This I Believe

Kramer, Stanley


  • Stanley Kramer describes how a schoolteacher told him to have "the courage to be unpopular" and how that advice shaped his life and career in Hollywood.
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And now, This I Believe. A series of living philosophies presented in the hope they may help to strengthen and enrich your life. Here is Edward R. Murrow.
This I Believe. Stanley Kramer is an independent motion picture producer. In recent years he has often been referred to as “Hollywood’s wonder boy” or “genius on a low budget” and his friends add that he is a dedicated individual, dedicated to an ideal which underlies every picture he has made, including “High Noon,” “The Happy Time,” and “The Four Poster.” What is that ideal? Let’s hear it in Stanley Kramer’s own words.
Outside of those close to me and my family, one other person has had great influence on my way of living. That was a schoolteacher I had when I was 9 years old in New York City. Her influence was summed up in one simple statement. She said, “If you want to succeed in life, don’t try to court great popularity. The greatest men who ever lived earned their greatness by doing what they thought was right in their hearts, no matter what anyone else thought. Have the courage to be unpopular.”
I’ve tried to use this precept as a barometer for a long time now. Sometimes it made for discomfort and many setbacks. I first came to Hollywood as a writer, and I’d like to think that what I wrote was unpopular instead of just immature.
At any rate, a year later I found myself as an 18-dollar-a-week, backlot laborer. With the first two pictures I produced, I learned something of the truth of what that teacher had told me.
In Champion, the hero was a heel, and Home of The Brave treated the delicate problem of a Negro soldier in an experience with his fellow men. I had put, I hoped, faith, integrity, and sincerity into these pictures and turned deaf to the veteran showmen who were trying to convince me that I was committing professional suicide. But the public responded to what the pictures had to say and the way it was said. They supported these pictures lavishly because, and I have always been firm in this belief, the level of public intelligence and taste is much higher than has been credited.
More than that, it will respond in large measure to new ideas, if they are expounded with vitality and sincerity.
I believe that the key to progress and freedom is in the conscious fight against fear of public opinion. It applies to every facet of living and working. It means that a man must dare to protect his basic free ideas against any attempt to throttle them. It implies the courage to break established patterns and launch new ideas and methods. Even without the encouragement of a few early successes, I would still have made my three most recent pictures. Each in its own way required, for its full expression, a certain amount of defiance of popular conceptions in picture making. To make these pictures with sincerity, we had to risk unpopularity by avoidance of popular clichés and compromises.
I would prefer to face professional criticism for departure from safe norms, in favor of what recognition I may receive from the public, for honest exploration of new avenues in entertainment.
Cultivation of conformity and popularity is a safe way of life, but a really dull and dishonest one. I believe that it is the individual’s obligation to the society in which he lives to preserve his integrity and basic liberties. In more personal terms, this means that I must be prepared to fly in the face of public opinion and stand firm on convictions that I know in my heart to be right.
There may be a touch of martyrdom in it, but I firmly believe that that teacher had the ultimate answer when she said, “If you want to succeed in life, have the courage to be unpopular.”
That was Hollywood producer Stanley Kramer, a native of New York. He started his career as a Hollywood writer and now heads the Stanley Kramer Company Incorporated.