I first came to know Kat Kramer when she sent me a friend request after reading my praise of Lily Tomlin’s work in Grandma on Sondra Currie’s Facebook page about two months or so ago. Kat Kramer, also known as Katharine Kramer, is Hollywood royalty. The daughter of the late filmmaker Stanley Kramer and the goddaughter of her namesake Katharine Hepburn, she has kept both their spirits alive as the creator of the Films That Change The World series. She’s also a versatile singer who has recorded an album of covers of Mick Jagger’s solo work, and an accomplished actress, having done many classic stage roles, as well as making appearances in movies by filmmakers like Henry Jaglom and Paul Weitz.
I talked to her about her life and career early in January of 2016, and I hope you all enjoy getting to know her as well.
It’s the first Flashback Interview of 2016. Say hello to Kat Kramer.
Johnny: I always start my interviews off with these two questions. First, what were your pop-cultural likes growing up, like favorite movies and music?
Kat: Well, it’s funny. I have so many. Grease…I have it listed on IMDB that it’s my favorite film of all time. It’s one of my favorite films, but I just love that movie so much that when they ask me to pick one, I always say that. We gave the director Randal Kleiser the first Stanley Kramer Lifetime Achievement Award in Palm Springs for the first Stanley Kramer International Film Festival. Music obviously spans the gamut because I’m a singer, but the Rolling Stones are my number one favorite rock-and-roll band, and my one-woman show is called My Duet With Mick. It’s like a love letter to Mick Jagger, but it’s also a personal journey. I took Mick’s solo material and a few rare Stones songs that were primarily Mick Jagger compositions. I know that not many people know Jagger’s solo material. Both Jagger and Richards multiple solo albums were never as prominent as The Rolling Stones, but there is solid material on both. Jagger, being a vocalist, writes songs with a beginning, middle and end. I took Mick Jagger’s solo material and I re-imagined it on my album Gemstone: Kat Kramer Sings Mick Jagger. I took the lyrics and I was able to re-imagine a couple of them from a woman’s point of view, and no one’s ever done that. This is a first. I like a lot of material that’s older than I am, a lot of music that came before my time. You know, Barbra Streisand, Judy Garland, David Bowie, the classics. I have been influenced by Bowie as a chameleon,too. Sad he passed away too soon.
Johnny: What were your high school days like?
Kat: Well, kind of unique, as I’ve been a performer my whole life. Most of the time I wasn’t even attending classes, so I had a tutor because I was working professionally as a singer and an actress in Seattle and New York before I moved back to L.A. I’m not really sure I had the normal high school days, but what were they like? I was pretty studious. I hit the books a lot and took school very seriously, but I was always performing, so I was balancing both.
Johnny: Among your stage roles have been Helen Keller in The Miracle Worker and Anne Frank in The Diary Of Anne Frank. Did the movie versions of those plays influence your own performances?
Kat: That’s a great question, because I never actually saw the movie, if you can believe it, The Miracle Worker, even though the Patty Duke and Anne Bancroft version is the original version based on the play. I was preparing for the role of a lifetime as Helen Keller. I didn’t want anything to ever influence me. I really tried not to watch any versions of The Miracle Worker until after I had performed it. As for The Diary Of Anne Frank, I did see the film with Millie Perkins, and it influenced me NOT to follow in her footsteps and to create my own Anne Frank, and to be a lot more true to how I would be the character. That’s a great example because one I had seen and the other I hadn’t seen.
Johnny: While you’ve performed in well-known plays, what has been your most avant-garde stage role, and what drew you to that?
Kat: That would be Estella in Great Expectations. It was very avant-garde. It was a re-adaptation of the original, and I played Estella all the way through her life from the age of 10 to 35. I spanned all ages. I played the role when I was very much younger than I should’ve been to do it. They originally wanted to cast me in the younger part and have an older actress play her as the older part, but I ended up doing it all the way through. Guess I’m versatile. That was a very avant-garde adaptation because it was in a Nicholas Nickleby style where the actors narrate. I’ve done many avant-garde productions, but that would be the top one. My one-woman show is very avant-garde, almost like performance art. A solo parody journey with music.
Johnny: You were Miss Golden Globe for the 1990 Golden Globes ceremony. What’s your favorite memory of participating in that show?
Kat: My favorite memory was when Oliver Stone won the Golden Globe and I was right there on camera with him, standing there during his acceptance speech. The whole evening was a memory for me. I would single that out because it was a special moment, but I think the whole evening was a special moment for me. I go to the Golden Globes every year as it is a tradition. I’m a former Miss Golden Globe, my mother was a former winner, and what a lot of people don’t know is that my father, Stanley Kramer, actually helped start the Hollywood Foreign Press Association. He was involved in the original formation, even though he was a filmmaker and not an awards strategist. He and his associates at the time had the idea to create the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, so the critics overseas would have their own awards show. There is no other show on the planet like it, and it’s exciting to recognize film, television, music with that mega watt Star Power. Besides having been Miss Golden Globe, it’s family tradition to be part of it, and I’ve actually been asked in the past to coach whoever Miss Golden Globe was, and sometimes there’s a Mister Golden Globe. They would ask me to give them tips on how to do it, and I don’t know if any other Miss Golden Globe has had that kind of commitment to be involved. It’s almost as if I represent Miss Golden Globe, because I’m so loyal and it has a family history.
Johnny: It’s quite an honor. Speaking of family, was the Stanley Kramer Award that’s given by the Producer’s Guild Of America every year your idea?
Kat: Well, it was actually my mother’s, and she included me in the decision to create an award in my father’s name. He was a producer/director, but he started as a producer. In the beginning of his career, he was only a producer, because in those days, it was the producer’s medium, and then it became more the director’s medium. He started to direct. He wanted to establish an award at a guild. We thought that the Producer’s Guild would benefit the most from having that, because he started as a producer, really as the first independent at a time when the independents had dried up in Hollywood and then he reestablished the independents as being prominent for his generation. The Producer’s Guild award is really more my mother’s, but she includes me in that, and I’ve been instrumental in a lot of the decision-making. Not always, but a lot of the times, I’ve bought to her attention films that I thought were the ones that should be recognized, and I fought for films that I think should be getting it, too. This year was especially competitive, more than any I can think of in recent memory. There were so many social justice films. The 2016 Stanley Kramer Award at The Producer’s Guild Of America will honor The Hunting Ground. a documentary produced by Amy Ziering and directed by Kirby Dick. It’s about the tragic rape of women and men on college campuses. The theme song “Til It Happens To You” is nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original song, co-written by Diane Warren and Lady Gaga, who performs it.
Johnny: I see. In 2005, you were one of the many actresses to play shoppers in Henry Jaglom’s comedy-drama Going Shopping. What drew you to that movie?
Kat: Well, I love Henry’s work. He is unlike any other filmmaker today. He asked me to be a part of Going Shopping, and also wanted my sister involved. We played sisters in it, but we didn’t really play ourselves. We played characters. I loved the whole concept of what it had to say, and what he says about women, and the improvisational aspects of working with him as a filmmaker. I’ve actually done another film that he produced. It hasn’t even been released yet. It’s still waiting in the vault.
Johnny: As Going Shopping was made pre-recession, do you think a movie like that could be done today?
Kat: I don’t know. That’s a good question. It’s all about how women use shopping to fulfill themselves, or their relationship to the idea of shopping and why it’s such a big passion among women. So much shopping is done today on the Internet, and the idea of actually going shopping in the store still happens, but I think that movie came at a time when that was still the norm, and shopping online kind of takes away from the tradition of shopping.
Johnny: One of your current projects is the online comedy series Child Of The 70s, which you both act in and produce. How did you get involved in that project?
Kat: That’s a great question. I knew about that show from actors who were part of it, and the creator and star, Michael Vaccaro, had invited me to come to the Season 2 premiere. I wasn’t able to make it because I was working on something else. I loved the whole concept, and at that time, the producers of Teach Your Children Well, the documentary I did with Lily Tomlin, Steven Roche and Paul Belsito (the documentary I presented with Lily Tomlin, which Lily narrates), they also got on board as producers, and so they recommended that they create a whole new character for me in Season 3. I was already talking to Michael Vaccaro about being part of it. It all came together, and they created a diva role, and I play more than one character in Season 3. Frances Rye, the main character I play is a Soap Opera Star, and she plays other characters. I have to reveal that I’m supposed to keep a lot of Season 4 under wraps, but this is the first interview that I’m doing about Season 4. I don’t have the actual release dates, but it will be coming out in the next few months. The post-production is between now and the Spring. I play more than one character, and it’s a real plot twist for the show, and hopefully these characters that I play in there, at least one or two of them will be characters that I would love to add as part of my repertoire, even in other things I do. I’m hoping that they’ll be signature enough, kind of like Lily Tomlin and the characters she created on her television specials, especially Tommy Velour, Purvis Hawkins and Judith Beasley. I adore all of her signature characters, especially her male drag characters. In my solo show, My Duet With Mick, I also play characters. They were kind of whispered to me, like I’m channeling them in a sense. I think Child Of The 70s, Season 4, is going to put the show even more on the map because it’s also going to be released internationally. It’s been on the web, but it’s also going to be on Out TV and televised in different countries. It’s going to be even more international in that sense, and I think there will definitely be a Season 5. It’s a campy, LGBTQ based show. Lucky for me, Belsito and Roche have created a new role for me in the up-coming webseries Black Sands. I will originate the role of Misty Rivers, a famous Country-Western Singer who plays Palm Springs.
Johnny: Here’s to it. You’re the creator of the Films That Change The World Cinema Seriies. What inspired you to create that?
Kat: My father Stanley Kramer made social justice films the crux of his career, 35 socially conscious films. We have the Stanley Kramer screening room at Sunset Gower Studios, which is in his honor as well. It’s a screening room, but when it first opened, we used it to screen friends’ films. I do awards campaigns on my own for different peoples’ films and performances, and I had something for Glynn Turman, the actor who won any Emmy for his performance on In Treatment. I screened his performance, and I got the idea. It sounds almost metaphysical, but it’s like my father was watching over me and whispering in my ear “Why don’t you create your own series?”. It wasn’t really something that formal. I just kind of got this idea to screen a film about social issues and invite a few people. Yentl is one of my very favorite films. I mean, Barbra Streisand is a pretty big role model for me, and has been throughout my life, especially since she’s so multi-faceted. Acting, singing, producing, directing, being an activist…There’s really nothing Barbra hasn’t tried to do and accomplish. I think she was the first woman in history to take on that many jobs in one film. She also wrote the screenplay. She just took a pseudonym to do it. She produced it, directed it. She was just filling every job, and taking it on all at once in her masterpiece film that was something that meant something to her personally. My father and I used to watch Yentl, and it’s not only a father-daughter story, but it also deals with women’s issues, and it’s such a feminist film. It was coming out on DVD for the first time, tied in to the film’s 25th anniversary, and so I was able to get permission from Fox Home Video and Barbra’s camp. They loved the idea. I basically had the DVD release premiere for my series. It became so much more than just a screening. It was Women’s History Month when I did it. I decided to take a women’s social issue of the time and spotlight the organizations behind it. What I decided to do was take the Enough Project and Raise Hope For Congo, about how women are abused in the Congo because they’re women. In the case of Yentl, she was not allowed to study, so she had to disguise herself as a man just to be able to do that, and to show that we’ve come so far that that’s not an issue anymore, but in certain countries, women are raped and abused just for being women, and it shows that we haven’t come THAT far. I had speakers that flew in from the Congo. I had a celebrity host committee. I decided to focus on Marilyn Bergman, since the Bergmans wrote the score for Yentl, and won the Academy Award for it. It was nominated for several awards and they won. Marilyn represented the soul of Yentl through the music. I had her as the keynote speaker. It was basically women only. I mean, there were men there, but I was trying to be reverent to Women’s History Month and honor women activists. We only had space for 90 invited guests. I got so much international press coverage and so much demand that I realized I started something that was not just going to be a one-off. It was going to be a series. It’s not really a film festival, because the films that screen are usually just one. I sometimes do two or three a year. It all depends on which films at the moment go with the issue. I mean, I try and focus on a different issue each time and not repeat the same issue. I have many of the same genres that I present…For instance, women’s equality, animal rights issues, LGBT issues, nuclear issues, environmental issues…Those are some of the subjects I highlight. I do feel that my father is orchestrating it, or guiding me, I guess, more. I’m very hands-on with it. I have an advisory board and all that, but I’m really hands-on with each presentation, producing them, presenting them, hosting them, and moderating the power panels.
Johnny: You kind of alluded to this, but in your opinion, what kind of films do you feel can change the world, non-fiction or fiction?
Kat: I think both. In the case of the Stanley Kramer Award, this year, as I mentioned, was so competitive. With my series, I primarily screen documentaries, non-fiction, because I think they have tackled the issues more realistically sometimes than fiction. Sometimes a fictional film on the same subject is just as powerful. Most of my father’s films were fiction. He didn’t do a lot of bio-pics or true stories, but they were based in reality, or they were from books, or they were based on things that were happening. I think that, just like in my screening series, whatever film is the most powerful gets the message across. I do think the reason we love documentaries so much is because they don’t sugarcoat things as much sometimes as fiction films. Sometimes they’ll take a social issue, but they’re afraid to go too far into it, whereas with non-fiction, that’s not a problem. I think they’re both powerful tools to get the message across.
Johnny: As you mentioned that Yentl was the first movie that was screened in this program, would you ever consider a screening of the movie They Live, the John Carpenter movie from 1988? On the surface, it’s an action movie, but it was also a rather scathing satire of the Reagan era.
Kat: I might. I’d have to see it again, and figure out how that would work with the program. I mean, I get approached daily with submissions and requests, and I do have plans for anniversaries of films or looking back. For instance, I plan to present a special screening of The China Syndrome to coincide with the 35th Anniversary of Three Mile Island. Like you mentioned, Yentl was my first one and it was an older film, but primarily, I screen new films that have just been released, have yet to be released, or are looking for distribution. In the case of my most recent screening, Grandma, I’m planning another special, hopefully with Lily Tomlin. Lily is the ambassador to the series. She’s been involved with it more than anybody else, and she’s also narrated one of the documentaries. She’s been in one documentary that’s in one of my upcoming presentations called FEMINISTS: What Were They Thinking?. Obviously she’s the star of Grandma, and that’s a vehicle that was developed just for her. Lily has always been the socially conscious comedian and performer, much like my father was the socially conscious filmmaker. They both have their own way of getting the issues out there through their work, and that’s why Lily is so much of an idol to me as well as inspiration to my craft and work ethic. Besides her activism, she has influenced so much of my life over the course of the past several years.
Johnny: Definitely. I’m a fan of hers’, too. I saw the tribute you did to her, the song…
Kat: Thank you. It’s called “Dear Lily Tomlin”. I’m very proud of it. There’s another one I did that I haven’t done for her yet, called “You Gotta Be You”, that will hopefully be happening very soon, and I did perform it for PAWS (Performing Animal Welfare Society) 30th Anniversary Gala, but I’ve revamped it. I love it just as much as the original “Dear Lily Tomlin”.
Johnny: You mentioned watching her on Sesame Street as a kid. That was actually my first exposure to her, too.
Kat: Right, and you know she signed on Sesame Street. She used American Sign Language, just like she did in her first and only Academy Award nomination so far for Nashville. I just had a screening of Grandma for the deaf community with Sony Pictures Classics. One of the things I’m incorporating into my screenings is accessibility and inclusive screenings for the deaf community at large, which has largely been shut out. My partner is Jo-Ann Dean, Founder of “Caption This” and Signmation. We have formed a joint venture called “Creative Accessible Cinema & Content.” Open caption screenings are supposed to be the norm in theaters, but also for the industry. There’s a lot of deaf members in the entertainment industry, not just Marlee Matlin. There’s so many deaf actors and directors and writers that are actually making films. Some are co-productions with a deaf and hearing cast and crew. Deaf West Theater, right now, has a revival of Spring Awakening, which is the biggest thing to hit New York. I saw it out here, but that’s all the rage. That’s why I chose Grandma as the first open-caption film to present, and I also moderated the ASL-interpreted panel. There’s nobody deaf in the film, but Lily has a history of signing, so deaf and hearing audiences relate to her on that. 40 years later, since Nashville was 40 years ago, and she was nominated for Best Supporting Actress. Grandma is a simple gem of a film, made on a shoestring budget in just 19 days. It’s really a “little engine that could.” I also created the Grandma Gang. I don’t know if you saw the posting from yesterday, but the Grandma Gang is a grassroots group that I started across the country, not just industry, but for any fans of Lily and fans of the film Grandma. Many of them are grandmothers that support the issues in the film and just love the movie and the performances. They all went to see it when it opened in each city, and they’re still supporting the film and showing up for screenings and getting behind it. I had a Grandma Gang sign. They even carry Grandma Gang signs. There is a photo of Lily with my mom and I holding up the signs backstage when she appeared for “Talking Pictures” at the Palm Springs International Film Festival.
Johnny: I definitely think it’s a good movie, and I definitely wish that Lily Tomlin had gotten a Best Actress nod for it.
Kat: That’s what I’ve been working on. I do my own campaigns, separate from my film series, separate from my series. When I had The Cove, the second film in Kat Kramer’s Films That Change The World series, it was already nominated, but the Academy, as you know, is a different animal. The nature of it is different than the other guild, and even though it was nominated for Best Documentary Feature, there were so many people that were afraid to see it because of the dolphin slaughter. There’s just a few minutes of dolphin slaughter, which is so hard to watch, but that’s the purpose of the film. If you don’t watch the whole film and see the cruelty that’s going on, then the whole issue of the film doesn’t make any sense. I had this big premiere for it that was also the West Coast DVD release. I’ve had three DVD release premieres tied in with my series, and I did invite Academy members and voting members, but mainly I had activists there. It was a call to action. That’s the idea, that my screenings do move people to action. I had people from Japan crying because they had no idea that was going on right in their own backyard. They didn’t know that was happening in their own country, that the dolphins were being slaughtered. It stopped for a while after the film won the Oscar, but they’re back doing it again. The whole purpose of my series is to get the issues out there. The Hunting Ground is such an important film that the decision we made was to honor the film and recognize the rape epidemic that’s happening on college campuses. Grandma will always be my favorite, but The Hunting Ground is a documentary, whereas Grandma was fiction. Grandma is my favorite movie of the year, and Lily is my favorite performer of the year. I was there from the beginning, because I’d already worked with Paul Weitz, the director of Grandma. Not only was his grandfather my father’s agent, but I worked with him on Little Fockers and I’ve always been a big admirer of his work. When Lily worked with him on Admission, playing Tina Fey’s mother back in 2012, I told him how happy I was and thrilled. I sent him the musical salute. He knew how much she means to me. I had invited him to a lot of the events Lily and I did for my cinema series, and he wasn’t able to go because he was on location. The background of it is Lily used to drive me around when we were working together and planning things, as we are friends. It reminds me so much of the trips in the car with the granddaughter in Grandma, and I feel on kind of a spiritual level that she was preparing to play Elle when she was working with me. I even spoke with her on the phone when she was filming Grandma, and I attended her one-woman show at CSUN Northridge. She had wrapped on Grandma the night before. I felt part of the film in spirit even before I saw it. For me, it’s been a labor of love all year just beginning with that one movie. It is extremely relevant today, and it’s the most contemporary character study in years that explores the issues of teen abortion, women’s reproductive rights, ageism, feminism, and features diverse characters including star turns by Laverne Cox, the late Elizabeth Pena and the dynamic Sam Elliott. As the Proud Leader of the Grandma Gang, I’m sorry it was snubbed by the Academy this year. Lily Tomlin is LONG overdue for a Best Actress nomination…… and WIN!
Johnny: To go back to you, as this year marks the 30th anniversary of Ruthless People, for which Mick Jagger provided the theme, would you consider covering that?
Kat: Yes, I would. Thank you for mentioning that, because I do primarily Mick Jagger love songs. He’s written so many subjects as a solo artist about love and more pensive ballads. People don’t think of the Stones doing that, but Mick has done a lot of country-type love songs on his own, and he collaborated with other songwriters such as Dave A. Stewart and Dwight Yoakam, and I’ve covered a couple. I would definitely consider covering that. I’m still recording the album and developing the show to launch later this year.
Johnny: I definitely think you could rock that one.
Kat: Thank you for bringing that up.
Johnny: No problem. As you’re busy promoting films and doing your own entertainment work, what’s your idea of the perfect day off?
Kat: That’s a good question. I guess reading. I love to read books, and just read them in the traditional way and not online. That would be my idea of a day off.
Johnny: Now I come to my final question, which is the one I end every interview with, and it’s this: If you could go back to your youth with the knowledge that you have now, would you do anything differently?
Kat: I was so busy performing and working on my acting, singing and dancing that I didn’t really live life that much. I was just so focused on my career. I probably would’ve spent more time smelling the roses and having more fun with kids my own age. I’m around people who are so much older than me because I seek their knowledge, but I think it’s also good to be connected to your own generation, and that probably would’ve been something I would’ve embraced.
Johnny: Perhaps I should consider that as well, but at the same time, interviewing older talents, talents that I admire, talents like yourself and so many of the others that I’ve interviewed over the years, I definitely like doing that and I wouldn’t trade that for anything.
Kat: Right. Anything else?
Johnny: There was one more question I forgot to ask in regards to My Duet With Mick. Have you ever met Mick Jagger himself?
Kat: I have, but I’ve never been able to sit down with him and talk on a creative level. My dream is to get him on the CD and do a duet with him on some of his material, or to produce one of the tracks, or to give me a song that nobody’s covered. That would be my dream. The journey in my show is that objective. I’m a very big believer in music education, and I know he is, too. He even has the Mick Jagger Center in London to further music education, and I want part of the proceeds from the CD and the show to go to music education. I’ve met him, but I don’t want to know him too well yet, because when you see the show, you know that that would defeat the purpose. The show is all about what he means to me as an artist and the journey to getting to have him participate with me on the CD and perform with him or sing with him. That would be like my life-long goal. Meeting him has been very brief, but I have had the opportunity. I’ve been in the band lounge with The Rolling Stones on many occasions, and that’s probably my favorite place to be, at a Stones concert. It’s my passion.
Johnny: Definitely. I’m a fan of the Stones, too. Well, that’s about it from me. Like I said, I thank you for taking the time to do this.
Kat: Absolutely. Thank you so much.
Johnny: No problem.
Kat: Have a wonderful day.
Kat and Johnny: Bye.
For more on Kat’s work, visit her official website.
Who will I Flashback with next? Stay tuned.