Richly embroidered biography of the legendary stage and film director with an incendiary temper and uneven legacy.
Preminger (1905–1983) could not have asked for a more assiduous or generous biographer than Hirsch (Film/Brooklyn College; Kurt Weill on Stage: From Berlin to Broadway, 2002, etc.), who has visited the archives, studied the films, interviewed the principals, walked the ground and read all relevant documents. The result will endure as the definitive life of one of film’s most intriguing and volcanic personalities. Born in Poland to a German-speaking Jewish family, Preminger spent his childhood in Austria, where he soon became obsessed with the theater. Gifted with an extraordinary memory, a ferocious work ethic and a vaulting ambition, the young man quickly established himself as an actor. When premature baldness ended his career as a leading man, he moved into character parts, often playing Nazis, then into the director’s chair. He arrived in New York in 1935 to direct a production on Broadway and by 1936 was making films for Darryl Zanuck at Twentieth Century Fox. Later he became an independent producer and director. Hirsch devotes sufficient space to Preminger’s personal life, but his principal interest is in his subject’s evolution—and eventual disintegration—as a filmmaker. The author describes the mounting of each production, with wrenching accounts of Preminger’s fiery clashes with performers ranging from Marilyn Monroe to Paula Prentiss, Faye Dunaway and Dyan Cannon. He also unblinkingly records Preminger’s bullying of Tom Tryon and Jean Seberg, among others. But Hirsch credits the director for such fine films as Laura, Anatomy of a Murder and the underrated Advise & Consent. He praises Preminger, too, for dealing with difficult subjects and for breaking the blacklist by giving Dalton Trumbo, who refused to testify before the 1947 HUAC, a screen credit.
Executed with the conviction and meticulousness of a Preminger production.