Study Guide

Larry Kramer

Larry Kramer Biography

Biography (Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Larry Kramer grappled with his sexual identity from childhood but did not acknowledge to himself that he was gay until the spring of his freshman year at Yale University, when one of his professors seduced him. This seduction made the young Kramer aware for the first time of his true sexual nature.

The son of a Bridgeport attorney, George L. Kramer, and his wife, Rea Wishengrad Kramer, a social worker, Larry entered Yale in 1953 and was plagued by health problems including a persistent cough that soon landed him in the infirmary. Before his first semester ended, Kramer had attempted suicide, perhaps gleaning what his sexual orientation was and being terrified by the prospect. When one of his professors seduced him, a new world opened to the unhappy youth, who then was able to settle into his studies and complete his undergraduate degree at Yale.

Upon graduation, Kramer entered the United States Army for one year, after which he joined a training program with the William Morris Agency, often a step that led talented young people into pursuits in film or theater. This program helped land Kramer at Columbia Pictures in 1958. By 1960, he had become an assistant story editor in New York City for that corporation. He was promoted and transferred to London as a production executive, where he served from 1961 until 1965. In 1965, he became an assistant to the president of the United Artists Film Company.

His career as screenwriter and producer proceeded with his production of Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush in 1967 and his celebrated screenplay of D. H. Lawrence’s Women in Love, a controversial film that received considerable attention and several awards. Kramer’s screenwriting continued until the publication of his novel Faggots in 1978 brought him to the attention of the homosexual community nationally. He then devoted himself to working with the problems of gays and lesbians in contemporary American society.

This concern broadened and deepened in the years following 1981, when AIDS began to cast its long and intimidating shadow over gay enclaves across the nation. With AIDS emerging as a national threat, Kramer was outraged at public and governmental indifference to the illness, which was at that time viewed as a gay disease unworthy...

(The entire section is 944 words.)

Larry Kramer Biography (Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

After his 1957 graduation from Yale, Larry Kramer moved quickly into the world of filmmaking. For more than a decade, he wrote and produced films, winning an Academy Award nomination for his screenplay for the film version of the D. H. Lawrence novel Women in Love (1920).

Supported by money from his career, and lessons learned from years of psychological therapy, begun after a suicide attempt during his freshman year in college, Kramer determined to explore artistic ways to respond to being gay. After his 1972 play, Sissies’ Scrapbook, failed to please critics or attract audiences, Kramer published a controversial but wildly successful novel, Faggots, which characterizes gay men as obsessed with sex but longing for love. Friends expressed their anger at Kramer for what they felt was the novel’s negative portrayal of gay men. In the early 1980’s, an alarming number of gay men were becoming ill with a strange new disease. Kramer gathered eighty men together in August, 1981, to talk about what was happening. From that meeting was born Gay Men’s Health Crisis (GMHC), one of the first AIDS advocacy and service organizations.

Kramer quickly found his niche as a spokesman for gay men with AIDS. His anger was fueled by meager research funds, by what he saw as the Reagan Administration’s failure to act, and by what seemed like blindness to the seriousness of the crisis on the part of New York officials. Many gay men...

(The entire section is 427 words.)

Larry Kramer Biography (Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Larry Kramer was the first and, arguably, the most outspoken voice in the fight against acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). His plays and essays were written to educate gay men as well as government, media, and education officials about improved medical research, health care, and prevention of AIDS. The son of George L. and Rea (Wishengrad) Kramer, he was born in Connecticut but moved to Washington, D.C. in 1941. He hated his father, who abused him both physically and emotionally for being a “sissy.” Kramer felt isolated during his formative years, not only because of his Jewish heritage but also because he had begun to express his homosexuality, although with fear and guilt. The process of accepting his homosexuality began in 1953, his freshman year at Yale University, when he had an affair with one of his professors. He sought psychiatric help, which soon led him to the realization that he could not change his sexual orientation.

After graduating with a B.A. in English literature in 1957, Kramer served in the United States Army and later secured a position with Columbia Pictures as an assistant story editor. He was sent to London, where he worked on several major feature films, including Lawrence of Arabia (1962). Kramer launched his own writing career by writing the screenplay for D. H. Lawrence’s 1921 novel Women in Love, a commercial success in 1969 that was both lauded and criticized for its emphasis on the homosexual aspects of the book. Although this experience gave Kramer the motivation to deal with gay themes, he was unable to interest film producers in his scripts. In 1975 he turned to the theater, but his Sissies’ Scrapbook failed to attract an audience, and his other scripts went unproduced.

The 1970’s New York City gay community was in the midst of its sexual revolution, but Kramer deplored that lifestyle. He responded to it with his novel Faggots, a satiric exposé of the Fire Island gay scene with its one-night stands, drug use, sadomasochism, and desperation. Faggots...

(The entire section is 845 words.)