Sunday, September 14, 2003

'Love Boat' creator's heart is in his art


By Marilyn Bauer
The Cincinnati Enquirer

He's probably best known as a creator of pop culture. But the man who, as a television producer, brought us the The Brady Bunch, Love Boat and Wonder Woman also is considered one of the world's most important collectors of contemporary art.

Douglas S. Cramer, born in Louisville but schooled in Cincinnati's public school system, has been interested in art since childhood. Stoked by visits to Louisville's Speed Museum of Art, Cincinnati Art Museum, New York's Frick Collection and Museum of Modern Art, he developed an eye that would ultimately result in a definitive collection of avant garde art of the 1960s and 1970s.

More recently his interests have focused on the work of the emerging generation, especially those involved in the current revival of figurative painting and drawing. Sixteen paintings from his collection are on view at the Speed Art Museum through Sept. 28.

We caught up with Cramer by phone in Martha's Vineyard, Mass., to ask him about his life and art.

You were born in Louisville and grew up in Cincinnati?

We moved when I was about 6. We lived in Hyde Park and then Pleasant Ridge. We had about 10 different houses over the next 20 years. My father was a Willy Loman and my mother a very successful editor and decorator. (Cramer's mother started a household tips column, "Polly's Pointers," for the Cincinnati Post, which was syndicated in 400 newspapers.)

And the year you were born?

When I went to work for Aaron Spelling he told me no one can get older in Hollywood. He suggested I knock my age back eight years. When I married my late wife she admitted to being a year younger than I was. After we married I saw her driver's license and realized she was a year older. In the years ahead I found out she was probably 5 to 8 years older. When we got divorced she was 10 years younger.

You're a Walnut Hills High School graduate. Where did you go from there?

I graduated in 1949. And that's the closest you'll get to my age. I went to New York to learn more about Broadway theater and got a job as the assistant to the executive producer at Radio City Music Hall.

Then the Korean War came up and I avoided the draft by enrolling at the University of Cincinnati. I had often said I would rather not go to school than go to UC.

But wasn't that was where you wrote and directed your first play?

It was I'll Take Manhattan and was done by the Mummers Guild. I was also writing Sunday book reviews for the Enquirer. They sent me books about Broadway or Hollywood - somewhere between Fitzgerald and Jackie Susann. It's ironic the last TV I did was 20 books of Danielle Steel's.

Did you go on to the New York stage after UC?

No, I went away for half a year to the Sorbonne and got a job at the Follies Bergere as a stage manager. Then a master's from Columbia in the early '50s.

While I was there, a new theater opened in Cincinnati - a real equity theater in a tent - and they brought me in to run it. I changed the program and brought in wonderful actors: Geraldine Page, Maureen Stapleton and later Eva Gabor. I filled an 800-seat house.

Then New York?

Then New York. I would regularly go to the Met and MOMA and I stated collecting posters of art shows. That's when my first play was produced off-Broadway at the Provincetown Playhouse where Eugene O'Neill's plays were first done. It was a serious drama about life in a prison camp.

Did you continue acting and directing?

I didn't want to act. I didn't think I was good looking enough to be an actor. I didn't want to direct because I didn't like working with actors. My decision was to write, but then I decided I wasn't a good enough writer and hadn't experienced enough, so I decided to produce.

Producing brought you back to Cincinnati?

What everybody told me was if I wanted to learn about TV I had to go to the people who controlled the shows - the advertisers. I went to work in Procter & Gamble's TV department on As the World Turns and The Guiding Light. That's where I met Erna Phillilps, the inventor and queen of the daytime serial. I learned everything I could of the serial technique from her.

Where was your art collection at this point?

I ended up going to New York to work for ABC-TV for Daniel Melnick - a boy genius married to one of Richard Rodgers' daughters. Through Rogers, he had become an art collector, so at lunch time he would take me to the galleries. I started buying French Impressionist prints, which in those days went for about $75. The most expensive I bought was a $350 hand-colored lithograph by George Braque.

Wasn't it around this time you had your first big TV success, "Peyton Place?"

A script was lying around ABC - about a girl growing up. I took what Erna taught me and we shot a pilot. We were lucky enough to have Mia Farrow, Ryan O'Neal and Barbara Parkins and we convinced ABC to put it on two days a week. It was in the top 10, then the top five and then went three times a week.

Your next hit, "Batman," was influenced by your art collection?

I had the notion of a comic strip running as a serial. When it was tested, people didn't know what it was. I had seen Andy (Warhol) and (Roy) Lichtenstein using words like POW in their work and so I suggested we use the same technique in the show. The audience understood they weren't supposed to take it seriously and it became a big hit.

Didn't you marry a reporter you met in Hollywood?

I was set up on a blind date with Joyce Haber. She had been with Time for years writing about art and movies. I found her interesting but there wasn't much attraction.

About a month later I invited her to an industry event and found her infinitely more fascinating. She had gone from brunette to blond and had been hired by the Los Angeles Times to write a column as a female Art Buchwald.

We started to see each other and went to Tijuana to see a bull fight. I love El Cordebez. We got there two hours early. We had time on our hands so we got married. And indeed it was a bullfight.

Did you have children?

My son Douglas II not many months later and a daughter three years later. Joyce and I were together about seven or eight years. During that time she became a major power figure. She had replaced Hedda Hopper. I had left Fox to take over the Paramount operation and put on The Odd Couple, The Brady Bunch and Mission Impossible. But I was lusting for independence and was frustrated I didn't have enough money to buy art.

What did you do?

I had lunch with Aaron Spelling. He and his partner had broken up and both asked me to join them.

In four years time we had eight hours on the air per week, which was one-third of the NBC schedule. We did Love Boat and the first Danielle Steel series and the first Jackie Collins ever done.

What did this mean to your collecting?

I began collecting with a vengeance - the Americans whose work I had seen and really related to in the '60s. I bought Frank Stella and Andy Warhol. I even talked Andy into doing a Love Boat. I got to know the dealers. I got to know the artists I collected.

When I moved back East, I sold everything and gave the majority of my collection away. I gave the Cincinnati Art Museum seven or eight pieces.

"Reverie," the show at the Speed, illustrates your latest interest in collecting?

I started looking at new artists in their 20s and 30s. I've been attracted by the new figurative school. The Speed has taken chances showing this provocative art.


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