As an actor, Otto Preminger portrayed a series of military despots on the screen. As a director, Preminger was accused of sometimes acting like one.
He was the volatile and talented producer-director of such versatile and trendsetting films as "Anatomy of a Murder," "The Moon Is Blue," "The Man With the Golden Arm" and "Laura."
Innovator, autocrat and craftsman, Preminger basked in the outrageous aura he had created for himself, describing actors as "children" and demanding of them obedience if not fealty.
When Lana Turner walked off the set of "Anatomy of a Murder" in 1959 — supposedly in a dispute with him over a costume — he vowed to "get an unknown and make her a star."
He then cast Lee Remick as the woman who said she was raped by the man her husband is accused of killing.
It was another of the sensational themes that Preminger, the innovator, used to shock and amuse mid-America as it moved from wartime puritanism to postwar adventurism.
Earlier, in "The Moon Is Blue," the words "virgin" and "pregnant" were heard for the first time by American filmgoers. The film was distributed without the Motion Picture Production Code seal of approval and officially condemned by the Roman Catholic Church. What it may have lacked in morality, however, it made up for at the box office and the lighthearted bedroom romp proved one of 1953's most successful productions.
He made his debut at 17 in a Max Reinhardt production of "A Midsummer Night's Dream" and produced a series of successful comedies in Vienna while attending law school. He graduated with a law degree from the University of Vienna in 1928 but by that time also had two years of serious theatrical experience under Reinhardt, the legendary German director.
In 1935 he achieved a widely heralded success as the director of "Libel," a courtroom stage drama. He quickly was invited to America to establish the play on Broadway, and the attractiveness of the offer, coupled with the uncertain political climate in Germany, made it an easy choice.
He went from Broadway to Hollywood to study film direction but ran afoul of Darryl Zanuck in an argument of interpretation over his first big-budget picture, "Kidnapped."
Blacklisted in Hollywood, he returned to Broadway, where he starred in and directed Clare Boothe Luce's play "Margin for Error." He cast himself as the Nazi villain.
Next he directed John Barrymore in his final stage drama, "My Dear Children," concurrently teaching direction and production at Yale.
When the United States declared war on Germany in 1941, Hollywood sought out Prussian types for the anti-Nazi films it was starting to make, and Preminger's earlier transgressions were suddenly forgiven.
"Laura," the classic mystery thriller with Gene Tierney, Dana Andrews and Clifton Webb, became one of the most commercially successful films of all time, and many consider it Preminger's finest effort.
Over the years he lured George C. Scott from Shakespearean theater to celluloid and took a chance on Frank Sinatra in the narcotics-oriented "The Man With the Golden Arm" when Sinatra was seeking a career outside singing.
Preminger occasionally still went in front of the camera, portraying another quintessential Nazi in "Stalag 17" and Mr. Freeze in a few episodes of television's "Batman."
He directed one highly successful all-black film — "Carmen Jones" — and one equally unsuccessful — "Porgy and Bess."
"The truth is," he said in a 1979 interview with The Times, "rows make good copy, so they get printed. I am not so terrible tempered. Sometimes. But not often."
|1959||Best Picture||Anatomy of a Murder||Nomination|
|1963||Best Director||The Cardinal||Nomination|