Book Review: In the Company of Legends by Joan Kramer and David Heeley

For 25 years, the award-winning filmmaking team of Joan Kramer and David Heeley lived a classic-film fan’s dream many times over, as they met, produced documentaries about, and in some cases became friends with stars of the silver screen. In this mutual memoir, they reveal the wonderful stories about what it took to tell the wonderful stories about their famous subjects.

Joan and David began working together in 1978 on Skyline, a local arts program produced by New York PBS affiliate, WNET. As the series was coming to an end after three seasons, they attempted to move on with a project about Fred Astaire, at a time, as David states, when “the biography/profile format was almost non-existent, with the exception of an occasional segment in news magazines such as 60 Minutes.”

It’s a surprise they completed it because the first sentence in the chapter about its making is “Mr. Astaire is furious,” and although he is a public figure, his contract with RKO gave him “approval of the use of excerpts from his films.” Yet they persevered, earning Astaire’s trust and appreciation in their documentary that honored the man and his work.

It wasn’t just Astaire who they impressed. The program, and every subsequent one, earned them enough good will that future projects were easier to make. However, that didn’t mean they were easy to make. Each had unique situations that required their producing skills, and a bit of luck, in order to complete them. Joan and David do a great job bringing the reader into the fold with their recollections about what went on behind the scenes.

And just because a project was finished it didn’t mean the work ended. For example, The Spencer Tracy Legacy: A Tribute by Katharine Hepburn required the involvement of a few lawyers when Miss Hepburn told Joan she had promised the American Academy of Dramatic Arts could show the film at a benefit before PBS aired it.

Other legends Joan and David found themselves in the company of as they continued to make documentaries about movie stars include Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward, Jimmy Stewart and program narrator Johnny Carson, Lauren Bacall on Humphrey Bogart, and Jane Fonda on a show about her father, Henry. Many more famous folks appeared as interview subjects, such as Frank Sinatra, Elizabeth Taylor, Liza Minnelli, and President and Nancy Reagan.

Joan and David’s last documentary was The Adventures of Errol Flynn in 2005 for TCM. Although it’s unfortunate for viewers they “felt that the time had come to stop” after that, classic-film fans are very fortunate they took the time to create this book and allow readers the opportunity to vicariously be In the Company of Legends.

Posted in ,

Gordon S. Miller

Publisher/Editor-in-Chief of this site. "I'm making this up as I go" - Indiana Jones

Leave a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Search & Filter