'Fine Things' producer Douglas Cramer has a taste for fine art

October 16, 1990|By Michael Hill | Michael Hill,Evening Sun Staff

If you looked closely at the walls in the background of "Kaleidoscope" last night, you might have noticed what appeared to be a painting by Mark Rothko hanging in the apartment of the character played by Jaclyn Smith. And that was certainly an Ellsworth Kelly canvas at her office.

Such a display is the touch of Douglas Cramer, who was executive producer of "Kaleidoscope" and tonight's "Fine Things," both based on books by Danielle Steel. That's because Cramer has one of this country's most renowned collections of contemporary American art and is on the boards of numerous museums and other cultural organizations.

This is the same Douglas Cramer who was co-executive producer with Aaron Spelling of such shows as "The Love Boat," "Hotel" and "Dynasty," programs that, whatever their popularity, will probably not go down in artistic history with a Rothko or a Kelly.

Over the phone from Los Angeles, Cramer acknowledged a certain schism in his life.

"Yes," he said of his art collection, "it got me through many a tough hour of 'Dynasty.'"

Cramer has a long career in television, dating back to the days when advertisers and ad agencies produced programming. He went to work for ABC in 1962, moved over to Paramount, then to independent production, before joining Spelling for that run of successful programs.

"I did it to get credibility in this business," he says of helping to turn out those shows. "Which is a hard thing to get.

"And we tried to do what we could in those shows. In 'Dynasty,' we would often have good artwork hanging on the walls, things like that."

But he doesn't apologize for his association with Steel. Cramer has a deal with NBC to produce as many movies as the network wants based on the works of this prolific writer.

"You know in England, not in this country certainly, they compare her with Dickens," he said. "Mainly because of her output. She writes two books a year.

"The stories you might have seen before, but I think she creates wonderful characters that people really get involved with.

"We spent a lot of money to do these books justice," Cramer said, noting that both movies had many more scenes and camera shots than is usual in a TV movie. "And NBC is just great. They'll let us make them at the length the stories demand. That's why 'Kaleidoscope' is two hours and 'Fine Things' is three."

Still, Cramer knows that these works are never going to be shown next to, say, one of the Frank Stellas he has hanging on his walls.

"I've tried, believe me I've tried," Cramer said of producing more artistically ambitious television projects. "It's hard to get anybody interested.

"We did do 'The Best Little Girl in the World' with Aaron," he said of an early film about eating disorders. "But it's hard to get those things made."

So Cramer will go on cranking out whatever it is that the networks are buying, laughing all the way to the art gallery.

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