Otto Preminger by Foster Hirsch
His name has descended into obscurity in the two decades since his death, but Otto Preminger (1905-1986) was once a very famous man, one of the handful of film directors powerful enough to insist that his own name appear above the title of the movies he directed. At the height of his career, he was as well-known as Alfred Hitchcock. But rather than contend with Hitchcock for the title of “master of suspense,” Preminger became the master of manufactured controversy, working hand in hand with a willing press to challenge the strictures of Hollywood’s self-imposed censorship system. Preminger practically pioneered the use of coy outrage as a marketing ploy, as when he insisted on his characters speaking the words “virgin” and “mistress” in The Moon Is Blue (1953), despite a 20-year ban imposed by the Production Code and the condemnation of the League of Decency, a Catholic organization that set itself the task of policing popular culture.
Nor was Preminger’s battle on behalf of “adult” filmmaking the only cause of his celebrity. An imposing man with a thick Austrian accent and a massive bald pate, Preminger played memorable onscreen villains in fare as varied as the Batman television series and the World War II drama Stalag 17. Preminger’s role as a German prison-camp warden in the latter film was an inside joke of sorts between him and its director, Billy Wilder, because this putative Nazi came from a family of Polish-Jewish strivers.
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