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Former Partners of Stanley Kramer

SIMPP Producers David Loew, Armand Deutsch, and Robert Stillman

In the early career of Stanley Kramer it is notable that Kramerís ability to find financiers brought him into contact with several other independents members also at formidable points in their careers. In particular, Kramer describes his apparent ability to be able to attract the backing of wealthy individuals "who made their money in commerce but dreamed of becoming moguls." Though Kramerís partnership with them were fleeting, we see each of them resurfacing as SIMPP members, including David Loew, Armand Deutsch, and Robert Stillman.

Excerpt from A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World by Stanley Kramer


 

pages 6-9, 13-16

I finally found work in a "swing gang" at one of the studios, moving more furniture. It seemed as if Hollywood had decided that was the ideal job for me. In my spare time I wrote some screenplays, one of which, Stunt Girl, I sold to Republic Studios, a small company that specialized in low-budget Westerns and action pictures. Republic was owned by Herbert Yates, who bought my script as a vehicle for his young wife, Vera Hruba Ralston, an Olympic skater he was trying to make into a star. Stunt Girl, though, was never made, and I continued working as a prop man until I was fired after five or six months. Then I made a fortunate connection at MGM, where I went to work in the research department and finally in the editing room.

In due time producer Albert Lewin, who had become my boss at MGM, formed an independent production company with David Loew, and they took me with them. I worked in various capacities on two of their films, Somerset Maugham's The Moon and Sixpence and So Ends Our Night, the picture that gave Glenn Ford his first break. . . .

My career with Lewin and Loew was destined to be short because in early 1943 my draft number came up, and I had to get ready for induction into the army. I volunteered before I was drafted, in the spring of '43, in the hope that I could work in an army film unit. To help me in this ambition, Lewin and Loew very decently gave me the title "associate producer," a big boost in getting me assigned to a unit stationed in Astoria, Long Island, New York. You had to have a background in the film industry to get assigned to such a unit.

I went to basic training for three months at Camp Crowder in Missouri, then directly to Astoria, where I worked first on the Army and Navy Screen Magazine, which was like a March of Time newsreel for the troops. Later I got into other projects, including training films. It was a good experience that furthered my education in the various uses of film. . . .

After my army discharge I returned to Hollywood, where I found the whole town waiting to ignore me. I scurried and scrounged for some kind of job until I finally decided if I wanted one, I'd have to invent it myself. That's when I decided to declare myself a producer.

Armand Deutsch, an heir to Sears Roebuck money, was the first person who seemed to take me seriously as a producer. I had met him at some New York social event when I was in the Signal Corps, and we had kept in touch. He came to Hollywood in 1947 with the dream of more than one rich man: to get into the movie business. He needed an ambitious young fellow to show him the ropes, and I was elected.

At that time there was excitement in Hollywood about Taylor Caldwell's new novel, This Side of Innocence. Some of the big studios were bidding for it. With Deutsch's backing I went to Annie Laurie Williams, Miss Caldwell's agent. Annie was a great believer in astrology, so she looked up my sign. The stars told her I was destined to become a big success. That was all she needed to know. She sold us the film rights even though both Fox and MGM wanted the book.

Here we were, Deutsch and I, two nobodies in the film world but owners of a very hot property. We hired Don Ettlinger to write a screenplay which Deutsch paid for, and the screenplay was good enough to make the property hotter than ever. But at this point Deutsch had second thoughts about me. To him I was just a kid. Fearing I couldn't handle such a big project, he bought me out and replaced me with some high-powered operatives who apparently didn't know any more than I did. The picture was never made.

With the settlement I received from Deutsch, I decided to form my own company. As minor partners I took on Carl Foreman, who was still looking for work, Herbert Baker, a bright comedy writer, and George Glass, one of the best publicity men in town. I was fortunate to get Glass, with whom I had worked in the Lewin-Loew partnership before the war. He was a bright man and a very smooth operator .

The one notable thing I had done in the Signal Corps was to option two Ring Lardner stories from his family. Both had New York settings. One, "The Big Town," was a story about the vicissitudes of out-of-towners trying to make a name for themselves in New York. The other, "Champion," was a story about the fight game and its cruelties. I didn't know exactly what I planned to do with either story, but fortunately the options were not expensive and possession of them gave me a chance to dream. Now I had the opportunity to do more. These stories seemed ideal properties for me since they were both set in New York, and New York was my turf, the town in which I had been born and raised. . . .

The problem with "Champion" was that it would be a fight picture, and there had been so many, it seemed to me the public was getting tired of them; so we plowed ahead confidently with "The Big Town," even after we were forced to rename it because Edward G. Robinson had a radio show by that name. (I should have considered that beforehand. I had once sold Robinson a story for the show!) After we deliberated and agonized for a while, "The Big Town" became So This Is New York.

The next thing we had to do was find the money to finance it. Seven banks turned us down flat. So we had no choice but to look for private capital. There were at that time, as I'm sure there are today, a lot of wealthy men like Armand Deutsch, men who made their money in commerce but dreamed of becoming moguls in the more celebrated field of motion pictures, where they could translate their riches into fame and glamour, or at least a chance to hobnob with the stars and be interviewed by the Hollywood press. In our office we had a young man named Robert Stillman, who indicated to me when I was scrounging for money that his father was just such a wealthy man. The elder Stillman had made his fortune in the garment industry but now lived in Florida, enjoying the fruits of his labor. He had money to invest, and he was eager to put it in the movie business. I'm sure he would have preferred to invest it in a David Selznick or Alfred Hitchcock film, but since such were not open to him, he decided to take a chance on an unknown producer.

When we made contact through his son, Stillman invited me to Florida. But since I couldn't afford the ticket, I returned the invitation, getting him to California at no cost to myself. By the time we were through negotiating, he had agreed to guarantee the total financing for So This Is New York, something over $600,000. . . .

Though the setting was New York, we shot very little of the picture there, mostly exteriors. Filming on location was not as common then as it is now, especially for low-budget pictures. We took some space in Chaplin's old studio on La Brea near Sunset, which he rented out when he wasn't filmmming there. It seemed like a good omen to use Charlie's own space for a comedy. . . .

 

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None of us ever remotely suspected such an unhappy result while we were shooting the picture. In the office and on the set, we were all rolling on the floor with laughter at the routines Foreman and Herbie Baker had written. Apparently, we were gathered in a fool's paradise, telling each other what a marvelous little hit we were concocting. We could never have imagined that we might provoke the kind of reaction suggested by one particularly brutal comment card received at a preview in Westwood: "What belongs in a toilet shouldn't be exhibited first in a theater."

It wasn't until we finished the film that we realized we were in trouble. We had a lot of difficulty finding a company willing to distribute it. Finally United Artists took the film on, but they never did show it in a first-run New York theater. When it opened in one of the smaller houses, the critics and public let us know that we had missed. The reviewers were unmerciful, almost gleeful in their cruel disdain. It was not that people didn't laugh enough. They didn't laugh at all. I was humiliated, and Mr. Stillman's investment was lost. Even my mother reacted badly. She had always wanted me to be a lawyer, and she still did.

 

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SOURCES:

Kramer, Stanley, with Thomas M. Coffey. A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World: A Life in Hollywood. New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1997, pp. 6-9, 13-16.

See Bibliography.

 

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