Thomas L. Long
Born in Bridgeport, Connecticut, on June 25, 1935, Larry Kramer was the second (and last) child of George Leon Kramer, a Jewish American, and Rea Sara Wishengrad, a Russian Jewish émigrée. His older brother, Arthur, had been born nearly nine years earlier. Both of Larry’s parents were college educated: George Kramer attended Yale University (paid for by his mother) at a time when it enrolled few Jewish students, while Rea was a graduate of Syracuse University.
When George Kramer landed a job with the U.S. Treasury Department in 1941, the family moved to Mt. Rainier, Maryland, a working-class suburb of Washington, D.C. The Kramers were not a happy family; George and Rea argued much of the time, Arthur stayed away as often as he could, and George belittled Larry’s lack of interest in sports and his fascination with the arts. Larry would eventually explore this family drama in his own play The Destiny of Me. Kramer’s introduction to the theater occurred when he was eight; a friend had invited him to attend a puppet show at Washington’s National Theater. The boy was hooked and thereafter returned to the theater whenever he could, his mother giving him busfare and ticket money. Culturally Washington at the time was a provincial backwater, though Larry recalled seeing many of the stage and film stars of the day at the National.
Both of his parents had social ambitions for their sons, though George may have been motivated more by his own sense of inadequacy. Rea taught at the upwardly mobile Reform Temple of the Washington Hebrew Congregation, and she encouraged Larry to socialize with its students, though he attended public schools. Both of his parents pressured him to join the Jewish fraternity Pi Tau Pi and to attend social functions at members’ homes. He also dated women in its