After arriving in Preminger's office, the director handed Lee a script and asked her to consider the small, ingénue-like role of Mary Pilant, the murdered man's daughter. "Lee coolly glanced over the script, announced 'I don't want it - it's too small a role for me,'" thanked him and left. "Otto was speechless for a moment, then spluttered, 'What young actress would consider a role under my direction as unimportant? Just who does this character - this unknown starlet - think she is?'"
Lee not only knew who she was, but what she wanted. "I did a very brave thing," Lee said later, "or, perhaps, a very foolish thing." She told Preminger: "No, thank you, I really would not!"
Preminger had hired Lana Turner for the lead female role, but had a screaming match with her within weeks of her signing for the part. Newspaper headlines screamed "Lana Walks Out on 'Murder.'"
After arguing over which costumes she would wear, Lana said,"Mr. Preminger is a very difficult and unreasonable man. It was simply impossible to deal with Mr. Preminger's unpredictable temper. I am by no means a prude, but Preminger's language was intolerable, not to mention that tyrannical behavior that went with it."
With Lana's exit, Preminger decided to give that "character," that "unknown starlet" a chance at the lead role of Laura Manion. He called Lee and asked, "Have you had your baby?"
Katherine Lee Colleran, Lee's first child, was just a few weeks old when Lee got the call to go to California. She "was exhilarated. The three films she had made were nothing compared with this. The script was exciting, the part marvelous. She went away in a daze, but when she told friends of her good fortune there were raised eyebrows: 'Preminger?' they said as if she was entrusting herself to the tender mercy of the Gestapo. 'He will insult you! He will scream at you!'"
Lee admitted, "I was terrified because I'd heard all the stories. I was frightened of Otto's reputation. I knew he had all but destroyed poor Jean Seberg on the Saint Joan thing and I was a young and vulnerable actress of no great experience-the kind of person he liked to go after." But the part was just too good to turn down.
With the film underway, everyone waited to see who Preminger would pick as his first victim. Ben Gazzara, who played Lee's husband, Lt. Frederick Manion, observed that Preminger "was really abusive to his assistants and to the day players who came in for a scene or two." Arthur O'Connell, who played Jimmy Stewart's assistant, Parnell McCarthy, "supposed it was a happy set," but couldn't help noticing how Preminger "badgered the other actors."
"Friends and acquaintances whom Lee met in the evenings looked at her quizzically: 'Was he awful?' they asked. 'Was he terrible?'" "Otto was extremely nice to me," she recalls. "I had this going for me that I had produced this little baby girl who was only five weeks old when we started shooting...Perhaps because of Kate's presence in my life, this tiny fragile little thing, Otto was afraid to be too nasty. He was always charming, always complimentary about the work itself."
But then it happened. Lee was having trouble remembering her lines for a particular scene and Preminger's vile temper exploded. "He did start in on me one day and I replied in kind, and after that he didn't do it any more. I guess if Otto had looked cross-eyed at me, I would have melted on the spot. But I played it like a ping- pong tournament, verbal thrusts back and forth, and kept it terribly funny. When I made him laugh he realized that I know it's all a game."
At the end of the day's shooting, "Lee astonished her co-workers by her adroit handling of the giant. She walked up to him and smiling sweetly, said, 'Otto, you were a good fellow today, almost a Pollyanna character. Why, you hardly yelled at anybody here.'
"The assistant director gulped; the cameraman's eyes bugged out and the cast stood silently, waiting for Preminger's earth-shaking response. Nothing happened. Lee simply turned on her heel and strolled off the set with a casualness that left Otto uncharacteristically speechless. It was the beginning of an armistice between director and star - a triumph for Lee Remick and almost a new experience for Preminger."
Sources: Screenland TV-Land - "How Lee Remick Shocked Hollywood" by Maxine Block; New York Times - Joanne Stang, "The Lady Known As Lee" "Lana," by Morella & Epstein; "Behind the Scenes of Otto Preminger" by Willi Frischauer; "James Stewart - A Biography" by Donald Dewey; and "Colleen Dewhurst" by Colleen Dewhurst.
-- by Allison