|Born||Otto Ludwig Preminger
5 December 1906
Wiznitz, Austria–Hungary (present Ukraine)
|Died||23 April 1986 (aged 79)
New York City, New York, U.S.
|Occupation||Director, producer, actor|
|Spouse(s)||Marion Mill (m. 1932–1946)
Mary Gardner (m. 1951–1959)
Hope Bryce (m. 1971–1986)
Otto Ludwig Preminger (5 December 1906 – 23 April 1986) was an Austro–Hungarian-born American film director who moved from the theatre to Hollywood, directing over 35 feature films in a five-decade career. He rose to prominence for stylish film noir mysteries such as Laura (1944) and Fallen Angel (1945). In the 1950s and 1960s, he directed a number of high-profile adaptations of popular novels and stage works. Several of these pushed the boundaries of censorship by dealing with topics which were then taboo in Hollywood, such as drug addiction (The Man with the Golden Arm, 1955), rape (Anatomy of a Murder, 1959), and homosexuality (Advise and Consent, 1962). He was twice nominated for the Best Director Academy Award. He also had a few acting roles.
Preminger was born in Wiznitz, a town west of Czernowitz, Northern Bukovyna, in today's Ukraine, then part of the Austro–Hungarian Empire, to Markus and Josefa Preminger. Preminger's father was born in 1877 in Galicia, at a time when it was part of the Austro–Hungarian Empire. As an Attorney General of Austria–Hungary, Markus was a proud public prosecutor on the cusp of an extraordinary career defending the interests of the Emperor Franz Josef. The couple provided a stable home life for Preminger and his brother Ingo.
"My father believed that it was impossible to be too kind or loving to a child. He never punished me. I don't think my mother agreed completely with this method but she acted, as always, according to his wishes. I adored him. I had an affectionate relationship with my mother; she was a wonderful, warm-hearted woman, but she did not really play a large part in the formation of my character. Intellectually my father influenced me more than my mother."
After the assassination in 1914 of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the heir to the throne, which led to the Great War, Russia entered the war on the Serbian side, and tsarist armies began to invade Eastern Europe. Perilously close to Russia, Czernowitz was especially vulnerable. Like other refugees in flight, Markus Preminger saw Austria as a safe haven for his family. He was able to secure a job as a public prosecutor in Graz, capital of the Austrian province of Styria. Preminger prosecuted nationalist Serbs and Croats who had been imprisoned as suspected enemies of the Empire. When the Preminger family relocated, Otto was nearly nine, and was enrolled in a school where instruction in Catholic dogma was mandatory and Jewish history and religion had no place on the syllabus. Ingo, not yet four, remained at home. Otto was often teased by Catholic classmates and was told by his father to answer that he was Jewish when asked upon.
After a year in Graz, the decisive public prosecutor was summoned to Vienna, where he was offered an eminent position, roughly equivalent to that of the United States Attorney General. Markus was told that the position would be his only if he converted to Catholicism. In a gesture of defiance and self-assertion, Markus refused. Remarkably, Markus was awarded the position anyway. In 1915, Markus relocated his family to Vienna, the city that Otto later claimed to have been born in. Although now working for the emperor, Markus was a government official, respectable, but not part of the highly-prized inner city. As a result, the family started their new lives with rather modest quarters. Vienna was still an imperial capital with an array of cultural offerings that tempted Otto, at ten already incurably stagestruck. Often accompanied by his maternal grandfather, Otto made regular visits, sometimes as many as three or four a week, to the Burgtheater on the Ringstrasse, where he saw a wide variety of both classical and contemporary plays.
Preminger's first theatrical ambition was to become an actor. And with his already stentorian voice, penetrating blue eyes, and his sturdy build, was not deluding himself with dreams of joining the local stage ensemble. In his early teens, Otto was able to recite from memory many of the great monologues from the international classic repertory, and, never shy, he demanded an audience. Preminger's most successful performance in the National Library rotunda was Mark Antony's funeral oration from Julius Caesar. As he read, watched, and after a fashion, began to produce plays, he started to miss more and more classes of school. Austria's failing fortunes during the war had no impact on the Premingers. Markus flourished as a stern bureaucratic, and soon moved his family to a more fashionable district in 1916. Throughout the war years, Otto, now often with his younger brother, continued to go to the theater and concerts, museums, and the National Library, while his attendance in school remained irregular.
As the war came to an end, Markus formed his own law practice. Markus instilled in both his sons a sense of fair play as well as respect for those with opposing view-points, and rather than becoming reactionary conservatives, as their privileged upbringing might seem to be foreordained, Otto and Ingo became lifelong liberal Democrats. As his father's practice continued to thrive in post-war Vienna, Otto began seriously contemplating a career in the theater. At sixteen, he won the role of Lysander in a production of A Midsummer Night's Dream. And in 1923, at the age of seventeen, Preminger's soon-to-be mentor, Max Reinhardt, a Viennese-born director who had established his base of operation in Berlin, announced plans to establish a theatrical company in Vienna in a rundown 135-year old theater. Reinhardt's announcement was seen as a call of destiny to Preminger. He began writing to Reinhardt weekly, requesting an audition. After a few months, Preminger, frustrated, gave up, and stopped his daily visit to the post office to check for a response. Unbeknowst to him, a letter was waiting with a date for an audition Preminger had already missed by two days. Feigning illness, Preminger skipped classes and began to hover near the stage door hoping to encounter Reinhardt associate Dr. Stefan Hock, begging for another audition. The day finally came when Hock took Preminger directly inside to Reinhardt and his associates. Preminger was immediately accepted, no doubt his strong voice and presence caught Reinhardt's eye.
Preminger explained to his father that a career in theater was not just a ploy to excuse himself from school. This was a way of life, and it was the only one he wanted. In order to obtain his father's full blessing, Preminger finished school and completed the study of law at the University of Vienna. He juggled a commitment to the University and his new position as a Reinhardt apprentice. The two developed a mentor and protege relationship, becoming both a confidant and teacher. When the theater opened, on April 1, 1924, Preminger appeared as a furniture mover in Reinhardt's comedia staging of Carlo Goldoni's The Servant of Two Masters. His next, and more substantial appearance came late in the next month with William Dieterle (who would also later move to Hollywood) in The Merchant of Venice. Other notable alumni who Preminger would work with the same year were Mady Christians, who committed suicide after having been blacklisted during the McCarthy era in Hollywood, and Nora Gregor, who was to star in Jean Renoir's La Règle du jeu (1939). Reinhardt may have had reservations about Preminger's acting but he quickly detected the young man's abilities as an administrator. He appointed Preminger as an assistant in the Reinhardt acting school that opened in the theater at Schöbrunn, the former summer palace of the emperor. The following summer, a frustrated Preminger was no longer content to occupy the place of a subordinate and he decided to leave the Reinhardt fold. His status as a Reinhardt muse gave him an edge over much of his competition when it came to joining German-speaking theater. Preminger hopped from theater to theater and decided to call it quits with the acting, and focus on directing, partly because of hair loss, having already began progressing at an early age.
His first theater assignments as a director in Aussig were plays ranging from the sexually provocative Lulu, and from Berlin he imported Roar China, a pro-Communist agitprop. Preminger displayed an undertaking pleasure in discovering new talent, but found pitfalls with his unruly tempor and disdain for directorial collaborations. In 1930, a wealthy industrialist from Graz, approached the rising young theater director with an offer to directed a film called Die Grosse Liebe (The Great Lover). An unprepared and anxious Preminger didn't have the same passion for the medium as he had for theater. He accepted the assignment nonetheless. The film premiered at the Emperor Theater in Vienna on 21 December 1931, to strong reviews and business. From 1931-1935, Preminger directed twenty-six shows. Among the performers he hired, a number, including Lili Darvas, Lilia Skala, Harry Horner, Oskar Karlweis, Albert Bassermann, and Luise Rainer who was to win back-to-back Academy Awards in 1936 and 1937.
It wasn't until the spring of 1931, when a vivacious Hungarian woman entered his office with legal problems, that Preminger's carefree bachelor lifestyle was threatened. Her name was Marion Mill, and Preminger was immediately drawn to the Mill's inviting smile and hyperactive imagination. The couple married soon afterwards in the summer of 1932 in a plain ceremony on the bride's birthday, August 3, only thirty minutes after her divorce from her first husband had been finalized. The couple moved into an apartment of their own. Preminger immediately informed his wife that she could not pursue a theatrical career. Mill steadily found a way of earning applause as a party giver at theater premiers and elaborate soirées.
In April 1935, as Preminger was rehearsing a boulevard farce, The King with an Umbrella, he received a summons from American film producer Joseph Schenck to a five o'clock meeting at the Imperial Hotel. In 1924 Schenck had become the president of United Artists, and in 1934 had founded a new company called Twentieth Century. Two years later (only several months before his meeting with Preminger), Schenck had taken over William Fox's ailing studio and with a partner, Darryl F. Zanuck, had set up a new entity, Twentieth Century-Fox. At the new studio, Zanuck handled all film production while Schneck managed the finances. The duo, now in competition with already well-established studios such as Paramount and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, were on the lookout for new talent. Within a half-hour Preminger accepted an invitation to come to work for Fox in Los Angeles.
Sam Spiegel, later himself a film producer, accompanied Preminger from Vienna to Paris by train and from Paris, Otto on his own took another train to Le Havre, where he joined up with Gilbert Miller and his wife, Kitty Miller, who sailed with him to New York, on the Normandie. The Normandie arrived in New York on October 21, 1935. Upon the Premingers' arrival in Hollywood, Schenck introduced the couple to its array of movie royalty including Irving Thalberg, Norma Shearer, Gary Cooper, Joan Crawford and Greta Garbo. For Preminger, the most memorable party was at Pickfair, Mary Pickford's hilltop mansion in Beverly Hills, where he met Charlie Chaplin. Preminger quickly adapted to the studio system.
Preminger's first assignment was to direct a vehicle for Lawrence Tibbett, a renowned opera singer Zanuck wanted to get rid of. Tibbett had achieved mild success for MGM in musicals throughout the early 1930s and then returned to the stage. Zanuck later lured Tibbett back to films with a generous contract. Preminger worked efficiently, completing the film well within the budget and well before the scheduled shooting deadline. The film opened to tepid notices in November 1936. Preminger, proving to Zanuck's satisfaction that he was not a typical rebellious European hotshot, graduated. Zanuck promoted him to the A-list, assigning him a story called Nancy Steele Is Missing, which was to star Wallace Beery, who had recently won an Academy Award for The Champ. Beery, however, refused to do so, saying, "I won't do a picture with a director whose name I can't pronounce". Zanuck instead gave Preminger the task of directing another B-picture comedy called Danger - Love at Work. French starlet Simone Simon was cast in the lead but was later fired by Zanuck and replaced with Ann Sothern. The premise told the story of a lawyer who must persuade eight members of an eccentric rich family to agree to hand over land left them by their grandfather to a corporation for development. Reviews of the disposable farce, released in September 1937, were surprisingly pleasant.
In November 1937, Zanuck's perennial emissary Gregory Ratoff brought Preminger the news that Zanuck had chosen him to direct Kidnapped, the most expensive feature to date for the studio. Zanuck himself had adapted the Robert Louis Stevenson novel, set in the Scottish Highlands. After reading Zanuck's script, Preminger knew he was in trouble; a foreign director directing in a foreign setting? During the shooting of Kidnapped Preminger had the first of his notorious tantrums. While screening footage of the film to Zanuck, the studio head accused Preminger of making changes in a scene between child actor Freddie Bartholomew and a dog. Preminger, composed at first, explained he had shot the scene exactly as written. Zanuck insisted he knew his own script, and disagreed. The confrontation escalated quickly and ended with Preminger exiting the office and slamming the door. Days later the lock to Preminger's office was changed and his name was removed from the door. After his parking space was relocated to a remote spot, Preminger stopped going to the studio. At that point, an official of Zanuck's offered Preminger a buyout deal which he rejected: Preminger wanted to be paid for the remaining eleven months of his two-year contract. Preminger searched for work at other studios, but received no offers. Only two years after his arrival in Hollywood, Preminger was now unemployed. He enrolled in American history courses at UCLA. Preminger would come to realize that his only chance for rehabilitation would be in the place where he had launched his career, the theater.
Success came quickly on Broadway for Preminger, with long-running productions including Outward Bound with Laurette Taylor and Vincent Price, My Dear Children with John and his wife Elaine Barrymore, and Margin for Error, in which Preminger played a shiny-domed villainous Nazi. A week after the opening of Margin, Preminger was offered a teaching position at the Yale School of Drama. Preminger began commuting twice a week to Yale to lecture on directing and acting. Nunnally Johnson, a Hollywood writer impressed with Preminger's performance in Margin, called to ask if he would be interested in playing another Nazi in a film called The Pied Piper. In dire need of money, Preminger accepted on the spot. The film was to be made for Twentieth Century-Fox, the studio which had banished him. Even in the absence of Zanuck, who joined the Army after Pearl Harbor, Preminger did not expect to remain in Hollywood. After collecting a sizable salary for his work, Preminger was preparing to return to New York when his agent informed him that Fox wanted him to reprise his role in the upcoming film adaptation of Margin for Error. Famed director Ernst Lubitsch was set to direct and Preminger was to appear onscreen with Joan Bennett and Milton Berle. Lubitsch withdrew not long after production began and Preminger saw his chance to gain back what he had lost in his falling-out with Zanuck, a chance to direct again. William Goetz, who was running Fox in Zanuck's absence, was persuaded by Preminger and took the bait.
With the present script of Margin in shambles, Preminger hired a movie novice named Samuel Fuller, who at the moment was on leave from the Army, to rework the entire script. Goetz was soon impressed with his views of the dailies each night and offered Preminger a new seven-year contract calling on his services as both a director and actor. Preminger took full measure of the temporary studio czar and accepted. Preminger completed production on schedule with a slightly increased budget in November 1942. Critics were dismissive upon its release the following February, noting the bad timing of the release, coinciding with the war.
Before his next assignment with Fox, Preminger was asked by movie mogul Samuel Goldwyn to appear as a Nazi yet again, this time in a Bob Hope comedy called They Got Me Covered. Hope played a bumbling reporter who uncovers an Axis spy ring in wartime Washington. Preminger, an avid reader, hoped to find possible properties he could develop before Zanuck's return, one of which was Vera Caspary's suspense novel Laura. Before production would begin on Laura, Preminger was given the green light to direct and to produce Army Wives. Army Wives was another B-picture morale booster for a country at war, showing the sacrifices made by women as they send their husbands off to the frontlines. Cast in the lead was Jeanne Crain, a contract star for Fox who was being groomed for the A-list. Veteran character actor Eugene Pallette played Crain's father. Preminger clashed with Pallette and claimed he was "an admirer of Hitler and convinced that Germany would win the war." Pallete also refused to sit down at the same table with a black actor in a scene set in a kitchen. "You're out of your mind, I won't sit next to a nigger", Pallette hissed at Preminger. Otto furiously informed Zanuck, who fired the actor, whose scenes had already been shot. Army Wives was given a new title, In the Meantime, Darling, and opened in September 1944, with an estimated budget of $450,000. Aside from the incident with Pallette, no other complications arose during the filming; the hurdles would instead come soon after during the shooting of Laura.
Zanuck returned from the armed services with his grudge against Preminger remaining. Although Preminger had been forgiven by Zanuck, he was not granted permission to direct Laura, but only allowed to produce the picture. Instead, Rouben Mamoulian would direct. Much to Preminger's dismay, Mamoulian began ignoring his producer and even started to rewrite the script. Although Preminger had no complaints about the casting of Gene Tierney and Dana Andrews, he balked at their choice for Waldo: Laird Cregar. Preminger explained to Zanuck that audiences would immediately identify with Cregar as a villain, especially after Cregar's role as Jack the Ripper a year earlier in The Lodger. Preminger instead was ideally taken by stage actor Clifton Webb. Even after Zanuck made crude remarks about Webb's homosexuality, Preminger persuaded his boss to at least give Webb a screen test. The persuasion paid off and Webb was cast (and earned a long-term Fox contract), and Mamoulian was fired for creative differences.
Laura started filming on April 27, 1944, with a projected budget of $849,000. After Preminger took over, the film continued shooting well into late June. The film was an instant hit with audiences and critics alike, earning Preminger his first Academy Award nomination for his direction, Clifton Webb a Best Supporting Actor nomination, Lyle Wheeler, an art direction nomination, and Joseph La Shelle won the Academy Award for his cinematography. It propelled its two relatively unknown young actors Gene Tierney and Dana Andrews to the top of the Hollywood box office. David Raksin's haunting theme song would become one of the most memorable in Hollywood history. Laura's theme is one of the most recorded songs, with over four hundred known renditions from Frank Sinatra to Carly Simon.
Preminger expected that acclaim for Laura would promote him to work on better pictures, but his professional fate was in the hands of Darryl Zanuck. Instead of the kind of plum he was certainly justified in expecting, Zanuck had Preminger take over for the ailing Ernst Lubitsch, who had recently suffered a heart attack, on A Royal Scandal, a remake of Lubitsch's own 1924 silent Forbidden Paradise, starring Pola Negri as Catherine the Great. Before his heart attack, Lubitsch had spent months in preparation, and had already cast the film. Preminger, who had known Tallulah Bankhead before the start of the Nazi invasion into Austria, could not have gotten along better with his new leading lady. The two further bonded in part of their heavy dislike of Anne Baxter, cast as a lady-in-waiting and the Empress's romantic rival. Baxter assumed a grand manner that rubbed them the wrong way. When Baxter asked if her grandfather, architect Frank Lloyd Wright, a conservative Republican and a noted anti-Semite, could visit the set, liberal Democrats Preminger and Bankhead were incensed. The film received lackluster reviews and failed to earn back any gross revenue. Lubitsch's large body of comedy work had made him a first-rate filmmaker, Preminger however, directed the film in a way in which people felt Lubitsch would have done better. The failure of A Royal Scandal proved to be the end of the line for Bankhead as a film personality. She would only appear in one more film twenty years later.
In the noir story mold of Laura, Preminger's next picture Fallen Angel (1945) was exactly what Preminger had been anticipating. In Fallen Angel, a con man and a womanizer ends up by chance in a small California town, where he romances a sultry waitress and a well-to-do spinster. When the waitress is found killed, the drifter, played by Dana Andrews, becomes the prime suspect. Zanuck gave Preminger the task of convincing Alice Faye, the studio's top musical star of the late 1930s and early 1940s, to play the role of the spinster. Zanuck hoped Faye's appearance would boost the film's box-office appeal and introduce Faye back into the public eye. Linda Darnell was given the role of the doomed waitress. Off set, Darnell had already begun her lifelong battle with alcohol. Despite its visual and stylistic victories, Fallen Angel did not match the achievement of Laura.
Centennial Summer, Preminger's next film, would be his first to be shot entirely in color. Hoping to duplicate the success of MGM's 1944 musical Meet Me in St. Louis, Zanuck enlisted both Preminger and famed Broadway composer Jerome Kern. The musical detailing two sisters in an idealized all-American working-class family, who become rivals over the same man. The cast included Jeanne Crain and Linda Darnell as the dueling sisters, Cornel Wilde as the charming prize, and veteran stars Walter Brennan, Constance Bennett, and Dorothy Gish in supporting roles. Both reviews and box office draw were tepid when the film was released in July 1946. By the end 1946 Preminger had one of the most sumptuous contracts on the lot, earning $7,500 a week.
Kathleen Winsor's internationally popular novel Forever Amber, published in 1944, was Zanuck's next investment into adaptation. Preminger had read the book and disliked it immensely. Preminger had another best seller aimed at a female audience in mind, Daisy Kenyon. Zanuck pledged that if Preminger do Forever Amber first, he could go to town with Daisy Kenyon afterwards. Forever Amber had already begun shooting for nearly six weeks when Preminger replaced director John Stahl. Zanuck had already spent nearly two million dollars on the production. First, Preminger decided the script needed to be completely rewritten, and Peggy Cummins, the film's leading lady would have to be replaced, whom Otto found to be "amateurish beyond belief". Only after returning in his revised script did Preminger learn that Zanuck had already cast Linda Darnell in place of Cummins. The heroine in the novel was blonde, and Preminger was convinced it was necessary to cast a true blonde, Lana Turner, who was under contract to MGM. Zanuck protested, and was convinced that whoever played Amber would become a big star, and wanted that woman to be one of the studio's own. Zanuck had bought the book because of its scandalous reputation promised big box-office returns, and was not surprised when the Catholic Legion of Decency condemned the film glamorizing a promiscuous heroine who has a child out of wedlock. Forever Amber opened to big business in October 1947, and even garnered some decent reviews. Preminger later recalled the Forever Amber was "by far the most expensive picture I ever made and it was also the worst."
Throughout the five-month shoot on Forever Amber Preminger maintained a busy schedule, working regularly with writers on scripts for two upcoming projects, Daisy Kenyon and The Dark Wood. Preminger was finally relieved to be working on Daisy Kenyon. Joan Crawford starred in the title role as a magazine illustrator facing a romantic conflict: Will she choose a prominent, married lawyer or an unmarried neurotic veteran? Crawford was enthusiastic about the role, coming only two years after winning an Academy Award for Mildred Pierce. Preminger veteran Dana Andrews is the unfaithful lawyer whose unloved wife, played by Ruth Warrick, takes her anger out on her daughters and beats them hysterically. Henry Fonda is a grieving widower and war vet plagued by nightmares. Variety magazine proclaimed, the film is "high powered melodrama surefire for the femme market."
After the modest success of Daisy Kenyon (1947), Preminger, an avid careerist, saw That Lady in Ermine as an opportunity. Betty Grable was cast as a countess who saves her small mythical country when she seduces the Hungarian colonel in charge of the occupation, played by Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. The film had previously been another Lubitsch project, but after his sudden death in November 1947, Preminger took over direction. When the film opened to modest business in July 1948, it received better notices than it deserved as reviewers scrambled to discern traces of Lubitsch's hand. Preminger's next film would be another period piece based on a literary classic, an adaptation of Oscar Wilde's 1897 play Lady Windermere's Fan. Over the spring and early summer of 1948 Otto renovated Wilde's play into The Fan. Madeleine Carroll plays Mrs. Erlynne, who tries to save her married daughter Lady Windermere (Jeanne Crain) from ruining her reputation. As Preminger fully expected, The Fan (1949) opened to withering notices. George Sanders and Martita Hunt, each have supporting roles. Although it is now remembered as the most obscure work of Preminger's career, it is also seen as his most underrated film.
Starting in the 1950s, Preminger's reputation rose to the point that he was commissioned to direct a number of prestigious projects with A-list casts and based on successful novels or stage works. Some of his most significant films of this period include:
Several of these films broke new ground for Hollywood in tackling controversial and taboo topics, thereby challenging both the Motion Picture Association of America's Production Code and the notorious Hollywood blacklist. Forever Amber (1947) was condemned by the Catholic Legion of Decency, which successfully lobbied 20th Century Fox to make changes to the film; the League also condemned his 1953 comedy The Moon is Blue for its use of the words "virgin" and "pregnant" and the film was notably released without a Production Code Seal of Approval. The Man with the Golden Arm (1955) broke new ground with its exploration of the then taboo subject of heroin addiction, as did Anatomy of a Murder with its frank courtroom discussions of rape and sexual intercourse—the Hays Office objected to the use of the terms "rape," "sperm," "sexual climax," and "penetration" and although Preminger made one concession (substituting "violation" for "penetration") the picture was released with the MPAA seal, marking the beginning of the end of the Code. On Exodus (1960) Preminger struck the first major blow against the Hollywood blacklist by openly hiring banned screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, who was credited under his own name for the first time in a decade.
From the mid-1950s, most of Preminger's films utilized distinctive animated titles designed by Saul Bass, and many had modern jazz scores.
At the New York City Opera, in October 1953, Preminger directed the American premiere (in English translation) of Gottfried von Einem's Der Prozeß (The Trial), after Franz Kafka. Soprano Phyllis Curtin headed the cast.
Preminger also acted in a few movies; his most memorable role is that of the warden of a German POW camp in Stalag 17. In the 1960s Batman television series, Preminger was the second of three actors who played Mr. Freeze, in the two-parter "Green Ice/Deep Freeze." Adam West, who portrayed Batman, remembers Preminger as rude and unpleasant. This feeling was echoed by Laurence Olivier, who played a police inspector in Bunny Lake is Missing (1965). In his autobiography Confessions of an Actor Olivier and co-star Noel Coward recall Preminger as 'a bully'. Ingo Preminger, who produced the 1970 M*A*S*H movie, was Otto Preminger's younger brother.
Starting from 1965 on, Preminger made a string of films where he tried to keep his stories fresh and distinctive, but the films he made, including In Harm's Way (1965) and Tell Me That You Love Me, Junie Moon (1970), became both critical and financial bombs. In 1967, Preminger released Hurry Sundown, a lengthy drama set in the U.S. South and partially intended to break cinematic racial and sexual taboos. However, the film was poorly received and ridiculed for a heavy-handed approach, and for the casting of Michael Caine as a southern patriarch. Hurry Sundown signaled a rather precipitous decline in Preminger's reputation, as it was followed by several other films which were critical and commercial failures, including Skidoo (1968), a failed attempt at a hip sixties comedy (and Groucho Marx's last film), and Rosebud (1975), a terrorism thriller which was also widely ridiculed. Several publicized disputes with leading actors did further damage to Preminger's reputation. His last film, an adaptation of the Graham Greene espionage novel The Human Factor (1979), had financial problems and was barely released.
As they continued living together, Preminger and his wife Marion, became more and more estranged. It was an open secret that the two had an arrangement, whereby as long as he promised not to seek a divorce, Preminger was free to see other women. In effect, he lived like a bachelor, as was the case when he met burlesque performer Gypsy Rose Lee and began an open relationship with her. Lee had already attempted a crack in movies, but was never to be taken seriously as anything more than a stripper, and appeared in B-pictures in less-than-minor roles. Preminger's liaison with Lee produced a child, Erik. Lee rejected the idea of Preminger helping to support the child, and instead elicited a vow of silence from Preminger: he was not to reveal Erik's paternity to anyone, including Erik himself. Lee called the boy Erik Kirkland, after her separated husband, Alexander Kirkland. It was not until 1966, when Preminger was sixty and Erik twenty-two, that they were to meet finally as father and son.
Although Preminger and his wife Marion had been estranged for years, he was surprised when in May 1946 Marion asked for a divorce. On a trip to Mexico she had met a very wealthy, and married, Swedish financier named Axel Wennergren. The divorce ended smoothly and speedily. Marion did not seek any alimony, just a few personal belongings that would be picked up in a few days by her fiancé's private plane. Mrs. Wennergren, madly jealous of her rival, began to stalk Marion and was not willing to grant a divorce. Marion even went as far as to claim that Mrs. Wennergreen attempted to shoot her at a post office in Mexico. Marion returned to Preminger's home feeling embarrassed and shamed. She again resumed her appearances as Preminger's wife, and nothing more. Preminger was enjoying his escapades as a freewheeling man-about-town and had begun dating Natalie Draper, a niece of Marion Davies.
While filming Carmen Jones (1954), Preminger began an affair with star Dorothy Dandridge, which lasted four years. During that period, Preminger advised her on career matters, including an offer made to Dandridge for the featured role of Tuptim in the 1956 film of The King and I. Preminger told her to turn down the supporting role, as he believed it to be unworthy of an actress who had already been nominated for an Academy Award in the lead acting category. This proved to be poor advice, and heeding it became one of Dorothy Dandridge's major regrets. She ended the affair with Preminger upon realization that he had no plans to leave his first wife to marry her. Their affair was depicted in the HBO Pictures biopic, Introducing Dorothy Dandridge.
Otto Preminger died in New York City in 1986, aged 79, of cancer and Alzheimer's disease. He was cremated and is interred in a niche in the Azalea Room of the Velma B. Woolworth Memorial Chapel at Woodlawn Cemetery, The Bronx, New York.