Released in June 1959 by Columbia Pictures. Music by George Gershwin. Lyrics by DuBose Heyward and Ira Gershwin. Screenplay by N. Richard Nash, based on the libretto by DuBose Heyward. Produced by Samuel Goldwyn. Directed by Otto Preminger. Cast included Sidney Poitier, Dorothy Dandridge, Sammy Davis, Jr., Pearl Bailey, Brock Peters, Leslie Scott and Diahann Carroll.
The 1950s revival of PORGY AND BESS that successfully toured the world and brought the Gershwins’ “folk opera” behind the Iron Curtain, prompted a bidding war for the rights to bring it to the big screen. Stage director Robert Breen fought hard for the right to direct the film, but producer Samuel Goldwyn hired the opera’s original director, Rouben Mamoulian, who was also an experienced Hollywood filmmaker. But Mamoulian was quickly fired and replaced by Otto Preminger, who had successfully brought CARMEN JONES to the screen in 1954. Preminger had a reputation as an autocrat and none of the film’s stars had an easy time during the making of the film, particularly Dorothy Dandridge, with whom Preminger had had an affair. The end result was not aided by the unrealistic stage-bound sets and the dubbing of Dandridge and Sidney Poitier’s singing voices. Though well-received upon its release, relatively successful at the box office, and an Academy Award winner (for André Previn’s adaptation of the score), Goldwyn’s rights to distribute PORGY AND BESS eventually lapsed and the film has since remained generally unavailable for viewing.