Born December 5, 1905 in Vienna, Austria, the son of Marc Preminger, Attorney General for the Austro-Hungarian Empire
. Young Otto, (as well as his younger brother Ingo), initially studied law and acquired degrees in Vienna, but his true love was acting. He joined the company of Max Reinhardt
at the age of 17 and quickly became a director. Upon the retirement of Reinhardt, Preminger became head of the company. Continuing his meteoric ascendancy, Preminger was offered an appointment as head of the State Theatre in Vienna, but declined the assignment. Part of the job requirement was for the director to be a Catholic. Preminger's family was Jewish, though Otto himself was not observant. Still, the religious issue was one he refused to give ground on.
Preminger's directorial talents in the theatre came to the attention of the American studio heads, who recruited him to direct motion pictures. He arrived in America in 1936 to direct for 20th Century Fox. He soon ran afoul of studio head Darryl F. Zanuck and had to support himself by taking roles as an actor until 1944, when he was tapped to produce and direct Laura, a successful project which cemented Preminger's reputation.
Capitalizing on the success of Laura, Preminger directed several more films in quick succession. Fallen Angel (1945), Daisy Kenyon (1947), Whirlpool (1949), Where the Sidewalk Ends (1950), The 13th Letter (1951), and Angel Face (1952) were a solid core of films which made Preminger's style recognizable.
Otto Preminger became recognized also as a director who refused to stay within the lines laid out by the powers-that-be. He left 20th Century Fox in 1953 to form his own independent production company, . He directed The Moon Is Blue in 1953, a comedic venture released without the blessing of the Production Code's Seal of Approval, supposedly for spicy language, including the verboten word 'virgin'. He continued in that vein in 1955, directing The Man With the Golden Arm, a film featuring a heroin addict as the main character, a subject guaranteed to not endear Preminger to the censors.
Preminger wasn't at all concerned. He continued with his 1959 film Anatomy of a Murder, which along with Laura, remain his 2 most popular works. Otto followed up with Exodus in 1960, a film based on the Leon Uris book of the same title. Advise and Consent (1962), The Cardinal (1963), In Harm's Way (1965), and Hurry Sundown (1966) continued Preminger's string of films.
While his films continued to be successful at the box office, Preminger's lustre was waning in the eyes of the industry critics. He had gained a reputation as a dictator, complete with rants and towering rages to the point where some actors/actresses refused to work for him. Preminger relished his notoriety, and along with fellow director Alfred Hitchcock, became one of the few directors with name recognition by the public.
Preminger continued both behind the camera and in front of it, acting in several films. He was cast as Commandant of a German POW camp in Stalag 17 (1953), playing a despotic Nazi, though he was Jewish. Otto was the director in 1963 for the New York Opera Company in their English production of Gottfried Von Einem's The Trial, a work by Franz Kafka.
In 1960, Preminger was one of 3 actors to portray the character Mr. Freeze in TVs Batman. Preminger was universally reviled by other cast members for his rude ways and overbearing character, and they delighted that Otto was pursued by SAG for back dues. The 1970 hit Mash was produced by Ingo Preminger, Otto's younger brother.
Otto Preminger was married 3 times. First in 1932 to Marion Mill, a marriage ended by divorce. His second trip to the altar was in 1951, marrying Mary Gardner, which ended in divorce as well in 1959. His third and final marriage was to Hope Bryce in 1971, a marriage which endured until his death. Otto had fathered twins with Hope Bryce in 1960, 11 years before the marriage was made official. Their names are Victoria and Mark.
Along the course of his career Preminger had an affair with Gypsy Rose Lee, a relationship which produced a son, Erik Lee Preminger. He also was linked with Dorothy Dandridge, who wanted Preminger to leave his wife to marry her.
Otto Preminger suffered in his later days from both cancer and Alzheimer's Disease, and died at the age of 79 on April 23, 1986. He is interred at Woodlawn Cemetery, in the Bronx, New York.
In a long career as director Otto Preminger worked with some of the biggest names in American cinema. Among those were Frank Sinatra, James Stewart, Lee Remick, George C. Scott, Dana Andrews, Gene Tierney, Charles Laughton, David Niven, Deborah Kerr, and Laurence Olivier. Preminger changed the landscape of film direction through his demanding ways, his force of will, and his genius.
Though Otto Preminger had his share of failures as well as successes, his legacy rests on liberalizing the strict standards which had shackled film makers. Fighting that battle alone should immortalize him to subsequent practitioners of the craft. His innovative techniques in direction were also a sea change in the way films were made. Preminger was both a heroic figure and very human with all the foibles attendant to that status. He may have been remembered as a tyrant or a remarkable film maker, but he was surely remembered, and that's the point after all, isn't it?
FILMOGRAPHY AS DIRECTOR
The Human Factor (1980)
Such Good Friends (1971)
Tell Me That You Love Me, Junie Moon (1970)
Hurry Sundown (1967)
Bunny Lake is Missing (1965)
In Harm's Way (1965)
The Cardinal (1963)
Advise and Consent (1962)
Anatomy of a Murder (1959)
Porgy and Bess (1959)
Bonjour Tristesse (1958)
Saint Joan (1957)
The Court-Martial of Billy Mitchell (1955)
The Man with the Golden Arm (1955)
Carmen Jones (1954)
River of No Return (1954)
The Moon Is Blue (1953)
Angel Face (1952)
Where the Sidewalk Ends (1950)
Daisy Kenyon (1947)
Forever Amber (1947)
Centennial Summer (1946)
Fallen Angel (1945)
A Royal Scandal (1945)
FILMOGRAPHY AS ACTOR
The Hobbit (1977) VOICE
Stalag 17 (1953)
They Got Me Covered (1943)
The Pied Piper (1942)