Monday, September 24, 2007
The Tyrant of Tinseltown
Hollywood has never lacked for folks who could use a little anger management. Studio heads, directors and even some actors have made their names on their explosive tempers.

But few did it as well as Otto Preminger. The director and occasional actor not only had an upper-class German accent (actually Austrian, but who in Hollywood would take the time to tell the difference?), he was capable of volcanic tirades that left some of actors -- in movies including "Laura," "The Man with the Golden Arm," "Exodus" and "Advise and Consent" -- literally shaking. Not for nothing was he cast as a Nazi in "Stalag 17."

But, as Foster Hirsch's fine new biography, "Otto Preminger: The Man Who Would Be King" (Knopf, due October 16), makes clear, there was more than one side to Preminger. If he wasn't an flashy director, he was a audacious publicist, knowing the value of a little titillation in attracting audiences (his "The Moon Is Blue" was considered scandalous in 1953). If he wasn't a groundbreaking artist, he was an innovative producer, controlling many aspects of his films at a time when the studios still reigned supreme.

And he could be caring and kind, as well as cruel. Hirsch takes care to present both sides of Preminger, from the tyrant who terrorized Jean Seberg in "Saint Joan" -- he even continued shooting when Seberg started to catch fire during the burning-at-the-stake scene -- to the professional who made "Anatomy of a Murder" such a brilliant film. He was also quite the ladies' man. Hirsch doesn't skimp on that material, either.

Most of Preminger's films pop up on TV time and time again, with one exception: 1959's "Porgy and Bess," which featured an all-black cast -- another brave move for Preminger. Thanks to biographer Hirsch and the Samuel Goldwyn estate, for the first time in 40 years, the film is going to be shown. The screening is scheduled for New York's Ziegfeld Theatre Wednesday and Thursday, September 26 and 27.

"The film to be shown is an original roadshow print, with overture, intermission music and exit music," Hirsch said in a release. "It is the only known complete print of the film in the United States."

If you're in the area, check it out. And definitely give Hirsch's biography a look, too.
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