Josef von Sternberg was born Jonas Stern into a poor, Orthodox Jewish family in Vienna on May 29th, 1894. The false aristocratic title 'von' was added in 1925 by actor/co-producer Elliott Dexter during the production of “By Divine Right”.
He was educated variously in Vienna and New York and entered the movie business in 1911, working in menial jobs for the World film company in New Jersey before settling in Hollywood in 1924.
After the Salvation Hunters (1925), his visually impressive debut shot on the docks of San Pedro bay with semi-professional actors and a limited budget, Sternberg joined paramount in 1926 as an assistant director.
In 1930 Sternberg traveled to Germany to direct Emil Jannings in “The Blue Angel” (“er Blaue Engel”). The plot concerns an aging professor who is destroyed by his infatuation with Lola Lola, headline act at a local strip club. In his hunt for an actress who could inhabit the role of the mysterious vamp Sternberg German singer and actress, Marlene Dietrich
, on the Berlin stage. Dietrich, a veteran of 20 minor German films, sporting a top hat and stockings, perched on a bar stool, singing 'Falling in Love Again', created an everlasting movie icon. The film became an instant classic of screen erotica and a huge international success.
After the success of The Blue Angel”, Dietrich left her husband and child to join Sternberg in Hollywood and what followed is one of cinema’s greatest actress-director partnerships.
In the mid 1950s Sternberg retired from directing, instead spending his time visiting film festivals and lecturing around the world.
He passed away from a heart attack in 1969.
The Blue Angel (1930)
The Shanghai Express (1932)
The Scarlet Empress (1934)
The Devil is a Woman (1935)
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