A Conversation with Erik Preminger, Son of Burlesque Star Gypsy Rose Lee


You have such a famous Hollywood history. How did you end up in Orinda and what do you like about living here?
    I’ve lived in Orinda for 20 years, but my wife Linda has lived here for 50 years, so she is the one who brought me here. There is nothing not to like. The weather is great, as are the surroundings and the old trees. Even before I lived in Orinda I would drive through and think this is a beautiful, quiet piece of paradise on earth.

What was it like growing up as the child of the famous “striptease artist” Gypsy Rose Lee?
    There were two sides to it as there always are to any adventure – and it was definitely an adventure. We traveled six to nine months of the year all over the country and internationally. I had been around the world twice before I was 13 years old.
    She put me to work when I was six years old. I did everything from being her dresser to her photographer. She made me a part of her life and gave me a role to play. Part of me loved it, and part of me wished I could read comic books all day.

Your mom raised you as a single mother way ahead of her time?
    Yes, my mother was married three times, all very brief. The love of her life was Mike Todd (who she never married). When he suddenly married Elizabeth Taylor, my mom decided to have a child. Although she was married to her second husband at the time, she absolutely conceived in her mind that I was her child and hers alone.
    She was a strong personality and was very independent. She and she alone designed what my upbringing would be. Through her example, she gave me great respect for women.

At 17 years old you found out the man named on your birth certificate wasn’t your biological father; but instead was Otto Preminger, the famous director?
    Yes, and my mom insisted we keep the secret as long as she was alive. I went to work for Otto after my discharge from the Army. About a year after my mother died, Otto and I were walking down 5th Avenue in New York City when he was stopped on the street by a man who turned to me and said, “…and this must be your son.” We went through with the by now standard dance, “Oh, no, this is my assistant Erik Kirkland.” After the man left, Otto said, “There’s no longer any reason to keep our relationship secret. I’d like to adopt you and formally make you my son.” I agreed.

You’ve led quite an interesting life. Beyond your globe-trotting childhood, you’ve worked in film and television production, wrote a memoir and composed and performed a one-man show about your mother. What was your favorite job?
    That’s tough. I guess I’d give the edge to my job at KGO-TV working on AM San Francisco/Good Morning Bay area as a producer and entertainment reporter in the late 80’s and early 90’s.

What’s your favorite memory of your mother?
    I guess one of the most moving moments came while she was dying. She asked me how it was with me and Otto. When I told her it was going well she said, “I’m glad. That’s why I chose him, you know. I could have had a child by Mike (Todd) anytime, but Mike had a mean streak that I didn’t want my child to inherit. But Otto had it all. He was smart, successful, and sweet, in spite of his reputation. All qualities I wanted my child to inherit.”

Kathy Cordova can be reached at cordova@theorindanews.com.


  1. Loved reading this. Have a original
    Painting from husband # 2 (I guess) which hung in my parents house since I was little. I now have it in my house and love it.

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