Motion Picture Director. He is credited with discovering the legendary film actress Marlene Dietrich. He was born Jonas Sternberg to Jewish parents in Vienna, Austria-Hungary. His father was a former soldier in the Austria-Hungarian army. When he was two years old, his father emigrated to the US and five years later he and the rest of his family joined him. They went back to Vienna three years later and returned to the US when he was fourteen, and his father found employment as a lace worker. He dropped out of high school and worked in a lace warehouse, and later found a job cleaning and repairing movie prints. Around 1915 he was working for William A. Brady at the World Film Company at Fort Lee, New Jersey, where he was mentored by Emile Chautard and other French-speaking directors and cinematographers, In 1919 Chautard hired him as an assistant director for a version of "The Mystery of the Yellow Room" and in 1925 he made his directorial debut with "The Salvation Hunters," cited by some movie experts as the first American independent film. Silent film actor Charlie Chaplain was impressed by "The Salvation Hunters" and encouraged actors Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford to obtain the rights to it. Pickford asked Sternberg to direct a movie with her as the star, but rejected his first scenario. Chaplain commissioned him to write and direct "A Woman of the Sea" (also known as "The Sea Gull"), starring his former star and lover Edna Purviance. He then directed for Paramount Pictures the silent films "The Last Command" (1928) and "The Docks of New York" (1928). He directed his first sound film "Thunderbolt" in 1929 and his career declined soon afterwards, and he accepted an invitation to make a sound film in Berlin, Germany, directing the first German-language talkies "Melodie des Herzens (1929) and then the widely acclaimed film "The Blue Angel' (1930), in both German and English. It was in this film that he cast little known Marlene Dietrich as Lola Lola, the female lead, which made her an instant international star. He returned to the US with Dietrich where they filmed "Morocco" (1930), "Dishonored" (1931), "Shanghai Express" (1932), "Blonde Venus" (1932), "The Scarlett Express" (1934), and "The Devil is a Woman' (1935). His last Hollywood film was "Macao" (1952) and his final film, "Anatahan" (1953) was filmed in Japan, had limited release, and was a financial failure. Between 1959 and 1963 he taught a film aesthetics course at the University of California at Los Angeles that was based on his own films. Among his students include Jim Morrison and Ray Manzarek, who went on to form the legendary rock musical group The Doors. Manzarek would later refer to Sternberg as "perhaps the greatest single influence on The Doors." He died from a heart attack at his home in Beverly Hills, California at the age of 75. During his film career he directed 8 silent films (of which 4 are lost or destroyed) and 16 sound films. In 1965 he published his autobiography "Fun in a Chinese Laundry." The false aristocratic title "von" was added to his name in 1925 by actor/cop-producer Elliot Dexter during the production "By Divine Right, reportedly to "even up" the credits as they appeared on the screen. He did not object and the "title" stuck.
Bio by: William Bjornstad