The Samuel Goldwyn-produced, Otto Preminger-directed 1959 musical Porgy and Bess “was a much-touted, much-seen and in some quarters much-admired motion picture in its time,” writes Robert Osborne in The Hollywood Reporter, “with four Oscar nominations (and one win) to its credit and a cast filled with talented people who, if not yet icons, certainly became so in the years after: Sidney Poitier, Dorothy Dandridge, Pearl Bailey, Sammy Davis Jr. and Diahann Carroll.”
Unfortunately, as Osborne's goes on to explain, Porgy and Bess “has not – except in a few rare instances – rolled through a projector in decades but will again Sept. 26-27[, 2007] at the Ziegfeld in Manhattan amid much hoopla, all in conjunction with the publication of an extensive new biography on the film's director titled Otto Preminger: The Man Who Would Be King, written by Foster Hirsch, published by Knopf and headed for bookstores Oct. 21.”
Unseen 'Porgy and Bess': George Gershwin estate remains a stumbling block
Porgy and Bess, the legendary Samuel Goldwyn's last film production, has remained virtually unseen since its television showings in the early '70s. The estates of composers George and Ira Gershwin and lyricist DuBose Heyward currently hold the rights to the property, which has been criticized by some for its portrayal of blacks.
But if the film is so demeaning, why did Sidney Poitier, Dorothy Dandridge, Pearl Bailey, et al. agree to appear in it? And even if it were demeaning, should we ban from viewing every film or book or play or any work of art that some (inevitably) will find offensive?
Osborne quotes author Hirsch in his Otto Preminger book: “Whatever their objections, the estate has a moral responsibility to ensure that viewers have the opportunity to come to their own conclusions about this still contested work.”
'Porgy and Bess' remains hard to find
October 2013 update: Six years later, Porgy and Bess can be seen only on a region free DVD featuring an un-restored print of the film. For all it's worth, two years ago the final Samuel Goldwyn production was included in the Library of Congress' National Film Registry.
Dorothy Dandridge and Sidney Poitier Porgy and Bess photo: Samuel Goldwyn / Columbia Pictures.