WAMG’s Interview With Stanley Kramer’s Wife Karen Kramer; IT’S A MAD, MAD, MAD, MAD WORLD Screening Kicks Off The Academy’s “The Last 70mm Film Festival” Series
On these warm summer days, what better way to escape the heat than with a visit to a movie theater. Sure, you can catch one of the many new films, but instead why not revisit or introduce yourself to a classic. The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences is running a 70mm series of films beginning Monday in Beverly Hills. It kicks off the inaugural event with the uproarious IT’S A MAD MAD MAD MAD WORLD. I agree, it’s usually one that we all watch during the holidays but if you’re fortunate enough to see it on the big screen then you need to make a trip to The Academy.
This week I had the chance to speak with the wife of the film’s late director Stanley Kramer over the phone where she nostalgically talked about one of the funniest comedies in film history. Mrs. Kramer was extremely ebulent as she shared that the screening of Monday evening’s film will be introduced by a surprise guest. Add to the fact that surviving cast members Carl Reiner, Jonathan Winters, and Mickey Rooney are scheduled to appear. Those two things alone should make it worth the price of admission.
A little background on this delightful woman. In 1955 the then Karen Sharpe won the Golden Globe for “Most Promising Newcomer” for her role in HIGH AND THE MIGHTY. Composer Dimitri Tiomkin even called her to assure her she would win. IT’S A MAD MAD MAD MAD WORLD was released in 1963 and she and Stanley were married in 1966. Both were working on different films on the Paramount lot when they met. After being an actress, a wife and mother, Karen has had a second career as a producer. She co-produced the TV remake of her husband’s western classic HIGH NOON in 1990 and is presently working with MGM to release a 10 film box set of Kramer’s films in celebration of his centennial birthday and the 50th anniversary of IT’S A MAD MAD MAD MAD WORLD.
Q: Is it true that your husband built the Cinerama Dome to debut IT’S A MAD MAD MAD MAD WORLD?
Stanley wanted a brand new theater for the premiere. He knew about the Cineramas around the country so he and MGM/UA wanted the same theater to show the film. He even went as far as to create an interactive intermission for the movie. So people wouldn’t loose the continuity of the story when they went out to have a smoke or what have you, Stanley had loudspeakers piped into the lobby and bathrooms. It was mock police calls of the characters individual cliffhangers. Buddy Hackett and Mickey Rooney trying to fly the plane. Sid Caesar and Edie Adams stuck in the basement. So on and so forth. One woman ran out of the bathroom and complained to the manager that there was man in there. (laughs).
Premieres in the 50’s and 60’s were huge. They would set up bleachers and the stars would show up in tuxedos and gowns – all very formal. It was like to going to the Academy Awards. Film clips from the premieres were later shown in the theaters on ‘March of Time.’
In 1963, President and Mrs. Kennedy were invited to attend the November 7th Los Angeles premiere but couldn’t make it, so Bobby and Teddy showed up in their stead. I have pictures of them with the cast.
And then as you know, President Kennedy went to Dallas. (pauses). Many people have memories about the film, the assassination and have told me that IT’S A MAD MAD MAD MAD WORLD helped them and helped heal a nation. The movie ran for almost two years in the theaters.
Billy Crystal shared his memories with me once about the film and where he was when Kennedy was shot. He said he was 15 yrs old and living in New York City when he went to see the film. He saw it 15 times. It helped him in dealing with the death of his own father and that of President Kennedy’s. He still has the original program from the theater.
Q: What kind of filmmaker was Mr. Kramer?
He truly was an Auteur. Stanley started as a screenwriter and then moved onto becoming a senior editor. He learned a lot doing that which helped him later as a director. He shot his films like an editor – shot for the edit. Stanley envisioned every scene. He and the cinematographer and script supervisor (Marshall Schlom) worked closely together on IT’S A MAD MAD MAD MAD WORLD. The film came in at over 4 hours… more near 5 hours, but the studio took it away from him. It shows on TV now at about 3 hours and 45 minutes. The version we’re showing at the Academy has much of what was deleted back in it… including the whole score.
He was also very innovative. Stanley was one of the first to use animation in the opening credits. He used Saul Bass’s creative animation.
Plus in IT’S A MAD MAD MAD MAD WORLD all the stunts were real, all the cars were real, all the actors doing the stunts were real, There was no CGI back then. The car chases were a precursor to Steve McQueen’s BULLITT. There was only once scene in the film where stuntmen were used. At the end where they’re all swinging around on the ladder.
And the cameos. Stanley said everyone wanted in. Comedians were calling while the film was shooting wanting any part.
After Stanley and I were married we worked on GUESS WHO’S COMING TO DINNER together. He would shoot and then the following day I would go with him immediately to watch the dailies. He was just that kind of professional – that’s why I call him an auteur.
Q: The music for IT’S A MAD MAD MAD MAD WORLD is a very integral part of the film.
It’s a real character. I think the star of the film is the musical score! Ernest Gold and his music is a delicious force of genius. His music gives such life to the movie.
Q: Your husband made many socially conscious films. Which one will he be most remembered for?
I have people come up to me all the time, even in the streets, and they tell me it will be for IT’S A MAD MAD MAD MAD WORLD. It’s become a timeless classic. It’s much more relevant today. MAD was a satire about greed in 1963. Chasing wealth throughout the world – much like today.
As to Stanley’s socially-minded films, INHERIT THE WIND, JUDGMENT AT NUREMBERG, GUESS WHO’S COMING TO DINNER. All of the films are 50 years or older. The subject matter hasn’t changed. We’re still arguing first amendment rights. Genocide is more prevalent. Race relations are still at the forefront. We haven’t changed much.
Q: What do you think he would have to say about today’s comedies.
Stanley would never criticize a film or it’s director. He just wouldn’t go there. But he would never make a raunchy film. I’m not a fan of it either and I’m not a prude. It’s like what Milton Berle would say. Films should not debase but elevate humanity. Back in the 50’s you had to be funny. Comedies were made for the whole family to see together.
Q: What else are you busy with?
Over the years I founded the Stanley Kramer Award at the Producer’s Guild and the Stanley Kramer Fellowship Award in Directing at UCLA. Both of these awards honor socially conscious young filmmakers. I also maintain the Stanley Kramer Library. I produced the 40th anniversary screening where we had 5 sold out shows. They never believed I could do it, but everyone of them was sold out.
Q: You’re listed as a producer for a possible sequel “It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad MAD World.” (The money that fluttered away in the original 1963 film was counterfeit and the real treasure is still buried but down deeper in the ground. The sons, daughters and grandchildren of the original ex-felons find out and make a trip to share or not share the riches.)
How’s it coming along?
I’m trying to get MGM on board for the sequel and attempting to raise funds. It will cost a lot of money. Stanley Kramer wanted it to be “the comedy that would end all comedies.”
Q: So the idea was approved by him?
Yes and co-written. He wanted to do a sequel – have it be the children of the characters. It would have a 5th “MAD” in the title. The original had 4 “MAD” - Stanley came up with that. He wanted to show that his extravaganza was a film of quality. That’s how things used to be. He based it on 4 **** – 4 star restaurants, 4 star hotels. With all the brilliant comedians and actors in it, audiences were in for a FOUR star film. I bet you didn’t know that! (laughs).
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will present the 1963 ensemble comedy “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World“ as the inaugural film in its series – The Last 70mm Film Festival on Monday evening, July 9, at 7 p.m. at the Academy’s Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Beverly Hills.
“The Last 70mm Film Festival,” a six-film series, will run Mondays through August 13, showcasing 70mm classics from different genres as well as rarely screened 70mm short subjects. http://www.oscars.org/events-exhibitions/events/2012/07/70mm.html
(Directed by nine-time Oscar® nominee Stanley Kramer, “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World” earned six Academy Award® nominations, including Cinematography (Ernest Laszlo), Film Editing (Frederic Knudtson, Robert C. Jones, Gene Fowler, Jr.), Music – Music Score, substantially original (Ernest Gold), Music – Song (Gold, Mack David), Sound (Samuel Goldwyn Studio Sound Department, Gordon E. Sawyer, Sound Director), and took home the Oscar for Sound Effects (Walter G. Elliott).
Prior to the sold-out screening, there will be a panel discussion with actors Carl Reiner, Mickey Rooney, Jonathan Winters, Marvin Kaplan, Stan Freberg and Barrie Chase, as well as script supervisor Marshall Schlom, casting director Lynn Stalmaster, and Stanley Kramer’s widow, Karen Kramer.