Josef Von Sternberg

Director, Writer, Film patcher
Once considered one of Hollywood's premier directors during the 1930s, Josef von Sternberg was mainly remembered for his seven films with German actress Marlene Dietrich. But his main contributions were actually to the ... Read more »
Born: 05/29/1894 in Austria

Filmography

Director (20)

It: Part One 2015 (Movie)

(Director)

Jet Pilot 1957 (Movie)

(Director)

Macao 1952 (Movie)

(Director)

The Saga of Anatahan 1951 (Movie)

(Director)

The Devil Is a Woman 1934 (Movie)

(Director)

The Scarlet Empress 1933 (Movie)

(Director)

Blonde Venus 1932 (Movie)

(Director)

Shanghai Express 1931 (Movie)

(Director)

An American Tragedy 1930 (Movie)

(Director)

Dishonored 1930 (Movie)

(Director)

Morocco 1930 (Movie)

(Director)

The Blue Angel 1930 (Movie)

(Director)

The Docks of New York 1927 (Movie)

(Director)

The Last Command 1927 (Movie)

(Director)

Underworld 1926 (Movie)

(Director)

Crime and Punishment (Movie)

(Director)

I Take This Woman (Movie)

(Director)

The Dragnet (Movie)

(Director)

The King Steps Out (Movie)

(Director)

Thunderbolt (Movie)

(Director)
Writer (4)

The Saga of Anatahan 1951 (Movie)

(Screenplay)

The Scarlet Empress 1933 (Movie)

(Screenplay)

Blonde Venus 1932 (Movie)

(From Story)

Dishonored 1930 (Movie)

("X-27") (From Story)
Music (2)

The Scarlet Empress 1933 (Movie)

(Music)

Dishonored 1930 (Movie)

(Music)
Camera, Film, & Tape (2)

The Saga of Anatahan 1951 (Movie)

cinematography (Cinematographer)

The Devil Is a Woman 1934 (Movie)

cinematography (Cinematographer)
Producer (2)

Blonde Venus 1932 (Movie)

(Producer)

An American Tragedy 1930 (Movie)

(Producer)
Actor (1)

The Saga of Anatahan 1951 (Movie)

Narration (Narrator)
Other (2)

Undivided Attention 2014 (Movie)

film extract("The Blue Angel") (Other)

Marlene 1986 (Movie)

film extracts("Der Blaue Engel/The Blue Angel" (1930) "Morocco" (1930) "Dishonored" (1931) "Blonde Venus" (1932) "The Scarlet Empress" (1934) "The Devil Is a Woman" (1935)) (Other)

Biography

Once considered one of Hollywood's premier directors during the 1930s, Josef von Sternberg was mainly remembered for his seven films with German actress Marlene Dietrich. But his main contributions were actually to the language of film, particularly his handling of lighting and mise-en-scene. Von Sternberg was first and foremost a master cinematographer whose expressionistic use of light and dark created stunning visuals onscreen that took on a life of their own. He made his mark as a director during the silent era with "The Salvation Hunters" (1925), "Underworld" (1927) and "The Last Command" (1928). Following the failure of "Thunderbolt" (1929), von Sternberg went back to Germany and cast the then-unknown Marlene Dietrich in "The Blue Angel" (1930), which he shot concurrently in English and in his native tongue. The film turned Dietrich into an international star, and with the exotic actress as his muse, rejuvenated his Hollywood career. Von Sternberg directed Dietrich in six more films, most notably "Morocco" (1930), "Blonde Venus" (1932), "The Shanghai Express" (1932) and "The Scarlett Empress" (1934). But once "The Devil is a Woman" (1935) failed at the box office, von Sternberg's collaboration with Dietrich was over. While he directed a few more films like "Crime and Punishment" (1935) and "The Shanghai Gesture" (1941), von Sternberg's career diminished. Despite the rather quiet end to his days as a director, von Sternberg's influence and reputation as the ultimate Svengali remained consequential for generations of filmmakers.

Born on May 29, 1894 in Vienna, Austria, von Sternberg was raised by his father, Moses, a former soldier in the Austrian-Hungarian army who made his way to America was his son was three, and his mother, Serafin. In 1901, his father sent for the family after obtaining work and von Sternberg lived for a time in New York, before going back to Vienna. In 1908, he returned to the States, this time for good, and grew up on Long Island, where he worked as an apprentice at his aunt's millinery store and as a stock clerk for a lace store. After dropping out of Jamaica High School, von Sternberg found work cleaning and repairing movie prints at the World Film Company in Fort Lee, NJ, where he rose to chief assistant to the director general. He went on to help make training films for the U.S. Army Signal Corps before earning his first credit as an assistant director on "The Mystery of the Yellow Ribbon" (1919), directed by Emile Chautard. In 1923, he moved to Hollywood and was the assistant director on "By Divine Right" (1923), before marking his debut as a director on "The Salvation Hunters" (1925), a successful picture widely considered to be America's first true independent film.

After joining Paramount Pictures as an assistant director, von Sternberg returned to directing his own films, making pictures like "Exquisite Sinner" (1926), "Underworld" (1927) and "The Last Command" (1928), which starred the great German actor Emil Jannings. It was Jannings who recommended that von Sternberg return to Europe to direct the film version of Heinrich Mann's "The Blue Angel" (1930). Casting the lead role of the sexy cabaret star Lola Lola, who could drive men to the most extreme humiliations in the name of love, proved to be a challenge for von Sternberg until he met Marlene Dietrich. If ever an actress and a role were right for one another, this was it. But her screen test failed to impress those working for the director, who dismissed her as commonplace. With the cameras rolling, however, there was nothing common about Dietrich - particularly when she sang "Falling in Love Again" to a smitten Jannings - which von Sternberg recognized immediately and which prompted a multi-film collaboration that brought out the best in both actress and director. Though some would claim he would later exert too much of a Svengali-like influence over both her film roles and her personal life. Meanwhile, "Die Blaue Engel" was an international success and helped rejuvenate von Sternberg's Hollywood career, which faltered after the failure of "Thunderbolt" (1929).

The first U.S. film between von Sternberg and Dietrich was "Morocco" (1930), a bold debut that featured her as cabaret singer Amy Jolly, an independent woman who dressed as a man, locked lips with a woman and referred to her leading man (Gary Cooper) as her girlfriend. Showcasing the actress' smoldering charisma, made more striking by von Sternberg's dark-shadowed lighting that brought out her simultaneously alluring and androgynous qualities, "Morocco" was a hit for the studio, netting some $2 million in revenue. Over the next five years, director and star worked together on what may have been one of the more intriguing collaborations of the Golden Age. Each of their films was manufactured in the studio, despite being set in foreign lands. Von Sternberg, however, used light and shadow to paint visual poetry and conjure an image of a leading lady that was at once beautiful and scathing. Whether casting his actress as a spy dressed in black leather in "Dishonored" (1931) or the glamorous lady of the evening in "Shanghai Express" (1932) or Russian monarch Catherine the Great in "The Scarlett Empress" (1934), von Sternberg shaped Dietrich's ineffable allure that turned her into one of the biggest stars of her day. But with "The Devil Is a Woman" (1935), a controversial box office flop criticized for its apparent denigration of Spanish people, von Sternberg and Dietrich worked together for the last time.

During his post-Dietrich era, von Sternberg directed a handful of projects before his career went into permanent decline. He directed an adaptation of Fyodor Dostoevsky's "Crime and Punishment" (1935) before launching an attempt to helm "I, Claudius" in 1937, which remained unfinished due to problems with financial backers. After "Sergeant Madden" (1939), starring Wallace Beery, he directed "The Shanghai Gesture" (1941), a delightfully dark film noir of suspense and exoticism in which Gene Tierney, Ona Munson, and Victor Mature together assume the Dietrich persona in this exploration of the denizens of a lurid Shanghai gambling house. It would be another 11 years before he directed his next film, "Macao" (1952), a financial disaster that turned out to be the last he made for Hollywood. He went on to help the Japanese-made war film, "The Saga of Anatahan" (1952), a poetic study of Japanese soldiers isolated on an island at the end of WWII, which the director later cited as his favorite work. Meanwhile, he was one of several directors to work on Howard Hughes' "Jet Pilot" (1957), which starred John Wayne and took four painful years to make. In 1959, von Sternberg began teaching film courses at the University of California, Los Angeles, where two of his students turned out to be Jim Morrison and Ray Manzarek of The Doors. Manzarek later cited von Sternberg as the greatest influence on the band and their music. He left his post at UCLA in 1963 and died six years later on Dec. 22, 1969 of a heart attack. He was 75 years old.

Relationships

Serafin Sternberg

Mother

Jeanne MacBride

Wife
married in 1943 was 21 at time of marriage worked as Von Sternberg's secretary had two children together

Riza Royce

Wife
married in 1926 divorced in 1930

Moses Sternberg

Father
Orthodox Jew left for US when Von Sternberg was three sent for family in 1901

Nicholas Sternberg

Son
mother, Jeanne Annette MacBride

EDUCATION

Jamaica High School

Jamaica , New York
attended briefly

Milestones

1959

Taught course on the aethetics of film at UCLA

1953

Last film shot in Jjapan, "The Saga of Anatahan"

1947

Taught class in film directing at USC

1940

Filmed documentary "The Town" for US Office of War Information

1937

Went to England to work for Alexander Korda on "I Claudius"

1930

Moved to Germany, directed UFA's first sound film, "The Blue Angel" (first of seven films with Marlene Dietrich)

1926

Joined Paramount as assistant director

1925

Directorial debut, "The Salvation Hunters"

1924

Added "von" to name at suggestion of actor Elliot Dexter while working as scenarist and assistant on "By Divine Right"

1923

Moved to Hollywood; first work as assistant director on "By Divine Right"

1919

First credit as assistant director, "The Mystery of the Yellow Room" (dir. Emile Chautard)

1917

Joined Army Signal Corps; helped make training films

1914

Film patcher, then chief assistant to the director general, with World Film Company, Fort Lee, NJ

1908

Moved back to USA (Long Island)

1904

Returned to Vienna

1901

Sent for by father who was living in the USA

Changed first name to Josef and left home at 17

Semi-retired during mid 1950s

Worked as apprentice at aunt's millinery store and as stock clerk for lace store

Bonus Trivia

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"No theory of the cinema is viable unless it considers Josef von Sternberg one of its major talents" --John Baxter in "Hollywood in the Thirties"

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"I am Marlene and Marlene is me" --Josef von Sternberg

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He received the George Eastman House Medal of Honor in 1957.

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Made honorary member of the Akademie der Kunste, Berlin in 1960.

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