Josef von Sternberg Biography

(Film Director)

Birthday: May 29, 1894 (Gemini)

Born In: Vienna, Austria

Josef von Sternberg was an Austrian-American film director known for films like ‘Morocco’ and ‘The Scarlet Empress.’ A very talented director, he is credited with introducing a hitherto unknown Marlene Dietrich to Hollywood and making an international superstar out of her. Sternberg and Dietrich worked together in a number of films, which were both commercial as well as critical successes, helping establish both the director and the actress as major figures of the Hollywood golden age. Born into a Jewish family in Vienna, he migrated to the United States as a child. His family was of humble means and he dropped out of high school to get a job. By chance one of his early jobs was at the World Film Company where he was exposed to the techniques of film-making. He found a mentor in French-American film director, Emile Chautard, who hired the young man as an assistant director for one of his films. Soon Sternberg began directing films and enjoyed moderate success. It was only after he started his collaboration with Dietrich that he enjoyed phenomenal success which established him as one of the foremost Hollywood directors of his era. He also had a role to play in creating the glamorous images of actresses like Carole Lombard, Rita Hayworth and Dolores del Rio.
Quick Facts

Also Known As: Jonas Sternberg

Died At Age: 75


Spouse/Ex-: Jean Annette McBride (1945-1947; divorced), Meri Otis Wilner (1948-1969), Riza Royce (1926-1930; divorced)

father: Moses (Morris) Sternberg

Directors American Men

Died on: December 22, 1969

place of death: Hollywood, California

City: Vienna, Austria

Childhood & Early Life
Josef von Sternberg was born Jonas Sternberg on 29 May 1894 to a Jewish family in Vienna. His father, Moses (Morris) Sternberg, was a former soldier in the army of Austria-Hungary.
His father moved to the United States in search of work when the boy was two years old. A few years later, Jonas too moved to the US with the rest of his family. The entire family returned to Vienna after three years only to move back to the US eventually.
He grew up in humble surroundings as his family struggled to make ends meet. The boy attended public schools in New York and dropped out of Jamaica High School as a teenager.
Continue Reading Below
He began doing odd jobs soon after dropping out. He was first exposed to the film industry when he landed a job of cleaning and repairing movie prints. By the mid-1910s he was working at the World Film Company at Fort Lee, New Jersey, under William A. Brady.
During this time the French-American film director, Emile Chautard, took the young boy as a protégé and mentored him in the science and art of film-making. He was also guided by the other French-speaking directors and cinematographers at the company.
In 1919, Chautard hired Sternberg as an assistant director for a version of ‘The Mystery of the Yellow Room.’ He honed his directorial skills over the years and made his directorial debut in 1925 with ‘The Salvation Hunters.’
Around this time he adopted the name Josef von Sternberg. The legendary Charlie Chaplin was impressed by the emerging director’s work and the two collaborated to make the film ‘A Woman of the Sea’ (1926) which Chaplin produced and Sternberg directed. The completed film was, however, never publicly screened.
As a director, Sternberg enjoyed moderate success in the late 1920s with silent films like ‘Underworld’ (1927), ‘The Last Command’ (1928), ‘The Docks of New York’ (1928), and ‘Thunderbolt’ (1929).
In 1929, he accepted an invitation to make a film in Germany. He went to Berlin where he directed ‘The Blue Angel’ (German: Der blaue Engel), a tragicomedic film starring Emil Jannings, Marlene Dietrich and Kurt Gerron. The movie was a big hit and launched Dietrich as a major international star.
He invited Dietrich to Hollywood and the two formed a highly successful artistic collaboration and worked together in a number of well-received films including ‘Morocco’ (1930), ‘Dishonored’ (1931), ‘Shanghai Express’ (1932), ‘Blonde Venus’ (1932), ‘The Scarlet Empress’ (1934), and ‘The Devil is a Woman’ (1935).
Their collaboration, though artistically successful was personally a tumultuous one which ended after the release of ‘The Devil is a Woman’ which failed to perform as expected at the box office. After their fall-out, Sternberg’s career was never the same and he could not recreate his magic in Hollywood anymore despite continuing to direct films until the 1950s.
He co-directed his last Hollywood film ‘Macao’ in 1952. The black-and-white film noir adventure was a big flop and recorded a loss of $700,000. The last film of his career was ‘Anatahan’ (1953) which was made in Japan. The film had limited release and was a box office failure.
Continue Reading Below

He taught a course on film aesthetics at the University of California at Los Angeles between 1959 and 1963.
Major Works
The film ‘Morocco’, starring Gary Cooper and Marlene Dietrich, was one of Sternberg’s most successful movies. The film, which was about a cabaret singer and a Legionnaire who fall in love during the Rif War, was nominated for four Academy Awards including the Best Director Award for Sternberg.
His film ‘The Scarlet Empress’, a historical drama film about the life of Catherine the Great is well-known for its atmospheric and suggestively demonic production design. Replete with erotic images, the film was considered to be a controversial one at the time of its release though modern critics view it more favorably.
Awards & Achievements
His film ‘The Devil Is a Woman’ (1935) won the Award for Best Cinematography at the Venice Film Festival.
He won the German Film Award - Special Award for Outstanding Contributions to German Cinema, in 1963.
Personal Life & Legacy
Josef von Sternberg was thrice married. His first marriage to Riza Royce in 1926 ended in 1930. During the 1930s he was obsessed with Marlene Dietrich and is believed to have been sexually involved with her.
His second marriage to Jean Annette McBride in 1945 barely lasted a couple of years and ended in 1947.
He tied the knot for the third time in 1948 with Meri Otis Wilner. The couple had one child and remained together for almost two decades until Sternberg’s death.
He died after a heart attack on 22 December 1969, at the age of 75.

See the events in life of Josef Von Sternberg in Chronological Order

How To Cite

Article Title
- Josef von Sternberg Biography
- Editors,

People Also Viewed

Moses Biography
Christopher Nolan Biography
Christopher Nolan
(American, British)
Greta Gerwig Biography
Greta Gerwig
Clint Eastwood Biography
Clint Eastwood
Sylvester Stallone Biography
Sylvester Stallone
Robert De Niro Biography
Robert De Niro
Adam Sandler Biography
Adam Sandler
Ben Affleck Biography
Ben Affleck