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Ingo Preminger, 95; Film Producer, Agent to Blacklisted Writers

June 12, 2006|Jon Thurber | Times Staff Writer

Ingo Preminger, the producer of the film "MASH" who was also the literary agent for several leading writers who were blacklisted during the McCarthy era, has died. He was 95.

Preminger, the brother of noted filmmaker Otto Preminger, died Wednesday at his home in Pacific Palisades, said his son, Jim Preminger, a literary agent in Los Angeles.

As a literary agent, the senior Preminger represented, among others, Dalton Trumbo and Ring Lardner Jr., who were both blacklisted during the Red Scare days of the 1950s. He worked effectively with blacklisted writers by using fronts -- other writers who agreed to claim the work as their own -- to help get past the studio restrictions.

It was Lardner, however, who helped Preminger make his biggest career move.

In the late 1960s, Lardner sent Preminger a copy of the book "MASH" by New Jersey surgeon Richard Hornberger, who wrote under the pseudonym Richard Hooker. Preminger took it to Richard Zanuck, then the head of production at 20th Century Fox, and elicited an agreement from Zanuck that if he liked the book, Preminger would be given a chance to produce the movie.

Zanuck called Preminger the next day and told him, "You've got an office on the third floor. We're making the picture."

Directed by Robert Altman and made for relatively little money, "MASH" was both a box office and critical hit in 1970. It won the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival, a Golden Globe for best musical or comedy film and was nominated for an Academy Award for best picture. Lardner won the Academy Award for best adapted screenplay.

Preminger was also the credited producer on the "The Salzburg Connection" in 1972. By the late 1970s, he retired from the film business.

Born in what is now Romania on Feb. 25, 1911, Preminger was raised in Vienna and earned a law degree at the University of Vienna. His career as an attorney was cut short by the rise of Nazism in Europe. He came to the United States with his wife and daughter in 1938 and settled in New York City, where he owned a paint supply business. The family grew with the births of another daughter and a son.

In 1947, the family moved to Los Angeles, where Preminger took a job at the Nat Goldstone Agency, a talent agency. A year later, he opened his own firm and represented screenwriters, directors, cinematographers, composers, film editors and a few actors, including Paul Henreid and Ralph Meeker. Over the years, his agency had a number of partners, including Malcolm Stuart, and helped launch the careers of several leading agents.

Preminger sold his agency to General Artists Corp. in 1961 but stayed on to head the literary department. He left in 1966 to produce films.

Preminger's brother Otto died at 80 in 1986.

In addition to his son Jim, he is survived by his wife of 70 years, Kate; his daughter Eve Preminger, a former New York City judge; his daughter Kathy Kauff, a retired attorney; eight grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

Instead of flowers, donations in his memory may be made to the UCLA Division of Geriatrics, c/o Wendi Morner, 10945 Le Conte Ave., Suite 3132, Los Angeles, CA 90095-1784.

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