On Tuesday, April 7, TCM is taking a night to recognize two of entertainment’s greatest celebrity documentarians.
Between 1980 and 2005, Joan Kramer and David Heeley produced groundbreaking celebrity profiles ranging from Hepburn to Garland to Fonda to Flynn. The TCM special features five of the duo’s profiles (James Stewart: A Wonderful Life, The Spencer Tracy Legacy: A Tribute by Katharine Hepburn, Fonda on Fonda, Katharine Hepburn: All About Me and Bacall on Bogart), with Kramer and Heeley introducing each film in a joint interview conducted by TCM’s Robert Osborne.
When asked the main difference between the stars of the Hollywood studio system and modern celebrities, Heeley says, “The stars of that era were a little more remote, a little more out of reach than today’s stars, and I think that’s what makes them feel special.” Adds Kramer, “The studios were not only molding and shaping the stars, but protecting … and nurturing … and perpetuating their images.” The duo’s work dispelled the manufactured images that the studio system had created for its stars, and reintroduced them as the interesting and complex (and imperfect) people they really were.
Kramer and Heeley helped forge legacies for some of Hollywood’s greatest stars, and when asked about his own legacy, Heeley says, “There is something about television — I’m a child of television and I’m lucky that my career has been in television. But television can do something that no other medium can do, and I hope we’ve used it the right way.”
In the Company of Legends > TCM > April 7 beginning at 7pm ET
“In The Company Of Legends,” The Book
To celebrate their successful career of profile documentaries, Kramer and Heeley have penned a book that tells the stories behind the stories. Joan Kramer reveals, “When we told these stories to our friends privately, they said to us, ‘You gotta write a book!’ And David and I thought, ‘Come on, is anybody going to be interested in our take?’ Well, it turns out, apparently people still are!”
In their memoir, In the Company of Legends, the duo share charming and chuckle-worthy tales about Hollywood royalty and reveal anecdotes and tales including Katharine Hepburn stealing Stephen Sondheim’s potted geraniums; the real story behind Jimmy Stewart’s World War II draft status; and JFK’s musical ritual with Judy Garland.
David Heeley recalls an unforgettable moment when he and Joan Kramer first met to interview Jimmy Stewart, then age 78, for the PBS Great Performances profile James Stewart: A Wonderful Life (1987). “When he came downstairs, and this frail old man came into the room, my heart sank. We’d built this whole show around him and I honestly thought, ‘I don’t think he can do it.’ And then it was lights, camera, action and oh my God, what a transformation! It was like a different person. A performer can always perform, and the day we put him on camera for the first time, that’s when I saw Jimmy Stewart, the movie star.”
The book is a delightful read for any fan of Hollywood lore and offers incredible insight into some of Hollywood’s most glittering (and mysterious) stars. It is a fitting tribute from extraordinary filmmakers who spent their careers creating more than mere documentary profiles; they produced love letters to the greatest stars of the golden age of Hollywood. “We were dealing in many ways with a living history. Not just of the people, but of the country,” explains Kramer.
The memoir, In The Company of Legends, can be purchased on Amazon.
Heeley directing Katharine Hepburn: image courtesy Bryson Photo. ©1985
Heeley and Kramer with Jimmy and Gloria Stewart: image courtesy, Kramer and Heeley, © 1986.
Heeley and Kramer with Katharine Hepburn: photograph by Len Tavares 1985.