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“Message filmmaker” Stanley Kramer is born

On this day in 1913, Stanley Kramer, the director and producer whose best-known “message” movies–including The Defiant Ones,Judgment at Nuremberg and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner–tackled controversial political and social themes, is born in New York City. During his career in Hollywood, Kramer was nominated for six Academy Awards as a producer and three Oscars as a director (although he never took home a golden statue) and worked with a long list of prominent stars, including Humphrey Bogart, Frank Sinatra, Fred Astaire, Cary Grant, Sophia Loren and Vivien Leigh.

After working a number of jobs in the movie industry, Kramer formed an independent production company in the late 1940s. As a producer, his early credits included the multi-Oscar-nominated film Champion (1949), which starred Kirk Douglas as a self-destructive boxer; Home of the Brave (1949), about racial intolerance during World War II; and The Men (1950), about disabled veterans, which marked Marlon Brando’s film debut. Kramer also produced 1952’s High Noon (1952), a Western featuring Gary Cooper and Grace Kelly that garnered seven Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture.

In the early 1950s, Kramer made a string of films for Columbia Pictures, including the box-office hit The Caine Mutiny (1954), about life aboard a U.S. navy ship during World War II. The film, which starred Humphrey Bogart, Jose Ferrer, Fred MacMurray and Van Johnson, was nominated for seven Oscars, including Best Picture. After several years with Columbia, Kramer left to direct such films as the Oscar-nominated The Defiant Ones (1958), which starred Tony Curtis and Sidney Poitier as a pair of escaped convicts forced to deal with the issue of racism; and On the Beach (1959), which examined the topic of nuclear war. Kramer also helmed such movies as Inherit the Wind (1960), with Spencer Tracy and Gene Kelly, about the Scopes “monkey” trial and the teaching of evolution; and Judgment at Nuremberg (1961), about the World War II Nazi war-crime trials. The film, which featured Spencer Tracy, Burt Lancaster, Marlene Dietrich, Judy Garland and Montgomery Clift, received 11 Oscar nominations, including Best Director and Best Picture.

Kramer took a break from serious subject matter for the 1963 comedy It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, featuring Milton Berle, Sid Caesar and Ethel Merman. His 1967 film Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner starred Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy as parents who must deal with the fact that their daughter (Katherine Houghton) has brought home an African-American fiance (Sidney Poitier). The film earned 10 Oscar nominations, including Best Director and Best Picture. Hepburn won a Best Actress Academy Award for her performance; the film was her last with Tracy, her longtime companion, who died before the film was released.

The last movie Kramer directed was The Runner Stumbles (1979), starring Dick Van Dyke and Kathleen Quinlan. He died at the age of 87 in Woodland Hills, California, on February 19, 2001.

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