Producer of Controversy
Stanley Kramer, Hollywood Liberalism, and the Cold War
With films ranging from High Noon to Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, Stanley Kramer (1913–2001) was one of the most successful and prolific director-producers of his day. But even as critics praised his courage in taking on such issues as nuclear war, racism, fascism, and the battle between science and religion, others condemned his work as “emptily pretentious” and “hollow, falsely sentimental, overproduced.” Whether Kramer was “one of the great filmmakers of all time” (Kevin Spacey at the Golden Globe Awards) or “one of Hollywood’s worst directors” (preeminent film critic Andrew Sarris in The Village Voice), he had a strong and undeniable influence on American culture during the Cold War. Producer of Controversy is the first book to take a close-up look at Kramer’s career, films, and liberal politics in an effort to explain his contributions and historical significance.
Kramer learned filmmaking within the old studio system, but over a career spanning forty years he did much to shape the independent moviemaking that emerged after World War II. Jennifer Frost pays particular attention to four of his key “message movies”—The Defiant Ones, On the Beach, Inherit the Wind, and Judgment at Nuremberg—to show how Kramer’s controversial films opened up public debate about the most important issues of his time—among average filmgoers as well as professional critics, political commentators, and public figures. In this context, she for the first time fully documents the Hollywood Right’s attacks on Kramer in the 1950s; details his resistance to the anticommunist Red Scare and the Hollywood blacklist; exposes his role as a cultural diplomat with the Soviet Union; and reveals his important contribution to the liberal and radical politics of the 1960s. Her book is at once an absorbing work of cultural history and a thoroughgoing reassessment of Stanley Kramer’s place in the pantheon of American filmmakers.
“Frost argues that Kramer helped shape moviemaking into the “new Hollywood” model and sift the industry toward liberalism during a conservative time by challenging blacklisting and by making films that provoked public conversation on controversial issues.”
—Journal of American History
“An illuminating and perceptive study.”
—Film QuarterlySee all reviews...
“In case study chapters on four films Kramer both directed and produced—including the controversial atom-bomb drama On the Beach—Frost examines the gap between the praise Kramer garnered for his social conscience and the critical assessments he received as a director. Highly recommended.”
“In an era when Hollywood’s biggest female star was Doris Day, Stanley Kramer gallantly offered a counter-example of a politically conscious, forthrightly liberal cinema. The great virtue of Producer of Controversy is to reposition Kramer at the center of American film-making in the two postwar decades that required attention to the urgent challenges of racial injustice, intellectual conformity and the threat of nuclear war. Jennifer Frost’s writing is lively, judicious and makes for truly compelling reading.”
—Stephen J. Whitfield, author of The Culture of the Cold War, 2nd edition
“In this engaging and informative book, Jennifer Frost illuminates the role of Stanley Kramer, one of Hollywood’s most influential filmmakers. Kramer produced and directed bold movies shortly after the post-World War II Red Scare, when critics of Hollywood blacklisted many artists. Kramer’s provocative films included Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, Ship of Fools, On the Beach, Judgment at Nuremberg, and Inherit the Wind. Jennifer Frost shows how this Hollywood liberal aroused the thinking of movie audiences through notable films that addressed controversial subjects of the times.”
—Robert Brent Toplin, author of Reel History: In Defense of Hollywood and History By Hollywood
“Producer of Controversy is a very apt description of Stanley Kramer, whose liberal films during the Cold War provoked strong reactions from viewers of all political persuasions. Jennifer Frost’s admirable study of the filmmaker and his accomplishments provides a firm historical context by which to reassess Kramer’s cultural and political significance.”
—James Deutsch, adjunct professor of American Studies, George Washington University
“Jennifer Frost offers a lively and perceptive new look at Stanley Kramer, one of the most controversial and forward-looking political filmmakers of the 1950s and 1960s. Producer of Controversy is a nuanced study of the independent producer-director who often made movie audiences uncomfortable with provocative films about race, evolution, nuclear war, Nazi war crimes, and the Red Scare.Frost’s book will fascinate general audiences and film scholars alike.”
—Steven J. Ross, author of Hollywood Left and Right: How Movie Stars Shaped American Politics
“Jennifer Frost’s decision to focus on four of Kramer’s movies, and to place them firmly in their historical context, gives the reader a much better perspective on Kramer than would a standard biography. Her excellently researched chapters put us right in the middle of some of the hottest debates of the 1950s and 1960s, and she sheds new light on the Cold War, especially with her chapter on Kramer in the Soviet Union. Frost shows that Kramer, who found it was not easy to be a liberal filmmaker in the Cold War United States, was hailed for being so in the Soviet Union.”
—Larry Ceplair, co-author of Dalton Trumbo: Blacklisted Hollywood Radical
“Jennifer Frost offers a compelling and long overdue reexamination of the work of Hollywood’s greatest liberal. During his lifetime Stanley Kramer was often derided for wearing his political heart on his sleeve and making films with obvious messages. Yet his movies helped change the way American audiences thought about race relations, civilliberties, the Cold War, and the lessons of the Holocaust.Froststhoroughly researched and relentlessly evenhanded account sheds new light on Kramers achievements and his courage under fire. ”
—Glenn Frankel, author of High Noon: The Hollywood Blacklist and the Making of an American ClassicSee fewer reviews...