EXCLUSIVE: Karen Kramer is going on the offensive again against Lionel Chetwynd, who again has called her late husband, legendary filmmaker and liberal icon Stanley Kramer, an “enabler” of the Hollywood blacklist. She has accused Chetwynd, a darling of Hollywood conservatives, of defaming her husband, who produced and directed such classics as High Noon, Inherit The Wind, Judgment At Nuremberg, On The Beach and Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner.
The blacklist, which ended some 55 years ago, is still a polarizing issue.
There is no doubt that blacklisted screenwriter Carl Foreman felt betrayed by Kramer in connection with the 1952 masterpiece High Noon. Foreman, who died in 1984 and was a longtime friend of Chetwynd’s, said as much in a lengthy letter to New York Times film critic Bosley Crowther after his glowing review of the film. Foreman never forgave Kramer for denying him associate producer credit on the film. Foreman had pleaded the Fifth Amendment when, in the midst of the filming of High Noon, he was called to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee. His refusal to answer questions resulted in his being blacklisted.
Foreman did, however, receive a solo screenwriting credit on the film, something no other blacklisted writer ever got until it was finally broken in 1960. And Stanley Kramer played a major role in helping to break it.
Foreman’s letter to Crowther was the basis of Chetwynd’s 2002 documentary, Darkness At High Noon: The Carl Foreman Documents. Chetwynd and Mrs. Kramer have been battling ever since. Her denunciation of the documentary was so fierce that he was forced by PBS to add a disclaimer, which stated, “The following program presents one point of view on Carl Foreman’s role in the making of High Noon; others have offered different versions of these events.”
The spark that reignited their long-running feud came last week after Kevin Spacey, on winning the Golden Globe for best actor in a TV drama, delivered a heartfelt tribute to Kramer, who died in 2001, calling him “one of the greatest filmmakers of all time.” New York Post columnist Richard Johnson tracked down Chetwynd and asked him for a comment. In the article that followed, Johnson wrote that Stanley Kramer should be “remembered for his cowardice during the blacklist era.” Even Chetwynd thinks that was “way out of line.”
“Those are his words, not mine,” Chetwynd told Deadline. “I have never accused Stanley Kramer of cowardice. I don’t think what he did was cowardly. Those were very difficult times.”
Chetwynd told Deadline that Johnson also embellished his words. In the article, Johnson quotes Chetwynd calling Kramer “one of the greatest enablers of the blacklist.” Chetwynd, however, insists that he never said “one of the greatest” – only that he was an “enabler of the blacklist.”
“I stand by my story,” Johnson told Deadline. Chetwynd stands by his story, too. “My statements are a reflection of the historical record,” he told Deadline. “It is not an allegation, nor is it innuendo, and it’s certainly not defamation.”
Either way, Karen Kramer says it’s a lie, and there is incontrovertible evidence that her late husband fought valiantly against the blacklist.
According to Chetwynd, Stanley Kramer “always advised cooperation” with HUAC, and that meant “naming names.” Johnson repeated the allegation, writing that “Kramer wanted Foreman to name names.” Karen Kramer calls that a flat-out lie and, pressed on the issue, Chetwynd acknowledged that Foreman never told him that Kramer had told him to “name names.”
Kramer defied the blacklist in 1958 when he hired blacklisted screenwriters Ned Young and Harold Jacob Smith to write The Defiant Ones, which won the best screenplay Oscar that year. He hired them again in 1960 to adapt Inherit The Wind. And when the American Legion criticized Kramer for hiring “known communists,” Moss Hart, president of the Authors League of America, rose to his defense, writing in a telegram to Kramer: “The Authors League of America council, which has always unalterably opposed any form of blacklisting of writers, unanimously voted at a meeting today to commend and applaud you for your courageous stand in rejecting publicly the effort to interfere, on pseudo-patriotic grounds, with the right of writers to work.”
Here is Karen Kramer’s letter to the New York Post in response to Johnson’s column:
How dare you allow columnist Richard Johnson to use Kevin Spacey as a springboard to defame filmmaker Stanley Kramer. Your reporter should take the time to check out the facts before making accusations and revising history. The article quotes Lionel Chetwynd as if he is an authority on High Noon, Kramer and Foreman. Chetwynd is nothing more than a lightweight who uses two dead men who cannot speak or defend themselves to promote his own political agenda. He makes propaganda films for the Conservative party to discredit well-known Democrats. In this case, Stanley Kramer.
These are the facts:
1. The Stanley Kramer Company was founded in the 1940’s. Foreman was one of Kramer’s six partners.
2. The Stanley Kramer Company signed a contract with Columbia Pictures in 1951 to make fifteen films. They were no longer an independent film company. Columbia financed and distributed their films. There paychecks came from Columbia Pictures, no longer from Stanley Kramer.
3. Harry Cohn was Columbia Pictures’ president and a signatory to the 1947 Waldorf Agreement, which prohibited Hollywood studios from employing former communists. Foreman concealed his own years of party membership from Kramer and Company.
4. Legal documents signed by both Kramer and Foreman September 13, 1951, hiring film writer Foreman as High Noon’s associate producer, a second in command in position to Stanley Kramer. (I have a copy of these documents.)
5. Foreman was subpoenaed to testify before HUAC. He swore to Stanley and partners that he was not and never had been a communist. When HUAC found Foreman’s affiliations with the Communist Party, he was forced to resign from Columbia Pictures. His Associate Producer credit was not acknowledged because he was not there to complete his on-set duties during High Noon production.
6. What do all Blacklisted writers rightfully complain about? Not getting screenwriting credit. Stanley Kramer made sure that Carl Foreman’s writing credit remained on-screen when High Noon was released in 1952.
7. Stanley Kramer did not take on-screen producer’s credit because Stanley Kramer Company Presents went above the title for the first time with High Noon and stayed that way throughout the duration of his productions at Columbia.
8. Kramer defied the Blacklist in 1958 when he hired two Blacklisted writers, Nedrick Young and Harold Jacob Smith for their screenplay The Defiant Ones, which won the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay that year. He paid more money for their screenplay than had been paid in many years. He brought them on to the lot which was unheard of in those McCarthy Era days. He put them as actors in the film.
9. He hired them again to write Inherit the Wind in 1960. The American Legion criticized Kramer for hiring known Communists.
These are the true facts, and if Stanley Kramer had been worried about what his association with Foreman might do to his own career, he certainly wouldn’t have insisted on giving him screen credit on High Noon. Hope you will speak to Mr. Johnson. He doesn’t do your publication justice.
Sincerely, Mrs. Stanley Kramer