and filmmakers the globe has ever known. Just at the fore of the impending 50th anniversary of Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner the December 9th celebration was just what the doctor prescribed in order for us to ride further on into the 21st century by way of seeds planted back in the 20th in great stead of the hyper-reality show that currently encompasses our world theatre.
Born September 29, 1913—the apex of the silent film era—to a single mother who worked in Paramount Pictures’ New York Office–Kramer’s roots in film came honestly. Starting during the Great Depression, Kramer was able to beat employment odds by taking random jobs on film sets revolving around anything from set furniture mover, to film cutter at MGM, to writer/researcher for Columbia and Republic Pictures.
In 1943, the military drafted his service, but he was unable to escape his film hearkenings even then. Joining the ranks of cinematic luminaries such as Frank Capra and Anatole Litvak, Kramer mirrored their patriotic contributions by assisting in generating training films via New York’s Signal Corp only to complete his required tour of duty wielding the rank of first lieutenant!
A maverick of most heightened resourcefulness and ingenuity, Kramer invented raw, indie filmmaking before anyone in Hollywood ever knew the true meaning of the term. In 1947, just on the heels of a dearth of significant studio work at the war’s conclusion, Kramer formed independent production company Screen Plays Inc. Kramer’s newly christened enterprise made use of fresh (oftentimes unknown) new talent honoring the credo that one could craft “Grade A movies with Grade B Budgets”. Screen Plays Inc. would go on to put this ideology into practice by making bold use of any idle production facilities by simply renting-by-the-hour; spending significantly less than anything the present-day studios produced; overriding nearly all studio control in the process!
Shooting time and money would be saved on top of the hourly cost as Kramer believed in rehearsing actors for two weeks before the cameras ever rolled! Quoth he, “Wouldn’t you rather we made our mistakes in rehearsal, with no expensive crew standing around, than during shooting at a cost of $2.000 per hour?” Economic shrewdness through and through.
Through Kramer would eventually come to the realization that indie film finance was not as facile and free-flowing as he would have liked, partially at the hands of roughly 96 viable break-out competitors, he staunchly stuck to his principles: “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.”
Long before the advent of Indigogo or GoFundMe one can only vastly imagine what he would do this day in age!
An enthusiast of great literature and communal parity alike, Kramer would go on to make some of the most poetic and reflective movies the world has ever known! His first two produced films, both adapted from Ring Lardner’s The Big Town (film title So This is New York) and Champion, would go on to be box office flops and hits respectively. Quite a feat considering the latter took only 23 days to film utilizing a very small budget. Starring Kirk Douglas as a dogged but dodgy boxer, Champion would commence and persevere to indelibly and superlatively grace the vast lexicon of American cinema, and make Kirk Douglas a household name in the process!
Another such personage to burst on to the scene of stardom would be Marlon Brando himself featured in the lead role of The Men: Examining the life and challenges of paraplegic war veterans.
One of Kramer’s earliest produced controversial films would be adapted from a play entitled Home of the Brave by Arthur Laruents exploring the depths of prejudice in the military. Said play originally addressed anti-Semitism, but due to heightened sensitivity following the Second World War, the screenplay was adapted to that of the scrutiny surrounding the discrimination of a black soldier. It is important to note that Home of the Brave was also the first non-silent film addressing racism towards blacks.
In the wake of Home of the Brave, there would be many more arresting and provocative films to follow!
In 1951 Death of a Salesman came under considerable fire when a dogmatic conservative group picketed one of the theatres showing it, all the while slinging terms like “Red-slanted” to describe Mr. Kramer’s work.
In 1952 the Fred Zinneman directed High Noon would make the hitlist when it was discovered that Kramer’s writer, producer, and partner Carl Foreman was not only a former member of the communist party, but refused to name names and disclose his past in front of the House Un-American Activities Committee while in the process of writing the Western.
Kramer initially balked at Foreman’s uncooperative nature, but would later change his mind upon retaining the services of blacklisted writer Nedrick Young to co-script The Defiant Ones. A film title, not only symbolic of what was transpiring in the world and surrounding Kramer’s life, the subject matter itself was the fodder of much scrutiny. Set in the Deep South, the film starred Tony Curtis and Sidney Poitier as two escaped convicts. To heighten the tension, one was black, one was white and they were both shackled together as though virtual conjoined twins! Regardless, the film’s producer George Stevens was able to get it screened at the Moscow Film Festival to thundering applause and enthusiastic chants of “Kaaamer, Kraaamer, Krammmer” thereafter!
Inherit the Wind was another cinematic romp that would inspire much hot air blown Kramer’s direction. Not only did Nedrick Young write for this stage-to-screen adaptation in kind, but his employment would get Kramer lambasted by the American Legion. Kramer’s only response, on national television no less, was that he would hire whomever he liked and that the American Legion’s aspired control over personal politics vs. employment was more “unAmerican” than anything of which he had ever been accused! To add personal proselytizing to political persecution, fundamentalist Christians dubbed the film “anti-God” and branded Kramer as “anti-Christ”. Kramer could only respond by stating that the film was not about God vs. anything anti-God but more that of the right to free thought, free speech, and entitlement to a circumspect and well-rounded education.
Judgement at Nuremburg, concerning four judges that served on the bench during the Nazi regime only to finally answer to accusations of crimes against humanity, was a film that would get Kramer into hot water overseas: Europe and Germany, most specifically. Despite high praise for the film in the U.S., Kramer is said to have described the screening in Berlin as one of the scariest nights of his life. Boasting dignitaries from every region of the country, the ending credits of the film were met with stony silence. The film would go on to play to near empty theatres the nation over. To add authenticity to austerity, supporting actor William Shatner recalls Kramer and screenwriter Abby Mann urging all cast members to watch never released American Army liberation films. Said footage would include emaciated captives with hollow, sunken, vacant eyes and jutting cheekbones, shoes stacked high in crematoriums, and piles and piles of bodies being hoisted like skeletal ragdolls into collective graves via bulldozer. The cast was, to say the least, aghast and beyond dismayed.
On the heels of the 50th anniversary of Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner starring Sidney Poitier as an unexpected house guest and fiancé to the daughter of Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn, the Palm Springs Star Ceremony could not have come at a better time. Not only was the 1967 release the first film since the 1920s silent era to address race relations of the romantic black and white variety, but until 1967, and prior to Kramer’s valorous arrival on the long overdue scene, nobody could obtain the funding, let alone the blessing of the studios and banks alike, to put such a project in motion. The film itself enjoyed vast commercial success, even in the deep south, which industry insiders feared would compromise its marketability, but miraculously enough, it was a major, major hit. America was ready to go the next progressive mile!
On the Beach, released in 1959 and based on the groundbreaking novel by Nevil Shute, explored the post-apocalyptic world of atomic fallout via the ensuing obliteration of the Northern Hemisphere at the hands of nuclear conflict; the drama/horror heightened further by the impending nuclear dust en route to Australia! The film’s eerie subject matter was only exacerbated by its documentary feel focusing on sparsely populated cities and hollowed-out landscapes. For this, Kramer would be castigated by the military and government alike. With words like “pacifist” hurled his direction, centered mainly on the authoritarian disapproval of fearmongering to the American People, the world would eventually come to observe the ironic and misdirected flaws inherent in the system while Kramer would remain calm and philosophical throughout the entire backlash.
And if that does not tell you as much as his films. It is uncertain what would…
To this day his lovely widow Actress Karen Sharpe-Kramer, and his enterprising daughter Kat Kramer (God Daughter of the illustrious Katharine Hepburn and honorary namesake) perpetuate his legacy along with all others in show biz who support him in fashions both subtly and discernably. And the Palm Springs star ceremony itself was but a momentous thumbnail matching the altruistic and enterprising vibration of this great and daring man’s life.
In attendance, as only President of Palm Springs Walk of Stars Bob Alexander could introduce in better fashion than anyone speaking or writing for that matter: “Former Marlboro Man and owner of Beck Brothers Studios Bill Beck, First Lady of Game Show television fame” to ever wield her own microphone on a game show and first to cohost Wheel of Fortune “Dr. Susan Stafford, former JFK staffer Sir Charles Dunn, star recipient and first lady of public wi-fi, who also works with many charities in the desert Ms. Janie Hughes along with John Bolivar: Musician extraordinaire, Grammy Award winning and BMI nominated song writer Mr. Dan McGrath who is syndicated and streamed worldwide with his television show.”
Palm Springs’ Mayor Robert Moon was also in attendance and had some additionally fascinating things to say regarding the life and work of Stanley Kramer: “Stanley Kramer often attributed his empathy for underdogs and moral causes on his own hardships… [His] 35 motion pictures earned a total of 85 Academy Award nominations with wins of 15 awards. While his films provided star vehicles of critically acclaimed awards from such luminaries as Ava Gardner, Frank Sinatra, Robert Mitchum, and Marie Windsor, Kramer’s one Oscar was received out of competition; the 1961 Irving Thalberg Memorial Award for overall excellence! Kramer’s topical films were highly regarded and frequently honored outside the United States on the International film circuit. In regard to the Golden Globes, Stanley Kramer had 18 nominations, two wins, and 3 special awards. Among his many awards, Kramer received three British Academy Awards, two of Italy’s David D. Donatello Awards, three Berlin International Film Festival Awards, Awards from the Moscow International Film Festival and the San Luis Obispo International Film Festival and 18 Golden Globe Nominations and five Golden Globe Awards, two wins and 3 special awards including one for artistic integrity. Whereas Stanley Kramer was instrumental in the formation of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, the HFPA is celebrating their 75th anniversary and Guess Who’s coming to Dinner, its 50th. Stanley Kramer also initiated the building of the classic landmark Cinerama Dome in Hollywood and presented It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World in 1963 which was largely filmed in Palm Desert. There will be a new award in Stanley Kramer’s honor being inaugurated in February 2018 for the African American Film Critics’ Association to acknowledge his civil rights activism and making films about racial inequality.”
Next on the roster, one of the most important women in Stanley Kramer’s life, and one who knew how to honor him better than anyone. Kramer’s wife and soul mate actress Karen Sharpe-Kramer retaining as refreshing a sense of enthusiasm, youthfulness and timeless beauty as we have ever witnessed, despite the fact that she was just getting over the flu (though no one would have been any the wiser as not a note of illness or congestion could be detected in her voice):
“I had a flu shot about five years ago, and I got the flu. So, I never did it again. But I think I might’ve made a mistake because I was really, really sick. I’m here on a wing and a prayer today believe me…and while I was ill, a friend of ours helped pull this together today and that’s Harrison Held. Harrison, I want to acknowledge you and also thank you for all your work…”
Exercising the vast amounts of compassion for which the Kramer family is so well known, she then went on to discuss the current pre-Christmas drama befalling Los Angeles along with well wishes from beyond the smoky veil separating L.A. from Palm Springs including kudos from celebrities who could not attend, vs. those who could vis-à-vis everyone from Kirk Douglas to Billy Bob Thornton:
“You know we’ve had a tragic time in Los Angeles with these fires. It has really devastated an awful lot of people including George Chakiris who wanted to be here today as well. He did his debut in one of Stanley’s earlier films called The 5000 Fingers of Dr. T. It was the first Dr. Seuss movie. He [performed] in the chorus and of course his career went on to do some fantastic things. He was so devastated [that he could not be here]. So, I’d better read you this little letter, that he wrote for me today, for you: ‘Dear Karen and Kat, this cold-flu is just hanging on… I’m doing everything we’re supposed to do but not [of] much avail. So far, unless a miracle happens, I can’t join you. And that makes me feel worse than the cold… I am truly an admirer of your father and your husband’s films: My cup of tea.”
“I had a call from Kirk Douglas this morning,” Sharpe continued. “Today is his 101th birthday-101! As you may remember or not know, Stanley discovered Kirk Douglas and put him in his first film which is called Champion and it made him a star. He got an Oscar nomination for that performance. So, he’s remained a family friend for many years. He doesn’t travel too much anymore however, but I do wish him the best and of course, Happy Birthday to you too Kirk!”
“Billy Bob Thornton wanted to be here. He’s a close family friend but he’s shooting Goliath…shooting for Amazon and those hours are unbelievable so I said: “Don’t worry about it.” He wrote us this: ‘One of my prized possessions is a picture of Stanley Kramer signed for me and it says, “Birds of a Feather”. I am certain he meant similar taste and was not putting me anywhere near a category he belongs to. The fact that I ever met Stanley, let alone got to know him, was never in my wildest dreams! He was kind. He was a smart man who had time for everyone, and as an artist. He was political, dramatic, and yes, he was even funny. For any young director who wants to study grace, Stanley should be among the top few. Stanley produced my favorite movie High Noon. And the last time I saw him, he couldn’t communicate very well. But I sat, and I talked with him for a while and as I was leaving, I leaned in and I whispered… ‘Stanley, it really is a Mad, mad, mad, mad world’ ain’t that the truth. Anyway, he looked at me and smiled. ‘I’m glad the last thing I saw of him was that smile.’”
“This one is from Oliver Stone. I think he spent a lot of time in Palm Springs himself. He says ‘Congratulations to the Kramer Family. I will always remember the dignity of Stanley Kramer’s work; a man who took the slings and arrows…but achieved powerful passions of his life. His films struck me hard and they will always strike me as works of art true to their time. It was an honor to have known him. Love Oliver.”
“This last one; this man really wanted to be here today too, but he’s 90 and I don’t think he travels that much either. And that’s Sidney Poitier… Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner opens worldwide again on Monday the 11th because it is the actual true anniversary of the 50th year!”
“This is what Sidney had to say: ‘I welcome this opportunity to honor the life of a great friend and filmmaker. And I truly miss him. It was a profound experience for me to have had the privilege to work under the direction of such a remarkable talent. Stanley Kramer galvanized for me a career I had never dreamed possible. I starred in The Defiant Ones, Pressure Point, and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. These films pushed the limits of the status quo and changed the game of the film industry, not to mention the world considerably: The extraordinary gifts that personified the essence of Stanley Kramer, film director, film producer, visionary, family man and great friend. Stanley Kramer, his craftsmanship continues to raise the bar higher and higher to levels that will enrich the future and art of filmmaking and filmmakers worldwide. Congratulations to the Kramer family and to the Palm Springs Walk of Stars. Sincerely, Sidney Poitier’”
Kramer’s daughter Kat who staunchly preserves and perseveres with his legacy to this day had her own celebrity well wishes to share!
“Randal Kleiser, who directed my favorite movie Grease [could not be here today but wrote the following]: ‘I’ve been a longtime admirer of the films of Stanley Kramer. His humanistic themes continue to affect audiences even today. After studying Stanley Kramer’s work at U.S.C. Cinema School, I finally met Mr. Kramer in 1997 at a signing of his fascinating book, It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. Years later I was very honored to receive the Lifetime Achievement Award from the first Stanley Kramer Film Festival. I wish I could be there today for his star. I will definitely give it a polish on my next time in Palm Springs…’”
“Sharon Stone who received a Stanley Kramer Award at the Catalina Film Festival…was the first recipient and it’s called the Stanley Kramer Social Artists Award. She says ‘Stanley Kramer made films that shone a light on social issues, issues that affect humanity still. His confident use of his talent is an inspiration to me and a guiding light!’”
“And Beau Bridges whose father Lloyd Bridges worked a lot with my father…and [whose birthday is today] wanted to be here but he’s celebrating back in L.A… Yes, Kirk and Beau both celebrate their birthdays [today] different ages. Beau says here. ‘How fortunate I was to be directed by one of the great story tellers of all time: Stanley Kramer. Stanley loved lifting up rocks and bringing up important issued to the forefront that needed examination. He was not only an exceptionally gifted artist but a kind and gentle man. Peace, Beau’”
“And a very clever man, a legend in his own right, Carl Reiner who was in It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World sent this in saying ‘In the pantheon of filmmakers, Stanley Kramer has to be at the very top of the list. Everything he did was distinguished, entertaining and adored by the public. Have a wonderful presentation ceremony. We know it will be.’ Carl Reiner”
“[Larry King] knew my father from way back and he really tried to be here too. He just had a birthday recently. ‘I had the pleasure and honor of interviewing Stanley many times. Stanley was not only an excellent filmmaker and producer, he was ahead of his time in so many social areas. He was a giant and I was happy to walk in his shadow.’”
Kat rounded out the well wishes with a greeting from a fellow daughter of another Hollywood Legend in his own right:
“Kelly Rooney, one of Mickey Rooney’s daughters, wanted to be here also and so she just sent this in this morning. Kelly’s a wonderful person who could probably show us all the landmarks where…Mad World was filmed. She says, ‘So very happy to hear Mr. Stanley Kramer is being honored in Palm Springs. I was 7-years-old on the set of It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World in Palm Springs when my dad Mickey Rooney was filming. It’s always been a favorite and a classic which is timeless. Mr. Kramer was such a brilliant creator. Dad always spoke very highly of Mr. Kramer and cried deeply about him when he passed away, and cared deeply about him and his family. Congratulations and love and happiness to your family and friends on this wonderful occasion, love Kelly Rooney.”
Author Jennifer Frost of the most recent and in-depth book entitled Stanley Kramer: Producer of Controversy, regarding the societal contributions of the man of the hour, was also on hand all the way from Australia and had some fascinating biographical and inspirational tidbits of her own to share: “So the book is called Producer of Controversy and [that’s the name] Bosely Crowther, of the New York Times [gave him] in 1962, and I see 1962 as this key moment when Stanley was at the peak of his career… He dominated the public sphere of Hollywood, from the late 50s to the early 60s. He’s important for three decades, but during that time period, he’s the most important filmmaker in Hollywood. He is consulted by the mayor of Berlin… His movies are discussed in Dwight D. Eisenhower’s cabinet. He gets letters from the Pope. He is such a prominent figure and he is chosen to be a representative of the United States at the 1963 Moscow Film Festival. This was only the second time that the U.S. attended the Moscow Film Festival and he was a brilliant cultural diplomat, making arguments from his heart about the importance of artistic freedom. One of the beautiful things about this country is our commitment to civil liberties, our commitment to ideals of freedom, justice and equality and he spoke from his heart…even our own state department had to admit he did a damned good job in Moscow. So my book [discusses] these movies that he makes during this time period [along with] his public persona…fighting the blacklist, fighting the American Legion, hiring blacklisted screenwriters… He goes against Richard Nixon and goes to the Moscow film festival at a time when the Nixon administration wanted to boycott the Moscow Film Festival. So he is somebody who, at every turn, made the right decision. And…you commit to write a book five, six years earlier and then you realize you’re in an historical moment where the History you’ve written really matters and his legacy really matters today and we need to remember that today about Kramer, about the American tradition and about the role Hollywood films play in making us be conscious and aware of what truly matters…”
Actress/ producer People’s Choice Award winner, four-time NAACP Amateur Award nominee, and Sidney Poitier protégé Beverly Todd had this to say, “Mr. Poitier was very important to Stanley Kramer and Mr. Kramer was very important to Sidney Poitier. They made three important films together that were groundbreaking each in their own way. The Defiant Ones, Pressure Point, and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. Stanley Kramer understood the power of film and images. He presumed to make social and political statements through his films and in Sidney, he found the embodiment of those skills that were necessary to breathe life into those statements. Sidney was the number one box office star in 1967. After the success of Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, along with being a major star, he joined the select group of actors that ascended into the plateau of being recognized by a single name: Poitier. At a certain point in the evolution of Sidney’s artistry, Stanley came up with the brilliant idea for him to try his hand behind the camera and thus Sidney Poitier, the film director was born. Over the years… I’ve gotten to know Karen Sharpe and Katharine Kramer. Kat started her International Cinemoires series: Kat Kramer, Films That Changed the World. Where, in her own way, she follows in her father’s footsteps by presenting socially conscious films and documentaries… I’m very proud to say that I am now an ambassador and Kat will celebrate her tenth anniversary of the Cinemoires series in 2018. Bravo, Congratulations, and let’s give Stanley Kramer a hand!”
Sharon Kyle and Dick Price are an interesting couple. Kyle, an L.A. progressive law professor, and president of People’s College Law Board, and member of the ACLU founded L.A. Progressive an online daily publication with her husband Dick. According to Bob Alexander, “Oddly enough, Sharon’s immersion into social justice activism was fueled during her more than 20-year career at NASA’s Jet propulsion laboratory. It was during those years in the many observations of racial and gender discrimination that Sharon decided to go to law school which ultimately put her future on a different trajectory. Today Sharon works with her husband Dick Price supporting him in [advancing progressive causes]. Before founding the online social justice magazine LA Progressive.com Dick price had a long career publishing trade magazines for IT Professionals. In earlier phases of his life, he was a New York City cab driver, bartender, construction worker, soldier and farm hand. His combat experience in Viet Nam fueled his need to address issues of social justice in the United States. Immediately upon his return to the U.S. Dick joined the efforts to end war and begin a lifelong pursuit for social justice. Dick’s firsthand witness to the deeply entrenched racial segregation that continues to plague the U.S. led him to found the L.A. Progressive. Along with his wife Sharon. Dick works tirelessly to bring awareness to social injustice in America.” Also of note: Sharon is black, Dick is white.
“When Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner was released,’ Sharon commenced, “there was a groundbreaking United States Supreme Court decision: Loving vs. The State of Virginia, and for those who are not aware of that case, that was the [trial] that challenged the United States miscegenation laws and those were the laws that forbid, primarily black and white people, from marrying. So many people don’t understand the climate, especially people who are a couple of generations younger than me. They don’t understand how this groundbreaking film impacted social justice.”
“So, in 1967 when Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner came out, I was an adult. I was 20 years old,” said Dick continuing Sharon’s train of thought. “[I was] going to a college in New York City in the heart of social justice reform, anti-war movement, economic justice reform…and I… remember being moved by the movie…and I’ve seen it since…and…there was a famous series of photographs of Mildred and Richard Loving in either Look Magazine or Life Magazine: beautiful pictures that you can still find online. I remembered being moved by them. I wasn’t personally moved, I wasn’t in an interracial marriage then…”
“I was ten years old then,” Sharon could only quip, to much laughter.
“She was just living a few miles away which would have been a whole different Supreme Court case.. I had friends John and Katherine who were in an interracial marriage but there weren’t very many. In my generation it is [still] somewhat rare. But all our kids are in interracial marriages and [now] it’s commonplace to the point where you understand that for large swaths of younger people, race isn’t a deciding issue, and there’s lots of other ways to measure progress… We had a black president and we had lots of [black] members of congress and so forth, and you can say that we have come a long way. But then Sharon says ‘The black community doesn’t look at how far we’ve come but how far we have to go.’
As a post-script, Bob Alexander could only query, “I understand, if I’m correct that Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner actually changed the marital laws in 16 states.
“In 1967 yeah,” Karen Sharpe-Kramer swiftly replied. “It was against the law and we knew it. We also knew the Supreme Court decision was coming down… We didn’t know which way it was going to go. But we didn’t care. Stanley never cared about that. He just wanted to put it out there and say, ‘Get a grip guys. Get with the times!’ It was not acceptable… But our lives were threatened many times because of that film. And Stanley was not afraid to go into the South. But we had hate mail like I’ve never seen. We’d be in a restaurant and people would come up to us and say, ‘Are you that Kramer that made that film?’ And I’d say, ‘Yeah we were.’ And they’d say, ‘You’d better watch your back Kramer.’ But it pushed buttons. It was meant to. And that’s the tribute to it and we’re in a better place. We still have a long way to go, but we’re doing great!”
Actor/Dancer and all around great entertainer Will Mead, had a very interesting character anecdote surrounding Kramer and the time he auditioned for Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner:
“Ah yes. I was in Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner and people often look at me and go, ‘You were? Really?’ And when I say ‘I had a scene with Isabelle Sanford…and then I danced out with a younger maid…’ [They say] ‘Oh of course I remember.’ I thought that I would talk a little about how I got cast in the film because I think it actually sort of says something about Stanley Kramer and the kind of atmosphere that he created with his work. I [had] read for other director producers. I had an audition for Otto Preminger and with that one I had read articles about other people’s experiences, [and they were] exactly the same as mine. You would go to Paramount… They’d say, ‘You can go in now,’ and there were these huge double wood doors that were, maybe, 7 inches thick…gigantic–heavy, and you had to struggle to get in, and you’d sort of get one open, and squeeze in, and there would…be Otto Preminger at this massive desk. I’ve never seen anything bigger! No paper on it at all–framed by a window…backlit, [on] his bald head, and he’s sitting there: Otto Preminger at the desk. And basically, I read for him and he said ‘Thank you very much.’ And I had to struggle to get out. What I read is that he used to enjoy watching actors struggle with these doors. It was his thing! He really liked watching this and intimidating people with that kind of presence. So, when I was called in to read for the new Stanley Kramer film which nobody knew much about, it was a big mystery. I went into Columbia, into this strange kind of little room. It wasn’t really an office. There were filing cabinets, and a little desk…just an off kind of room, and there was Stanley Kramer in shirt sleeves. But the thing that really struck me is he was on his feet! Almost everybody is sitting down at their desk or whatever, you come in and you sit. But he was on his feet and it was very informal. There wasn’t any pretense or anything like that. He asked me to read a page and a half of dialogue and then he said ‘Afterwards I would like you to…sort of do something.’ He didn’t really know exactly what he wanted, but ‘just do something afterwards,’…and at that time in Hollywood, if you were an actor, you never worked as a model. If you were a model, you never worked as an actor. If you were in musicals, you worked in musicals, but you would never work as a dramatic actor. So that was something I never really talked much about, and I have done quite a few things. I had done Hello Dolly with Carol Channing. I had done Music Man with Eddie Albert, Can Can with Chita Rivera. I had done a lot of shows. It wasn’t even on my resume ‘cause that was sort of deadly to have that stuff on your resume. So, when he said, ‘Do a little something,’ I did a little something and he looked at me and he said, ‘Yeah, but read that again but do a little more.’ And so I did a little more. And he said, ‘Yeah well read it again and really, really do something more, much more!’ And so I thought, ‘Well okay you asked for it!’ So then I actually really pulled out all the musical theatre stuff and the sparks [were] flying… And he looked at me kind of amazed like, ‘Wow, I had no idea that was there,’ and he said. ‘Y’know, I’m really sorry but I’ve got someone else who’s coming in to read after you, could you just sorta hang around and come back in an hour?’ And I did…I came back in an hour and he said, ‘Well Kid, you’ve got it!’ So, Stanley Kramer made films with a social conscience but he also made films that had human conscience. And I think it was the element of humanity, not just social criticism that made things really stick. I sometimes wonder what kind of films Stanley Kramer would be making today if he were here.
To this Karen Sharpe-Kramer could only respond: “I have some ideas.”
In the meantime, a new Stanley Kramer Award is in the works along with Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner on the brink of being inducted into a new “Best Films” list!
All in all, quite the inspiring retrospective and Karen could not help but rouse the crowd even further with her closing words of thanks, appreciation, and nostalgic love of Palm Springs. “You know this is a little secret I hadn’t even remembered until people began to talk. Stanley and I courted in Palm Springs. He had seen me on the Paramount Lot and fallen in love with me, I didn’t know who he was at the time I was so busy working, it’s all I could do is do my own job, and of course I wasn’t the least bit interested. Is that not stupid? I wasn’t. I was running the other way the whole time. I guess if you really want somebody, that’s what you do… Anyway, I was working all of the time…and I would come to Palm Springs to rest after starting my new job… I was pretty hot at the time as an actor, so they would publish everything I did. So, he knew I was here. He had a house here. I didn’t know that… [and] he would drive all the way down from Los Angeles just to take me…down to Beach Combers…his favorite restaurant…then he’d drive all the way back to Los Angeles, and I thought ‘This man must be crazy to do all that!’ Anyway, it was a great marriage. I finally gave in and fell in love with him as well, and it was 35 years and I learned so much! I am the person I am today because of Stanley Kramer. Believe me, I was not educated in politics. I didn’t know much about anything. I was just an actress, but it was worth it. Every year with this man was worth it. We produced two fantastic young ladies, very talented… So, you’ve made my day. Stanley Kramer has always made my life, and I will cherish this ‘til the day I die!’
One can almost hear Stanley Kramer hearing his wife’s loving and amazing words. And as near confirmation, Kat Kramer could only add, “I know my father is here right now. I feel his energy and his spirit…”