Cincinnati's Douglas Cramer Left His Fingerprints All Over Television
Cincinnati’s Douglas S. Cramer's fingerprints are all over TV, from Dynasty, Charlie's Angels, The Love Boat and The Brady Bunch to NBC’s Danielle Steele movies, Procter & Gamble's As The World Turns soap opera and Wonder Woman and Batman.
Douglas Schoolfield Cramer, who died June 4 at 89, got his start in Cincinnati, his adopted hometown. He lived his first eight years in Louisville until moving to Cincinnati, where his experiences prepared him for a TV executive career at ABC, Paramount, 20th Century Fox, Columbia Pictures and Aaron Spelling Productions before forming his own company in 1989.
He died of kidney failure at his Martha's Vineyard home according to his husband, Hubert Bush.
Cramer's TV credits also include The Odd Couple; Love, American Style; Peyton Place; Fantasy Island; Hotel; Hart to Hart; T.J. Hooker; Vega$; Life With Lucy (Lucille Ball’s final series); The Time Tunnel; Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea; NBC’s historic Julia starring Diahann Carroll; Nightingales; Glitter; and the short-lived Aloha Paradise with Debbie Reynolds and B.A.D. Cats starring Michelle Pfeiffer.
He was a TV icon with deep Cincinnati roots who deserved more than a two-paragraph news brief in today’s Enquirer.
The son of Polly Compton Cramer – whose "Polly's Pointers" Cincinnati Post column was nationally syndicated – originally wanted to be the great American playwright. He wrote, directed and performed in Walnuts of ’49, a revue staged with his 1949 Walnut Hills High School graduating class.
After enrolling at UC, he wrote book reviews for The Enquirer and helped write, direct and produce UC On TV, a weekly original musical on WLWT-TV. He also worked for WKRC-TV (as a go-fer for Rod Serling) and WCPO-TV (operating cameras for Paul Dixon, Dotty Mack and Bob Braun). He once told me that he ushered at the old Cox Theater downtown, where some of the stars he watched on stage later appeared on his all-time favorite TV show, The Love Boat.
Cramer earned a master’s degree at Columbia University and worked briefly on Broadway before returning to Cincinnati in the mid 1950s. He was P&G’s supervisor of daytime TV (1956-59) and brought summer Broadway musicals to a 1,200-seat tent in Cincinnati.
By 1962, he was back in New York working for ABC, where he oversaw development of the Peyton Place primetime soap starring Mia Farrow and Ryan O’Neal, according to the Hollywood Reporter's excellent retrospective on his career.
Cramer moved to Los Angeles after the launch of Batman to be development vice president for 20th Century Fox, where he worked on ABC’s The Time Tunnel and Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea and NBC’s Julia. Next he worked for Paramount Television, where he developed The Brady Bunch, The Odd Couple and Love, American Style. Then he hooked up with Aaron Spelling to crank out TV hits for ABC in the 1980s.
Cramer returned to Cincinnati in 1988 for the city’s bicentennial. I met him for breakfast at The Cincinnatian while he was here for the opening of the Contemporary Arts Center’s Jim Dine exhibit, which he co-sponsored. We talked at length about his Cincinnati beginnings.
By that time, he had used his TV earnings to amass an amazing contemporary art collection and four homes. He owned a place in the Caribbean, a Manhattan apartment and two in California - his Bel Air estate and a 400-acre ranch near Santa Barbara that housed his art collection and had a vineyard that produced 5,000 cases of wine annually.
We spoke again in 1990, when his Cramer Company was about to premiere its first Danielle Steele movies on NBC against the Reds’ playoffs and World Series games. Cramer, who co-founded the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art, joked about what photo I should use with my Enquirer story.
"I told my publicist that we should rush off my (Robert) Mapplethorpe photograph of me to you for this story," Cramer told me, "but they didn't think that would be well received in Cincinnati."
At our 1988 breakfast, Cramer explained his long TV career this way:
"I was trying to be the great American playwright. Then I really decided that I was not the great American playwright, and I didn't want to be anything less than great, so I decided that the best way to make money was in television."
A great amount of money.