Producer of Controversy

Stanley Kramer, Hollywood Liberalism, and the Cold War

Jennifer Frost

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.

“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

See all reviews...

About the Author

Jennifer Frost is associate professor of history at the University of Auckland in New Zealand. She is the author of An Interracial Movement of the Poor: Community Organizing and the New Left in the 1960s and Hedda Hopper’s Hollywood: Celebrity Gossip and American Conservatism.

Additional Titles in the CultureAmerica Series