The Krantz Connection
A look at the production company behind STRANGE PARADISE and the man who founded it
by Curt Ladnier
Krantz Films Inc. may be largely forgotten today, but of the handful of productions which the company brought to television screens during the 1960s, several have gone on to achieve cult status. STRANGE PARADISE is only one of their projects which have earned a fond spot in the hearts of nostalgic viewers. However, it’s hard to examine Krantz Films without exploring the life of the man at its helm - Steve
Krantz. The story of one is intertwined with the history of the other.
Steve Krantz was born May 20, 1923 in Brooklyn, New York. During his formative years, he attended Manual Training High School, and later graduated from Columbia University in 1943 with a degree in broadcasting. Krantz completed his education during the height of America’s involvement in World War II, and fresh out of college he volunteered for military service. He entered combat posted in the Pacific, attached to the Army Air Corps, and earned the rank of second lieutenant as part of an amphibious assault company in the Philippines.
After the war, Krantz returned to the field for which he had studied, working as a writer and producer at New York’s WNEW Radio before moving into work in the emerging field of television. During his early television days, he wrote for the likes of Arthur Godfrey and Milton
Berle, garnering a Peabody Award for his efforts. Eventually, he went to work for NBC, where he won acclaim with the network producing THE KATE SMITH EVENING HOUR from 1951 to ’52, and later executive producing the first incarnation of the Steve Allen late-night series which evolved into THE TONIGHT SHOW.
By 1953, Krantz was program director of NBC’s flagship station, WNBT New York. In July of that year he attended a party thrown by one of his employees, Barbara Walters, where he was captivated by a young Wellesley graduate named Judith
Tarcher. Seven months later he married her on February 19, 1954, and in another two decades Judith Krantz went on to become a highly successful novelist and literary personality.
A few years later, Krantz moved on to work for the DuMont Television Network. While managing their New York station
WABD, he developed the game show BINGO AT HOME, a viewer participation-oriented production hosted by tv personality Monty Hall, which aired on DuMont from February to December 1958.
Sometime around early 1959, Krantz joined the television division of Columbia Pictures, Screen Gems (later Columbia Pictures Television), as their Head of Creative Development. Under his guidance the group developed such successful sitcoms as DENNIS THE MENACE and HAZEL. In time, Krantz rose to become Screen Gems’ Head of International Marketing and Production, before ultimately leaving the Columbia subsidiary in 1963 to devote his time to his own production company – Krantz Films Inc.
Steve Krantz actually established Krantz Films in 1960, but he did not begin to devote his full professional attention to its development until 1963. However, the defining moment in Krantz Films’ history came in 1965, when Steve Krantz signed a deal with Marvel Comics’ Stan Lee to produce and distribute animated versions of a number of their comic book properties, collectively titled THE MARVEL SUPERHEROES. The actual animation duties for the show were subcontracted to
Grantray-Lawrence Animation in California, with the exception of the Mighty Thor segments which were animated by Paramount Studios. Krantz Films distributed the finished product to broadcasters, and the series premiered on television in 1966.
Also in June of 1966, MAD MAGAZINE competitor CRACKED featured a segment copyrighted to Krantz Films titled “The Flipsides.” The magazine promoted “The Flipsides” as an upcoming television series, but the show never materialized. Despite this early misfire, the coming year proved to be a busy time for Krantz Films.
1967 saw the company producing the science fiction cartoon series ROCKET ROBIN HOOD, this time subcontracting the animation chores to Trillium Productions in Ontario, Canada, and giving the series an October television premier. Also in 1967, Krantz Films furthered its relationship with Marvel Comics, producing the animated adventures of SPIDERMAN, and once again subcontracting the animation work to
Grantray-Lawrence. And again, that same year, Krantz Films co-produced and distributed a series of 105 educational animated shorts titled MAX THE 2000 YEAR-OLD MOUSE.
However, 1967 presented difficulties as well. Late in the year, Trillium Productions went bankrupt, with ROCKET ROBIN HOOD still in production. And only a matter of months later, in the Spring of 1968,
Grantray-Lawrence Animation folded with SPIDERMAN just entering its second season. These failures prompted Krantz Films to open its own animation unit in New York in mid 1968 to continue the production of these series as in-house projects. To head this unit, Steve Krantz chose up-and-coming animator Ralph
Bakshi, who would go on to collaborate frequently with Krantz well into the 1970s.
After taking full control over ROCKET ROBIN HOOD, Krantz Films made an effort to enhance the quality of the production by bringing in well-known talent from the comic book field. Ralph Bakshi employed luminaries Gray Morrow and Jim Steranko to create layouts and storyboards, and legendary Superman co-creator Jerry Seigel was hired as a story contributor.
August 1968 marked a significant chapter in the history of Krantz Films, as Steve Krantz sold controlling interest in the company to
Vikoa, a New Jersey-based cable system operator and equipment distributor, presumably in an effort to extend the funding for his new animation studio. Krantz Films continued to function as a production company, but now in the capacity of Vikoa’s subsidiary film division. The first show released under the new Krantz Films regime hit the airwaves in September 1968, and was also the company’s first non-animated venture. Titled THE WEAKER(?) SEX, the series was a talk show addressing women’s issues, broadcast on the CBC and in syndication in the U.S. Krantz Films would soon follow this same distribution formula in releasing STRANGE PARADISE to broadcast outlets. THE WEAKER(?) SEX remained in production until March 1969, a short time after Steve Krantz hired Jerry Layton and preliminary development began on STRANGE PARADISE.
Around roughly this same time, Steve Krantz and Ralph Bakshi became intrigued with the idea of releasing a feature-length animated film for an adult audience, and contemplated the appropriate vehicle for such a project. A short time later, in November 1969, they approached artist R. Crumb about developing a movie based on his popular underground comic book character Fritz the Cat.
As the new decade emerged, Krantz Films was in its final days. Production of STRANGE PARADISE ended in May 1970, marking the end of Steve Krantz’s involvement with the television industry for more than a decade to come. Then, late in 1970 Vikoa came to the conclusion that its production division had become a financial liability, and formally dissolved Krantz Films Inc. Swiftly, Steve Krantz moved his animation unit to California, and in January 1971 Steve Krantz Productions was founded from the remnants of Krantz Films Inc.
Also during 1971, Steve Krantz did some work with the Encyclopaedia Britannica Educational Corporation
(EBEC), releasing several short educational films. With titles such as “Ancient Maya Indians of Central America” and “Frederick Douglass,” these efforts were obviously geared toward classroom viewings. Puzzlingly, production of each is credited to Steve Krantz Films.
In 1972, Steve Krantz Productions released their animated feature FRITZ THE CAT, with Steve Krantz as its producer. Despite creator R. Crumb’s spurious claims that the film was made without his permission, the movie went on to make history both as the first animated feature to bear an X rating and as the first independent animated film to gross over $100,000,000 at the box office. FRITZ’s financial success quickly led to Krantz’s producing two more animated features – HEAVY TRAFFIC (another collaboration with Ralph
Bakshi) in 1973 and THE NINE LIVES OF FRITZ THE CAT (an entry in the Cannes Film Festival) in 1974.
Like every producer, Krantz had a number of projects that misfired, never quite coming to fruition. In addition to Krantz Films’ abortive THE FLIPSIDES, some other efforts which never quite came together included an animated adaptation of PLAYBOY
MAGAZINE’s comic strip “Little Annie Fanny”, a rock fantasy version of HEAD COMIX spotlighting R.Crumb’s Mister Natural, and an animated adaptation of the Broadway musical GREASE. While the failure to launch for most of these ideas can be attributed to many factors, the most spectacular of these misfires is probably the HEAD COMIX project. R. Crumb was so upset over the first Fritz the Cat movie that he not only forbade Bakshi and Krantz from using any of his other characters, but he actually wrote a comic book story in which he killed Fritz. Titled “Fritz the Cat – Superstar”, the tale features Fritz being exploited by a pair of Hollywood bigwigs named Ralphie and
Stevie. Despite Crumb’s effort to bury the character, Krantz did not cancel his plans for another Fritz film, and released THE NINE LIVES OF FRITZ THE CAT in 1974.
Throughout the rest of the 1970s, Steve Krantz remained busy as a producer of theatrical feature films. The projects which he brought to the screen include: COOLEY HIGH (1975, the film which became the basis for the successful ABC sitcom WHAT’S HAPPENING?), RUBY (1977, for which Krantz also created the original story), WHICH WAY IS UP? (1977, starring Richard Pryor), JENNIFER (1978, again from a story created by
Krantz), and SWAP MEET (1979, from a screenplay written by
In 1978, Judith Krantz published her first novel, Scruples, which was copyrighted not under her own name, but to Steve Krantz Productions. It was the first of many bestsellers for Mrs.
Krantz, and her works were to become the basis for a number of her husband’s later television productions. Steve Krantz wrote a bestseller of his own in 1979, Pocket Books’ paperback release Laurel Canyon. He followed this up with a hardcover from Macmillan Publishing in 1982 titled
In 1983, Krantz returned to television, executive producing the movie adaptation of his wife’s novel Princess Daisy. His professional endeavors remained concentrated in this medium until his retirement from the entertainment industry in the late 1990s. These later tv projects include: PRINCESS DAISY (1983), MISTRAL’S DAUGHTER (1984), SINS (1986), DADAH IS DEATH (1988), TILL WE MEET AGAIN (1989), DEADLY MATRIMONY (1992), TORCH SONG (1993), HOUSE OF SECRETS (1993), JACK REED: BADGE OF HONOR (1993), CHILDREN OF THE DARK (1994), JACK REED: A SEARCH FOR JUSTICE (1994), DAZZLE (1995), JACK REED: ONE OF OUR OWN (1995), and JACK REED: DEATH AND VENGEANCE (1996).
After retiring from film production in the closing years of the twentieth century, Krantz devoted his time to public service, with a special interest in the field of mental health. He became a mental health counselor, sat on the board of the 1736 Family Crisis Center, and was appointed by Governor Pete Wilson to the board of the California Council for Mental Health Planning. He was also a board member of Planned Parenthood.
Steve Krantz passed away on January 4, 2007 in Los Angeles, California at the age of 83 from complications of pneumonia. At the time of his death, he was a member of both the Motion Picture Academy of Arts & Sciences and the Television Academy, as well as a past president of the Independent Producers Association. He was survived by his wife, sons Nicholas and Tony, and two grandchildren. His son Tony is the producer of the hit Fox television series 24.
is Strange Paradise?