On February 8th, 1960, Hollywood’s Walk of Fame officially set its first name in stone. And it was for Stanley Kramer, whose films bravely took on topical issues of his time; ones no one else would touch.
Now home to 2,600 brass-rimmed stars laid into 18 blocks around Hollywood Boulevard, the Walk of Fame attracts some 10 million tourists a year. On average, 25 get laid every year. To have your name cast in one, you must be nominated, agree to attend the ceremony, and, pay a fee of $30,000 to a trust fund that maintains the markers.
Kramer’s Films Tackled Racism, Facism, Nuclear War and More
Kramer grew up in Hell’s Kitchen, Manhattan. As a student at New York University, he got infatuated with writing (he had a weekly column in the Medley newspaper). He intended to become a lawyer, but a self-described zest for writing landed him a paid internship in the writing department of 20th Century Fox, so he moved to Hollywood.
After being drafted for WWII, he returned to Hollywood to find no jobs there, so he created his own production company. This allowed him to make films on reasonable budgets, and without the creative suppression he’d experience at bigger studios.
He’s famously quoted as saying, “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.”
“First Sound Film about Anti-Black Racism”
Kramer’s company’s second movie was its first big hit, landing 5 Academy Award nominations. It starred boxer turned actor Kirk Douglas, which worked well, given the film was about a boxer (Champion,1949).
Their 3rd film was the classic Home of the Brave. For its time, it was such a daring film, Kramer shot the thing in total secrecy for fear of protests interrupting the filming. The war film was about the persecution of a black soldier, and is generally referred to as “the first sound film about the anti-black racism.”
Critics received the movie well, particularly for what New York Times critic Nora Sayre called its “flavouring of courage.” His next film (now as Stanley Kramer Company) was Marlon Brando’s big screen debut: The Men. It was about a paraplegic war veteran struggling to re-enter society.
It was around this time that Columbia Pictures came knocking, offering Kramer a production unit and free creative reign over the films he wanted to make. This relationship lasted a few before Kramer went independent again.
Their time together yielded current classics like High Noon and Death of a Salesman, but overall, despite critical praise, Kramer wasn’t making Columbia any money, so they parted ways, just as The Caine Mutiny, his parting project with them, was well received enough to regain all losses Columbia had incurred in working with a filmmaker, not a blockbuster maker.
The 1950s and 60s Were Full of Kramer Classics
Kramer’s directorial debut came in 1955’s classic, Not As a Stranger, about medical students losing their idealism and succumbing to blind ambition and immoral behavior.
The Pride and the Passion, yet another novel adaptation (this time of C. S. Forester’s work), starred Frank Sinatra, Cary Grant, and Sophia Loren in a movie about Spanish guerrillas dragging a gigantic cannon across the country to defeat Napoleon’s advancing army.
The Defiant Ones, starred Sidney Poitier and Tony Curtis as a black man and white man shackled together in chains, as two escaped convicts who must work together to survive.
On the Beach was an early apocalyptic movie; it tackled the sensitive subject of Nuclear War. It took place in the aftermath of a fictional WWIII, and starred Gregory Peck, Ava Gardner, Fred Astaire, and Anthony Perkins.
Inherit the Wind took on the suppression of evolutionary theory by religious society. The film was a fictionalized account of the 1925 Scopes Trial (which made it illegal to teach evolution in any state-funded school in Tennessee). The movie had certain groups heckling Kramer as an anti-Christ.
To lighten things up, Kramer made It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World in 1963 — a comedy about human greed. For a man known for serious films, this funny one would become his biggest box office hit.
One last highlight would be Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, which tackled inter-racial marriage at a time in history when inter-racial marriage was still illegal in 17 States. It starred Spencer Tracy, Sidney Poitier, and Katharine Hepburn, and has been named a top 100 film by the American Film Institute.
Poitier called the film “revolutionary” because “no producer, no director could get the money, nor would theaters in America book it. But Kramer made people look at the issue for the first time. He treated the theme with humor, but so delicately, so humanly, so lovingly that he made everyone look at the question for the very first time in film history!”
Today, there is a “Stanley Kramer Award,” for work that “dramatically illustrates provocative social issues.” Despite a mixed review of his work, the man has been praised as inspiration by everyone from Spielberg to Kevin Spacey, and he won 16 Academy Awards (of a staggering 80 nominations).