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'Laura' Director Otto Preminger Dies at 80

April 23, 1986|BURT FOLKART | Times Staff Writer

Otto Preminger, the director who portrayed Nazis on the screen and was accused by many actors under him of acting like one on the set, died early today. He was 80 and had cancer.

Preminger, whose 39 films included "Anatomy of a Murder" and the haunting "Laura," and often dealt with subjects then considered taboo, died in bed at his New York apartment, with his third wife, Hope, and a nurse at his side.

He was known as an innovator, challenging the film industry with movies like 1953's "The Moon is Blue," which was opposed by the Roman Catholic Church; the 1954 "Carmen Jones," a modern-day adaptation of Bizet's opera with an all-black cast, and 1956's "The Man With the Golden Arm," which starred Frank Sinatra and depicted narcotics use.

He also appeared in four films, including "Stalag 17," in which he portrayed the dictatorial commandant of a German POW camp.

Preminger was born Dec. 5, 1905, in Vienna and earned a law degree there in 1928. He came to the United States in 1935 and the following year made his first U.S. film, "Under Your Spell."

He also was on the faculty at Yale Drama School until 1940, and then became a stage director in New York, winning the Critics Choice Award and Full Circle Award for Broadway productions. He never won an Oscar.

"The Moon is Blue," an adaptation of the Broadway bedroom comedy, ran without the Motion Picture Production Code seal of approval because its screenplay contained the words "virgin" and "pregnant." The Catholic church gave it a "condemned" rating. But Preminger cleaned up at the box office.

His autocratic style as director caused some actors to rebel.

He got headlines in 1959 with "Anatomy of a Murder," a courtroom drama starring James Stewart and film newcomer George C. Scott, and was to include Lana Turner, who walked off the set in a dispute with the director.

"I'll get an unknown and make her a star," Preminger vowed, according to the 1986 book, "Inside Oscar." He cast Lee Remick in Turner's place.

Preminger worked with top Hollywood names and made an unknown Marshalltown, Iowa, girl, Jean Seberg, into a star in "St. Joan" in 1957.

Perhaps his most enduring film was the 1944 murder mystery, "Laura." Other movies included "Forever Amber," 1947; "Exodus," 1960; "Advise and Consent," 1961, and "The Cardinal," 1963.

In addition to his wife, Preminger is survived by his daughter, Victoria Elizabeth, and two sons, Mark William and Erik Lee. Erik Lee Preminger, 41, is the son of stripper-actress Gypsy Rose Lee. Preminger publicly identified himself as Erik's father in 1971.

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