Director-producer Stanley Kramer's personal collection leads Heritage's July 25-26 Entertainment Event
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Director-producer Stanley Kramer's personal collection leads Heritage's July 25-26 Entertainment Event
It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (United Artists,1963), Stanley Kramer Personal collection of Movie Related Ephemera.

DALLAS, TX.- “The moral compass of Hollywood.” That’s how many describe Stanley Kramer, the late, beloved American director-producer whose legacy includes the Oscar-winning movies that broke with Tinsel Town’s lockstep formulas, and introduced the world to the idea that cinema can spur seismic social change. Kramer’s output — including Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, Judgement at Nuremberg and Inherit the Wind — have inspired and influenced our most celebrated directors, including Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg, who describes Kramer as an “incredibly talented visionary... not just for the art and passion he put on screen, but for the impact he has made on the conscience of the world.”

On July 25-26, as part of its sweeping Hollywood & Entertainment Signature® Auction, Heritage will offer up a treasure trove of Stanley Kramer’s personal, custom-bound scripts of his most acclaimed films, as well as gifted artworks from his collection created by the likes of Spencer Tracey, Charles White, and Jonathan Winters; a handful of his career awards; his personally owned original movie posters and more.

“Stanley paved the way for independent cinema,” says Karen Kramer, Stanley’s widow, and not only the greatest advocate of Kramer’s spectacular output but also a Golden-Globe-winning actress who married Stanley in 1966, when she was still Karen Sharpe. Their long union was a warm and collaborative one that saw Stanley through some of his most celebrated pictures, including Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. “He wanted to direct, but he knew he had to also be a producer to have control of his own productions.”

She describes his career beginnings that straddled World War II: After his initial stint working for the studios as a researcher, writer, editor, and associate producer, he was drafted into the War and made training films for the Corps alongside Frank Capra. Upon his return to Hollywood, “He realized that in order to tell the kind of stories he wanted to tell, he’d have to start his own production company,” she says. It was a risky and ambitious move, and incredibly successful.

One of his first major productions, 1949’s Home of the Brave, tells the story of a paralyzed Black war veteran named Peter Moss, played by James Edwards in his big-screen debut, and the prejudice he encountered while serving in the South Pacific. The movie was groundbreaking in its anti-racist messaging and a major critical success. It set the direction of Kramer’s work as he carved out a trajectory of tackling the social and political controversies the other studios wouldn’t touch.

He did so to the tune of racking up 85 Academy Award nominations and 15 wins over 35 movies, with an oeuvre as varied as Death of a Salesman to It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, from High Noon to The Member of the Wedding. It’s widely accepted that Kramer’s Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner led to the wider national overturning of miscegenation laws in the 1960s, and his 1959 feature On the Beach led to international disarmament talks at the UN. Kramer’s movies raised the viewing public’s awareness of social issues — civil rights, war, nuclear proliferation, the teaching of evolution in schools — like no other moviemaker before him.

“We’re thrilled to offer such a significant and personal collection from one of the greatest directors and producers in cinema history,” says Joe Maddalena, Heritage’s Executive Vice President. “The resonance of Stanley Kramer’s career cannot be overstated; he is a producer’s producer, a director’s director, and a force of social change whose output changed hearts and minds even as he created some of Hollywood’s greatest works of art.”

Given his filmmaking legacy, it’s only fitting that among the Kramer highlights in the auction is his personal library of the scripts of his movies. Leather-bound by Kramer and treasured for decades by Stanley and Karen, the collection includes his greatest achievements and the source of some of the most bracing and acclaimed movies ever made: Home of the Brave, Judgement at Nuremberg, Death of a Salesman, Inherit the Wind, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner and many more. Some include Kramer’s hand notations in ink and graphite, revision pages, added plot suggestions and more, and they are in excellent condition. “He had them custom-bound,” says Karen. “We loved them and held onto them for all these years.”

There’s one movie title plenty of Kramer aficionados will be on the lookout for in this auction, but they’ll be challenged in their bidding by, of all contingents, diehard fans of comedy. After establishing himself as the producer-director to tackle social themes with back-to-back-to-back releases On the Beach, Inherit the Wind, and Judgement at Nuremberg, the admiring New York Times’ film critic BosleyCrowther, according to Karen Kramer, half-joked to Stanley, “You may be one of the most influential filmmakers of the 20th century, but you could never make a comedy.” Like a red flag to a bull, Kramer couldn’t resist the challenge, and the result was the raucous box-office winner It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.

His personal leather-bound script for the 1963 comedy is among the collection on offer later this month. The 322-page second-draft screenplay by Tania and William Rose from their own story comes with blue, yellow, and pink revision pages dated to August 15, 1962. The Mad, Mad cast is a dizzying list of Hollywood royalty and a testament to Kramer’s terrific relationship with talent: Spencer Tracy, Milton Berle, Sid Caesar, Buddy Hackett, Ethel Merman, Mickey Rooney, Jack Benny, Buster Keaton, Carl Reiner, the Three Stooges and Jimmy Durante and more. The movie also introduced to the world the irreplaceable comedy genius of Jonathan Winters, who, like many actors to work with Kramer, became his lifelong friend.

“We remained very close with Jonathan until the very end,” says Karen, who clearly loved the actor-comedian as much as her husband did. (When Stanley asked the very green Winters to join the cast of Mad World, Winters told Kramer he couldn’t possibly, that he had just been released from a psychiatric ward. Kramer responded, “You’ll be fine! All actors are certifiably insane!”) Winters was also an artist, and among the highlights in Heritage’s event are three original artworks that the Kramers treasured, among them this charming painting by Winters titled Pretty Birds on Black.

Another artistic gift to the director by one of his stars is this extraordinary handmade ceramic sculpture of a ship flying black, red and gold flags with numerous passengers on its deck, made by none other than Spencer Tracy. Tracy’s starring turns with Kramer are some of his most celebrated, including Inherit the Wind, Judgment at Nuremberg and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. He wasn’t cast in Stanley Kramer’s Ship of Fools, however, and according to Karen, when Stanley praised one of the newcomer leads in 1965’s Ship of Fools, Oskar Werner, Tracy handmade this colorful ship as a gift to Stanley and an excuse to get onto the closed set in Los Angeles to see his competition. The movie is a saga of pre-World War II society-at-large sailing from Mexico to Germany in a fateful 36 days and nights. The ship Tracy created for Stanley reads, in Tracey’s hand-painted letters, “To Stanley Kramer from Spencer Tracy,” and “Ship of Fools.” The bottom reads "Mexico."

Legendary actor Sidney Poitier was another of Kramer’s longtime closest friends; Poitier starred in Kramer’s The Defiant Ones (1958) and Pressure Point (1962) before his iconic turn in 1967’s Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner — the groundbreaking movie that shifted the nation’s views on race and relationships in the midst of the Civil Rights movement. Poitier, Spencer Tracey, and Katharine Hepburn’s complex and subtle performances moved a sophisticated narrative into mainstream conversation.

In 1966, as a wedding gift, Poitier gave Stanley and Karen a marvelous portrait of the great singer Harry Belafonte by the renowned Black artist and illustrator Charles White — White and Belafonte were also close to the filmmaker. Through their membership in the Committee for the Negro Arts, White and Belafonte became close friends and collaborated often; after White moved to Southern California in 1956, he formed a friendship with Poitier. This significant and rare print, titled The Folk Singer, is White’s reinterpretation of his 1957 ink drawing Folk Singer (Voice of Jericho: Portait of Harry Belafonte) ink drawing.

Kramer’s output moved the needle on what a film could do; he introduced Hollywood and indeed the world to a more mature and thoughtful approach to depicting political lightning rods, and in the process made some of the most beloved and respected films ever produced. “Stanley was among the first to do a lot of things with subject matter,” says Karen. “He was even given the first permanent star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.” In 2002 the Producer’s Guild of America established the Stanley Kramer Award, which honors productions and individuals “that illuminate and raise public awareness of important social issues.”

Kramer’s career is a monumental achievement, and the collectors who follow Hollywood’s moving tides are not only well aware of his importance but now have an opportunity to become the custodians of Kramer’s source materials and markers of his most enduring and creative friendships.

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