Kramer vs. Kramer (1979)

PG | 105 mins | Drama | 19 December 1979

Director:

Robert Benton

Writer:

Robert Benton

Producer:

Stanley R. Jaffe

Cinematographer:

Nestor Almendros

Editor:

Jerry Greenberg

Production Designer:

Paul Sylbert

Production Company:

Columbia Pictures
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HISTORY

End credits include the following acknowledgements: “The producer wishes to thank the New York City Mayor’s Office for Motion Picture Production,” and “Thanks to Davis & Long Company.”
       According to information on its AMPAS Official Screen Credits form, producer Stanley R. Jaffe acquired Avery Corman’s novel, Kramer vs Kramer, on 5 May 1977, prior to its Sep 1977 publication. In a 12 Nov 1978 LAT article, Jaffe noted that he purchased the rights “immediately” after reading the novel, which was sent to him in manuscript form by associate producer Richard C. Fischoff. An 11 Sep 1977 LAT item reported the purchase price as $250,000.
       Writer-director Robert Benton, who made his directorial debut working with Jaffe on Bad Company (1972, see entry), explained in a 23 Jan 1980 NYT article that he chose to begin the film with “Joanna Kramer’s” departure, in contrast to Corman’s novel, which opened with the early years of the Kramer marriage and its gradual breakup. To avoid the character being seen as a villain for leaving her child, Benton wanted to incorporate Joanna’s point of view and need for independence, a position that was practically missing in the book. However, rather than immediately allow her to justify her reasons, Benton aimed to present the character as somewhat “mysterious.” Meryl Streep stated in a Nov-Dec 1979 Marquee article that she “hated” Joanna in the novel and collaborated with Benton to “make it a little harder for the audience to place its allegiance.” According to a 3 Dec 1979 Time magazine article, she was ... More Less

End credits include the following acknowledgements: “The producer wishes to thank the New York City Mayor’s Office for Motion Picture Production,” and “Thanks to Davis & Long Company.”
       According to information on its AMPAS Official Screen Credits form, producer Stanley R. Jaffe acquired Avery Corman’s novel, Kramer vs Kramer, on 5 May 1977, prior to its Sep 1977 publication. In a 12 Nov 1978 LAT article, Jaffe noted that he purchased the rights “immediately” after reading the novel, which was sent to him in manuscript form by associate producer Richard C. Fischoff. An 11 Sep 1977 LAT item reported the purchase price as $250,000.
       Writer-director Robert Benton, who made his directorial debut working with Jaffe on Bad Company (1972, see entry), explained in a 23 Jan 1980 NYT article that he chose to begin the film with “Joanna Kramer’s” departure, in contrast to Corman’s novel, which opened with the early years of the Kramer marriage and its gradual breakup. To avoid the character being seen as a villain for leaving her child, Benton wanted to incorporate Joanna’s point of view and need for independence, a position that was practically missing in the book. However, rather than immediately allow her to justify her reasons, Benton aimed to present the character as somewhat “mysterious.” Meryl Streep stated in a Nov-Dec 1979 Marquee article that she “hated” Joanna in the novel and collaborated with Benton to “make it a little harder for the audience to place its allegiance.” According to a 3 Dec 1979 Time magazine article, she was responsible for re-writing her dialogue in the custody hearing scenes. In a different way, actor Dustin Hoffman influenced the dialogue of “Ted Kramer.” Benton explained in a 16 Dec 1979 LAT article that he tape recorded Hoffman during pre-production brainstorming sessions to capture the actor’s way of speaking, which he later incorporated in the script. The director emphasized there were many parallels between Hoffman and Ted Kramer, including the fact that the actor was undergoing a divorce from his wife, Anne Byrne, at the time.
       During script development, Benton deleted one of his favorite characters, “Charlie Phelps,” the ex-husband of neighbor “Margaret Phelps,” as noted in the 23 Jan 1980 NYT article. Benton wanted to demonstrate that Ted shifts from having a male best friend to having a female best friend in Margaret, and Charlie represented the friend in whom Ted confided before the marital separation. When Benton realized that Ted’s boss, “Jim O’Connor,” served that purpose, he discarded the Charlie scenes. Benton also eliminated scenes involving a housekeeper, which helped explain in the book how “Billy Kramer” was being looked after while the father was busy.
       Avery Corman revealed in a 27 Dec 1979 DV interview that he was not interested in collaborating on the screen version, but was pleased with the outcome and the rare acknowledgment he received during the film’s promotion as creator of the source material.
       Although Hoffman was the filmmakers’ first choice to play Ted Kramer, the actor was initially ambivalent about committing to the project, according to a 27 Mar 1980 DV article, because of his recent troubles on the productions of Straight Time (1978) and Agatha (1979, see entries). Columbia Pictures executive Sherry Lansing, who oversaw Kramer vs. Kramer for the studio, claimed in a 7 Feb 1980 NYT article that after Hoffman declined the role twice, she encouraged the filmmakers to fly to England, where the actor was working on Agatha, and appeal to him in person. Jaffe remembered that Hoffman was particularly persuaded by Benton’s idea that the film was “a love letter to our children” and, as reported in the 12 Nov 1978 LAT article, the shooting schedule was postponed to accommodate the actor. Although the article mentioned that Kramer vs. Kramer represented Hoffman’s first portrayal of a father onscreen, he had played a divorced parent in the 1969 theatrically-released short Sunday Father, which was reviewed in the 12 May 1969 NYT.
       According to production notes in AMPAS library files and a 28 Dec 1979 NYT article, the casting of seven-year-old Billy began with an initial scouting of over 700 children within twenty-six New York City-area elementary schools. Approximately 300 children were chosen for further consideration, followed by screen tests of a select few with Dustin Hoffman. Fearing that the special kinship between a young child and parent would be too difficult to replicate onscreen, Hoffman mentioned that he and the filmmakers briefly considered changing the gender of the child and using one of his daughters in the role. Those concerns were alleviated when Hoffman bonded during auditions with first-grader Justin Henry, who had never acted before. The filmmakers were encouraged to learn that Justin had a strong relationship with his own father, which they felt would aid the boy’s understanding of the character, as noted in the 3 Dec 1979 Time. Benton explained that he would give Justin direction on set by relaying the instructions through Hoffman, who had developed a trust with the youngster. Justin was not given a script or lines to memorize, so many of the scenes between him and Hoffman were improvised. Hoffman recalled that Justin surprised him by fighting back during the ice cream scene and raising his spoon. Justin’s eleven-year-old sister, Tabbatha Henry, was cast as the daughter of one of the Kramers’ friends, but her scenes were deleted during editing.
       As stated in a 1 Jun 1978 DV item, Kate Jackson, who was starring in the hit television series Charlie’s Angels (ABC, 22 Sep 1976-19 Aug 1981), received “a firm offer” for the role of Joanna, despite a conflict between the shooting schedule and her obligation to the television series. The 12 Nov 1978 LAT reported that Meryl Streep was under the impression she was reading for Joanna during auditions, but the filmmakers originally had her in mind for another role, until she convinced them otherwise. Casting the blonde Streep also helped solve the problem of an obvious physical resemblance between Billy and one of his parents.
       Actress Gail Strickland, who was originally cast as Margaret, withdrew after one week of shooting, according to a 4 Oct 1978 article in Var. Columbia Pictures remarked that the departure was due to “‘artistic differences’” and her scenes would be reshot. Strickland was replaced by Jane Alexander, who was currently starring in the Broadway play, First Monday in October (New York, 3 Oct 1978).
       The picture marked the feature film debut for actress JoBeth Williams, whose first name appears as “Jobeth” in onscreen credits.
       According to the 4 Oct 1978 Var, principal photography began 6 Sep 1978 in New York City. An 11 Dec 1979 LAHExam article noted that filming completed in mid-Dec 1978. Manhattan locations listed in production notes include: the advertising agencies of Della Femina, Travisano and Partners, which represented Ted Kramer’s firm at the beginning of the film, and Norman, Craig and Kummel, which lent its actual name as the agency where Ted finds a new job; the National Arts Club across from Gramercy Park; P.S. (Public School) 6 on the Upper East Side; Lenox Hill Hospital; the law firm Cohn, Glickstein, Lurie, Ostin and Lubell; and the restaurants Le Relais and J.G. Melon. The only studio set was the “Kramer apartment.” To achieve a more realistic interior, production designer Paul Sylbert constructed the set according to the actual dimensions of an apartment on East 77th Street, rather than enlarge the rooms to accommodate crew and camera equipment.
       A 30 May 1980 DV article reported that production costs totaled just under $8 million and an additional $8 was spent on promotion.
       On 5 Dec 1979, LAT announced the film would premiere that night at the Westwood Avco Cinema Center in Los Angeles, CA, as a benefit for the L.A. Children’s Museum. The New York City premiere would take place 17 Dec 1979 at Loews Astor Plaza as a benefit for Just One Break, Inc., an organization that helped the handicapped find employment.
       When the film opened 19 Dec 1979 on 535 screens, it grossed over $5.5 million the first week and set a house record at New York City’s Loews Tower East, as reported in a 31 Dec 1979 HR brief. The 11 Dec 1979 LAHExam analyzed the simple, but effective print campaign showing a photograph of a “happy” Kramer family, which helped to neutralize the conflict suggested in the title. The film also benefitted from an eight-page profile article about the production and actors in the 3 Dec 1979 edition of Time magazine. The box-office gained momentum in 1980. A 7 Jan 1980 DV article attributed this to the “hottest word-of-mouth around,” critical praise, and numerous award honors. According to the 30 May 1980 DV, as the film expanded to nearly 1,000 screens, it surpassed the $100 million mark in domestic box-office after twenty-three weeks in release. Additionally, the picture was a hit abroad, earning $57 million across foreign territories. The DV article estimated that worldwide film rentals had reached $80 million, $53 million of which were domestic rentals, positioning Kramer vs. Kramer as the second-highest grossing film for Columbia Pictures to date, behind Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977, see entry). The film would also become the highest grossing picture of 1979, with a domestic box-office gross of $106,260,000, as reported in a 20 Feb 1995 Var article, which placed it in a rare group of films that had topped the year’s box-office and received the Academy Award for Best Picture.
       Kramer vs. Kramer was one of 1979’s most critically acclaimed films. In a survey of media critics’ “Best Film” lists for the year, a 23 Jan 1980 Var article ranked the picture at #1, for its appearance on thirty out of thirty-three lists considered.
       The film remained the front-runner throughout the award season beginning with best picture and other honors from the Los Angeles Film Critics Association and the New York Film Critics Circle. At the Golden Globes, the film garnered four awards: Best Motion Picture-Drama, Best Screenplay-Motion Picture, Best Performance by an Actress In A Supporting Role in a Motion Picture for Meryl Streep, and Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture Drama for Dustin Hoffman. Kramer vs. Kramer received five Academy Awards: Best Picture, Writing (Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium), Directing, Actor In A Leading Role for Dustin Hoffman, and Actress In A Supporting Role for Meryl Streep. The film was also nominated in four other categories: Film Editing, Cinematography, Actress In A Supporting Role for Jane Alexander, and Actor in a Supporting Role for Justin Henry, who remains to date, according to the AMPAS database, the youngest person ever to be nominated for this category.
       Amid the popularity, a 4 Feb 1980 Time magazine article examined reaction from some divorce attorneys who claimed that the custody proceedings depicted were “legally out of date.” Although women were awarded custody in the majority of cases, the number of divorced fathers raising children rose dramatically in the 1970s. In the example of Kramer vs. Kramer, the article argued that if the judge had interviewed the young boy, the father would have been recognized for his devotion to the child during the separation and likely retained custody. Additionally, the article pointed out that the film failed to account for the option of joint custody.
       On the evening of the Academy Awards ceremony, Burbank, CA, resident Jay Christian revealed that he had filed a $121 million lawsuit for plagiarism against Hoffman, Benton, and Columbia Pictures. As reported in a 17 Apr 1980 LAT article, Christian alleged that Kramer vs. Kramer included twenty-three scenes that were “substantially similar” to his 1976 screenplay A Touch of Innocence, which was submitted to Hoffman’s company, Sweetwall Productions, in 1977. The outcome of the lawsuit could not be determined.
       Although there were discussions of a sequel when the film was released, the project never materialized. Columbia Pictures executive Frank Price revealed in a 19 Dec 1979 Var article that a continuation of the story was in development, with Hoffman and Streep reprising their roles. He stated that Robert Benton would “supervise” the screenplay, but was not likely to direct. Hoffman expressed enthusiasm about a sequel, but would not commit after reading the first draft.
       A 30 Jan 1980 Var article announced that the American Broadcast Company (ABC) paid $60 million for the television rights to a group of Columbia Pictures, which included Kramer vs. Kramer, …And Justice for All (1979), Chapter Two, (1979) and Midnight Express (1978, see entries). At the time, the deal was considered one of the most expensive network sales of its kind, and Kramer vs. Kramer represented nearly $20 million of the deal. On 7 Nov 1982, the film made its television debut on ABC, according the 6 Nov 1982 LAT.
       Kramer vs Kramer appears at #3 in AFI’s list of Top 10 Courtroom Dramas.
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GEOGRAPHIC LOCATIONS
BIBLIOGRAPHIC SOURCES
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Daily Variety
1 Jun 1978.
---
Daily Variety
27 Dec 1979.
---
Daily Variety
7 Jan 1980
p. 1, 8.
Daily Variety
27 Mar 1980.
---
Daily Variety
30 May 1980
p. 1, 29.
Hollywood Reporter
29 Nov 1979
p. 3, 7.
Hollywood Reporter
31 Dec 1979.
---
LAHExam
11 Dec 1979
Section B, p. 1, 4.
Los Angeles Times
11 Sep 1977
Section Q, p. 2.
Los Angeles Times
12 Nov 1978
Section O, pp. 33-34.
Los Angeles Times
5 Dec 1979.
---
Los Angeles Times
16 Dec 1979
Section O, p. 1, 52.
Los Angeles Times
17 Apr 1980
Section J, p. 2.
Los Angeles Times
6 Nov 1982
Section I, p. 10.
Marquee
Nov-Dec 1979
pp. 14-15, 18.
New York Times
12 May 1969
p. 53.
New York Times
19 Dec 1979
p. 23.
New York Times
28 Dec 1979
Section C, p. 8.
New York Times
23 Jan 1980
Section C, p. 17.
New York Times
7 Feb 1980
Section C, p. 17.
Time
3 Dec 1979
pp. 74-81.
Time
4 Feb 1980
p. 77.
Variety
4 Oct 1978.
---
Variety
28 Nov 1979
p. 16.
Variety
19 Dec 1979
p. 4, 40.
Variety
23 Jan 1980.
---
Variety
30 Jan 1980
p. 41, 64.
Variety
20 Feb 1995
p. 18.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXTS
Columbia Pictures Presents
A Stanley Jaffe Production
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Prod mgr
1st asst dir
2d asst dir
DGA trainee
PRODUCERS
Assoc prod
WRITER
Wrt for the screen by
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Assoc dir of photog
1st asst cam
2d asst cam
Gaffer
Best boy
Key grip
Dolly grip
Still photog
ART DIRECTOR
Prod des
FILM EDITORS
Asst ed
Apprentice ed
SET DECORATORS
Set dec
Prop master
Const coord
Scenic artist
Scenic artist
COSTUMES
Cost des
Costumer
Costumer
MUSIC
Mus ed
SOUND
Supv sd ed
Sd ed
Dubbing ed
Sd mixer
Boom
Re-rec supv
Re-rec supv, Trans Audio, Inc.
VISUAL EFFECTS
Titles des by
MAKEUP
Makeup artist
Hairstylist
PRODUCTION MISC
Casting
Scr supv
Asst to the prod
Unit pub
Auditor
Teamster capt
Loc coord
Loc coord
Extra casting
Prod asst
Stage facilities and prod equip by
COLOR PERSONNEL
Col by
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the novel Kramer Versus Kramer by Avery Corman (New York, 1977).
AUTHOR
MUSIC
"Sonata For Trumpet And Strings 2. Adagio 3. Presto," music by Henry Purcell, adapted by John Kander, conducted by Paul Gemignani
"The Gordian Knot Untied 3. Rondo Minuet," music by Henry Purcell, adapted by John Kander, conducted by Paul Gemignani
"Concerto In C Major For Mandolin And Strings 1. Allegro," music by Antonio Vivaldi, adapted and conducted by Herb Harris.
DETAILS
Release Date:
19 December 1979
Premiere Information:
Los Angeles premiere: 5 December 1979 at Westwood Avco Cinema Center
New York premiere: 17 December 1979 at Loews Astor Plaza
Los Angeles and New York openings: 19 December 1979
Production Date:
6 September--mid December 1978
Copyright Claimant:
Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc.
Copyright Date:
27 December 1979
Copyright Number:
PA53409
Physical Properties:
Sound
Color
Lenses/Prints
Lenses and Panaflex camera by Panavision®
Duration(in mins):
105
MPAA Rating:
PG
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
25723
SYNOPSIS

On the day Ted Kramer, an up-and-coming advertising executive in New York City, arrives home with the good news that he has been entrusted with an important account at work, his wife of eight years, Joanna, announces she is leaving him. Ted asks if she is joking, but Joanna becomes unhinged as he tries to discuss the matter. In tears, she walks out of the apartment and says she is not taking Billy, their seven-year-old son, declaring she is an unfit mother and the boy is better off without her. Before the elevator door closes, she tells her husband she no longer loves him. Waiting for Joanna to return that evening, Ted suspects his wife escaped to the apartment of their divorced neighbor, Margaret Phelps, who has been a confidante to Joanna, but Margaret has no knowledge of Joanna’s whereabouts and denies influencing her decision to leave. The next morning when Billy asks about his mother, Ted explains that she went away to be alone for a while. While frantically making French toast for Billy, Ted burns his hand on the skillet and curses his wife. When he drops his son at elementary school, Ted asks Billy what grade he attends and leaves him with a woman at the entrance, before rushing to work. At the agency, Ted confides about the situation to Jim O’Connor, his boss and friend. Jim is understanding, but trusts that Ted’s family problems will not interfere with his new responsibility as the lead person on the Mid-Atlantic Airlines account. At home, Ted struggles to find privacy to work and loses his temper when Billy ... +


On the day Ted Kramer, an up-and-coming advertising executive in New York City, arrives home with the good news that he has been entrusted with an important account at work, his wife of eight years, Joanna, announces she is leaving him. Ted asks if she is joking, but Joanna becomes unhinged as he tries to discuss the matter. In tears, she walks out of the apartment and says she is not taking Billy, their seven-year-old son, declaring she is an unfit mother and the boy is better off without her. Before the elevator door closes, she tells her husband she no longer loves him. Waiting for Joanna to return that evening, Ted suspects his wife escaped to the apartment of their divorced neighbor, Margaret Phelps, who has been a confidante to Joanna, but Margaret has no knowledge of Joanna’s whereabouts and denies influencing her decision to leave. The next morning when Billy asks about his mother, Ted explains that she went away to be alone for a while. While frantically making French toast for Billy, Ted burns his hand on the skillet and curses his wife. When he drops his son at elementary school, Ted asks Billy what grade he attends and leaves him with a woman at the entrance, before rushing to work. At the agency, Ted confides about the situation to Jim O’Connor, his boss and friend. Jim is understanding, but trusts that Ted’s family problems will not interfere with his new responsibility as the lead person on the Mid-Atlantic Airlines account. At home, Ted struggles to find privacy to work and loses his temper when Billy spills juice on some of his workpapers. While running errands, Ted relies on Billy to tell him what products Joanna bought at the grocery store. After a week, Billy receives a letter from his mother, in which she tells her son she loves him, but needs to discover another role for herself apart from being a parent. As Ted reads the letter aloud, Billy does not want to hear the rest and turns up the volume on the television set. Ted removes photographs of Joanna in the apartment and boxes up her things, but when he finds a framed picture of her that Billy has hidden in a drawer, he places the photograph on his son’s nightstand. In time, Ted and Billy settle into their new routine without Joanna, but Ted’s work suffers. When Ted misses an important deadline, Jim reveals he is very concerned about the campaign, and has noticed that Ted’s performance has declined in the eight months since Joanna left. That evening at home, Billy complains about his dinner and defies his father by eating ice cream instead. Ted takes Billy screaming to his bedroom, and the boy cries for his mother. Distraught, Ted enters Billy’s bedroom later that night and reconciles with his son. Billy worries that his mother’s departure is his fault, but Ted assures him that Joanna left because she was not happy in the marriage. While Ted struggles to meet his work obligations, he finds time to attend Billy’s Halloween pageant and teaches him to ride a bicycle. When Billy falls from a jungle gym on the playground and receives a cut near his eye, Ted runs to the emergency room carrying his son and convinces the doctor to let him stay with Billy as the boy endures ten stitches. Meanwhile, Ted and Margaret have become good friends as they confide in each other about raising children alone. After fifteen months, Ted receives a call from Joanna and meets her at a restaurant. Although nervous, their conversation is friendly, as Ted admits he feels guilty about Billy’s playground accident and Joanna reassures him. Joanna tries to explain why she left and reveals she is happier after working in California and seeing a therapist. When she states that she now wants to raise her son, Ted becomes furious and leaves. He consults with divorce attorney John Shaunessy, who informs him that the court usually awards custody to the mother when the child is so young. Later, at work, Jim O’Connor notifies Ted that he is being dismissed from the agency because the Mid-Atlantic Airlines executives are not pleased with the campaign. Ted appeals to Jim as a friend, reminding him that he will have no chance at custody if unemployed. Unable to postpone the court hearing, Ted tells Shaunessy that he is determined to find a job in twenty-four hours despite the fact most firms are not hiring with Christmas only a few days away. After convincing two agency executives to consider his application immediately, he accepts a lower-salaried position for which he is overqualified. Reluctantly, Ted allows Billy to see his mother before the custody hearing begins. During her testimony in court, Joanna recounts that she lost her self-esteem as a stay-at-home mother, but has worked hard to “become a whole person again” and believes her son needs her more than his father. In cross-examination, Joanna reveals that Ted never abused her or was unfaithful. Ted finds Shaunessy’s questioning too brutal as Joanna cries and is forced to admit that she was part of the marriage’s failure. When Margaret testifies on behalf of Ted, she concedes that she and Joanna once discussed Ted’s focus on his career and his insensitivity toward his son’s needs. Looking directly at Joanna, Margaret implores her former friend to recognize that Ted has become a great father. On the witness stand, Ted admits to making mistakes in the marriage, but believes he has proven that a man can be as good a parent as a woman. Ted declares that taking Billy away from his home could cause “irreparable” harm. Gressen, Joanna’s attorney, points out that Ted was dismissed from his previous position and now earns less than his wife. When Gressen mentions that Ted felt responsible for Billy’s playground accident, Ted is disappointed that Joanna shared the comment with the attorney. Outside the courtroom, Joanna apologizes for Gressen’s aggressive tactics, but Ted refuses to speak to her. Later, Shaunessy reports that the judge ruled in favor of Joanna, and Ted chooses not to appeal to avoid Billy having to testify. Billy becomes upset as Ted explains that they will still see each other, even though Billy will be living with his mother. On the morning Joanna is scheduled to pick up Billy, father and son quietly make French toast together. Joanna rings the intercom and asks to see Ted in the lobby alone. Tearful, she reveals that she is relinquishing custody after realizing that she does not want to take Billy away from his home. Ted reassures her as she takes the elevator up to inform her son. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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