Joe Pasternak

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Joe Pasternak
Joe Pasternak.jpg
Joe Pasternak
Born Joseph Herman "Joe" Pasternak
September 19, 1901 (1901-09-19)
Szilágysomlyó, Austria-Hungary
Died September 13, 1991 (1991-09-14) (aged 89)
Beverly Hills, California
Nationality American
Occupation film producer

Joseph Herman "Joe" Pasternak (September 19, 1901 – September 13, 1991) was an Hungarian-born American film producer in Hollywood.


Early Life

He was born to a Jewish family in Szilágysomlyó, Austria-Hungary (now Șimleu Silvaniei, Romania). His father was a town clerk and Pasternak was one of eleven children.

In 1920 he emigrated to the US as a teenager and went to stay with an uncle in Philadelphia. He worked in a factory, punching holes in leather belts, and did a variety of other jobs. He also studied acting in New York.[1][2]

Assistant Director

In 1922 Pasternak got a job as a busboy at the Paramount studio in Astoria, Queens at $8 a week; after a year he was head waiter and making $120 a week, including tips.[2] He quit in 1923 to become an assistant for Allan Dwan and worked his way up from fourth assistant at $16 a week to first assistant at $75 a week.[1][3]

He worked as an assistant director on The Phantom of the Opera (1925) and It's the Old Army Game (1926).

He tried directing, a two-reeler with El Brendel.[1] It was seen by Wesley Ruggles who offered him a job at Universal as an assistant director at $35 a week.[3][4]


In 1928, Universal Pictures sent him to Europe as an associate producer to work on German-language films for the international market. [5]

Paternak produced a series of movies directed by (and often starring) William Dieterle: The Brandenburg Arch (1929), with Paul Henckels and June Marlowe; Triumph of Love (1929), Rustle of Spring (1930), Silence in the Forest (1930), Ludwig II, King of Bavaria (1930) (a drama), and One Hour of Happiness (1931).

Pasternak also produced three films directed by Edmund Heuberger and starring Eddie Polo: Secret Police (1929), Witnesses Wanted (1930), and Of Life and Death (1930).

His other films included The Daredevil Reporter (1929), written by Billy Wilder, starring Eddie Polo and directed by Ernst Laemmle; Next, Please! (1930) directed by Erich Schönfelder; Two People (1930) with Charlotte Susa directed by Erich Waschneck; The Great Longing (1930), directed by Steve Sekely; Seitensprünge (1931); Ich geh' aus und Du bleibst da (1931); L'inconstante. Je sors et tu restes là (1931); Der Storch streikt (1931); The Night Without Pause (1931) with Sig Arno co-directed by Andrew Marton; Bobby geht los (1931); A Tremendously Rich Man (1932); Five from the Jazz Band (1932) directed by Erich Engel; and The Rebel (1932), a historical epic directed by Curtis Bernhardt, Edwin H. Knopf and star Luis Trenker.

He did Secret Agent (1932) and Johnny Steals Europe (1932) both with Harry Piel, then A Tremendously Rich Man (1932) with director Steve Sekely, Die unsichtbare Front (1933) and Pardon, tévedtem (1933).


When Hitler came to power in Germany, Pasternak moved to Hungary. There he did a series of films starring Franciska Gaal: Romance in Budapest (1933) with Sekely (also shot in German as Scandal in Budapest); A Precocious Girl (1934), directed by Max Neufeld and Richard Eichberg; Spring Parade (1934); Peter (1934) directed by Henry Koster; Little Mother (1934) (later remade in Hollywood as Bachelor Mother); and Catherine the Last (1936).

Universal in Hollywood

Pasternak (right) receiving his star on Hollywood Boulevard from Johnny Grant with Gene Kelly on the left on July 29, 1991.

Universal recalled Pasternak, giving him a $500 a week contract. He brought back Henry Koster with him and the two men set about making the sort of movie they had in Europe. "No one's going to get sick or die in my pictures," Pasternak said at the time. "That's no form of entertainment."[2]

Pasternak cast 14-year-old Canadian singer Deanna Durbin, who he had seen in a short, in Three Smart Girls (1936), directed by Koster. The film became a huge hit and reputedly saved Universal from bankruptcy.[1][6] [7]

He followed it with two more Durbin films, One Hundred Men and a Girl (1937), directed by Koster, and Mad About Music (1938), directed by Norman Taurog.

He did a comedy, Youth Takes a Fling (1938) then was back with Durbin for That Certain Age (1938), and Three Smart Girls Grow Up (1939).

Pasternak soon discovered another talented soprano, Gloria Jean, who began her own series in 1939, starting with The Under-Pup (1939). He produced Durbin in First Love (1939) and had a huge hit with the comedy Western, Destry Rides Again (1939), starring Marlene Dietrich and James Stewart, which helped revitalise Dietrich's career.

Pasternak alternated between three stars - with Durbin he did It's a Date (1940), Spring Parade (1940) (a remake of his 1934 film), Nice Girl? (1940) and It Started with Eve (1941); with Jean he did A Little Bit of Heaven (1940), a sort of sequel to The Under-Pup; with Dietrich he did Seven Sinners (1940), with John Wayne and The Flame of New Orleans (1941).

In June 1941, after finishing Eve, he left Universal. Pasternak still had two years to run on his contract with Universal but had "differences of opinion" with management and they elected to terminated it by mutual consent.[4]


In June of 1941, Pasternak announced he had joined MGM as a producer for a reported $3,500 a week. Several studios had been interested in the producer but Louis B. Mayer wanted Pasternak and allowed the producer several concessions. Mayer assigned young soprano Kathryn Grayson, who had only made one film for MGM, to Pasternak's unit so that he might make her into a star like Durbin.[8]

Pasternak later sat on the executive committee[9] and was regarded as one of the three most important persons in the company, alongside Louis B. Mayer and Vice President Sam Katz.[10]

At MGM he continued to produce operetta films, starting with Seven Sweethearts (1942) starring Grayson and Presenting Lily Mars (1943) starring Judy Garland. Both were very popular.[11]

Pasternak followed these with Thousands Cheer (1943) with Grayson and Gene Kelly, a huge hit; Song of Russia (1944), a musical which later became notorious because of its pro-Russian viewpoint; Two Girls and a Sailor (1944) with June Allyson, Van Johnson and Gloria De Haven, and Music for Millions (1944) with Allyson and Margaret O'Brien. All these films were hits.

He did Esther Williams' first proper vehicle, Thrill of a Romance (1945), co-starring Van Johnson; it made over $3 million in profits.[12] Also hugely popular were Anchors Aweigh (1945) with Grayson, Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra.

Pasternak did some non-musical romantic comedies, Her Highness and the Bellboy (1945) with Hedy Lamarr and Robert Walker and No Leave, No Love (1946) with Johnson. Both were popular.[11]

However, around this time Pasternak mostly specialized in musicals: Two Sisters from Boston (1946) with Grayson and Allyson was a hit, as was, Holiday in Mexico (1946) with Walter Pidgeon and Jane Powell (her debut for MGM). However, The Unfinished Dance (1947) with O'Brien and Cyd Charisse lost over a million dollars - the first Pasternak MGM film to do so.[11] This Time for Keeps (1947) with Williams, was more profitable, but Three Daring Daughters (1948), with Powell and Jeanette MacDonald, while popular, lost money.

Pasternak tried his first drama in the U.S. with Big City (1948), starring O'Brien, which was a big money loser.

More popular were musicals like On an Island with You (1948) with Williams; A Date with Judy (1948) with Powell, Wallace Beery and Elizabeth Taylor; and Luxury Liner (1948) with Powell.

Pasternak had a big flop with the Sinatra-Grayson musical The Kissing Bandit (1948), which lost MGM over $2 million.[13][14] He bounced back with In the Good Old Summertime (1949) with Garland and Johnson.

Paternak introduced Mario Lanza in That Midnight Kiss (1949) and The Toast of New Orleans (1950), both with Grayson and both solid hits. Nancy Goes to Rio (1949) with Powell, a remake of It's a Date, made a minor loss, but Duchess of Idaho (1950) with Williams was a big success.

Pasternak produced the final Judy Garland film at MGM, Summer Stock (1950), co-starring Gene Kelly. He had the biggest hit of his career to date with The Great Caruso (1951), a vehicle for Mario Lanza which made almost $4 million in profit for the studio.[11]

After the popular Rich, Young and Pretty (1951) with Powell, Pasternak made a film noir with Mickey Rooney, The Strip (1952), which flopped.

More typical was Skirts Ahoy! (1952) with Williams; The Merry Widow (1952) with Lana Turner and Fernando Lamas; and Because You're Mine (1952) with Lanza. Small Town Girl (1953) with Powell lost money, as did Latin Lovers (1953) with Turner and Ricardo Montalban, but Easy to Love (1953) with Williams and Johnson was another hit.

Pasternak tried a drama with Turner, Flame and the Flesh (1954), but it was not a notable success hit. However, The Student Prince (1954) with Ann Blyth and Edmund Purdom miming to Mario Lanza singing, was a huge success.

Pasternak did Hit the Deck (1955) with Powell, Vic Damone and Debbie Reynolds, which was popular but failed to recoup its cost. Athena (1955) with Powell, Reynolds, Damone and Purdom, was a straight out flop. Meet Me in Las Vegas (1955) with Charisse was well received, but failed to recoup its cost - musicals were becoming increasingly unprofitable for MGM.

Conversely, a tough biopic Pasternak produced about Ruth Ettig, Love Me or Leave Me (1955), starring Doris Day and James Cagney, was a hit.

In 1956, Pasternak published his memoir, Easy the Hard Way.[15]

Pasternak had two big flop musicals with The Opposite Sex (1956), a remake of The Women with Allyson, and Ten Thousand Bedrooms (1957) with Dean Martin both flopped. Also unsuccessful was the Jean Simmons comedy This Could Be the Night (1957).


In April 1956 Pasternak left MGM after 14 years. He set up the independent production company Euterpe with Sam Katz.[16][17][18][19] They made an agreement with Columbia to finance their films, and announced several projects: The Chiselers starring Alan Ladd, Three Blondes, Gidget based on a novel by Frederick Kohner and Nora an original buy Felix Jackson. However Euterpe and Columbia could not come to terms and dissolved their agreement in November 1957.[20]

Pasternak set up Euterpe back at MGM. He was an immediate success, turning out four hits in a row: a highly regarded thriller, Party Girl (1958), with Robert Taylor and Charisse; two comedies with David Niven: Ask Any Girl (1959) with Shirley MacLaine and Please Don't Eat the Daisies (1960) with Day; and a teen comedy, Where the Boys Are (1960), which introduced a swag of new stars: George Hamilton, Dolores Hart, Yvette Mimieux, Connie Francis, Jim Hutton, Paula Prentiss.[21]

Pasternak reunited Hutton and Prentiss in The Horizontal Lieutenant (1962) but it was not as popular as Boys, and had a failure with Billy Rose's Jumbo (1962) starring Day, which lost almost $4 million.[11]

Pasternak responded with a hit comedy starring Glenn Ford, The Courtship of Eddie's Father (1963); the film introduced Ronny Howard showing the producer still had skill in discovering young stars.

Less successful was A Ticklish Affair (1963) with Shirley Jones and Looking for Love (1964) with Francis and Hutton.

Pasternak produced the 1965, 1966 and 1967 Academy Awards.

He did a poorly received musical with Ann-Margret (in a part turned down by Doris Day), Made in Paris (1966), then made two Elvis Presley films co-starring Shelley Fabares, Girl Happy (1965) and Spinout (film)Spinout (1966), both of which made money. He also did a Natalie Wood comedy Penelope (1966), which was a box office disappointment.

In 1966 Pasternak was honored with a retrospective of his work.[22]

20th Century Fox

In 1967 Pasternak left MGM and went to 20th Century Fox.[23] He only made one film there The Sweet Ride (1968). Pasternak had a stroke before filming and Sweet Ride turned out to be his last film.

In 1968 he was stricken with Parkinson's Disease. He recovered slightly two years later but made no more films. He said at the time "I am proud that I have produced 105 pictures and not one of them is adults only."[24]

In 1980 he estimated his films had earned $400 million. "If I had a percentage I'd be the richest man in town," he said.[3]

His career as a film producer spanned 40 years and earned him two Oscar nominations and three Golden Globe Award nominations. He retired in 1968, having produced more than ninety feature-length films as well as three Academy Award shows.


Pasternak is the father of Michael Joseph Pasternak, the radio disk jockey known as Emperor Rosko; Jeff Pasternak, a playwright and songwriter; and Peter Pasternak, a music industry professional.

He was married to Dorothy. In his later years he suffered from Parkinson's Disease.

Death and tribute

Joe Pasternak died in Beverly Hills, California from complications arising from Parkinson's disease six days shy of his 90th birthday. He is interred in the Hillside Memorial Park Cemetery in Culver City, California. For his contribution to the motion picture industry, Joe Pasternak has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 1541 N. Vine Street.

Partial filmography


  1. ^ a b c d By, L. N. (1940, Feb 18). Joe pasternak, former busboy, creates american cinderellas. The Washington Post (1923-1954) Retrieved from
  2. ^ a b c Former waiter coming here as film producer. (1936, Feb 27). Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) Retrieved from
  3. ^ a b c Scheuer, P. K. (1980, Jan 09). Pasternak: The man who out-disneyed disney. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) Retrieved from
  4. ^ a b By DOUGLAS W CHURCHILLSpecial to THE NEW,YORK TIMES. (1941, Jun 07). SCREEN NEWS HERE AND IN HOLLYWOOD. New York Times (1923-Current File) Retrieved from
  5. ^ By, W. W. (1928, Dec 09). SCREEN LIFE IN HOLLYWOOD. The Washington Post (1923-1954) Retrieved from
  6. ^ DESIGN FOR PRODUCING. (1937, Jan 17). New York Times (1923-Current File) Retrieved from
  7. ^ Scheuer, P. K. (1965, Feb 09). Koster got start sitting under tree. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) Retrieved from
  8. ^ By DOUGLAS W CHURCHILLBy Telephone to THE NEW,YORK TIMES. (1941, Jun 20). Pasternak will join metro production staff -- 'out of the fog' opens today at strand. New York Times (1923-Current File) Retrieved from
  9. ^ Scott Eyman: Lion of Hollywood – The Life and Legend of Louis B. Mayer, p.363 Linked 2014-01-28
  10. ^ Larry Ceplair, Steven Englun: The Inquisition in Hollywood: Politics in the Film Community, 1930-1960, p.312 Linked 2014-01-28
  11. ^ a b c d e The Eddie Mannix Ledger, Los Angeles: Margaret Herrick Library, Center for Motion Picture Study .
  12. ^ Crown as Hollywood's Zip Girl of 1944 Goes to Esther Williams: Bathing Beauty Possessed of More Than Pulchritude Bathing Girl Has Film Zip Title for 1944 Schallert, Edwin. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 16 July 1944: C1.
  13. ^ Variety says it earned $1.8 million see "Top Grossers of 1948", Variety 5 January 1949 p 46
  14. ^ "Top Grossers of 1949". Variety. 4 January 1950. p. 59. 
  15. ^ Coe, R. L. (1956, Apr 15). Horatio alger had pasternak in mind. The Washington Post and Times Herald (1954-1959) Retrieved from
  16. ^ TCM: Gidget - production notes Linked 2014-01-28
  17. ^ AFI: Euterpe Productions, Inc. Linked 2014-01-28
  18. ^ AFI: Euterpe, Inc. Linked 2014-01-28
  19. ^ IMDb: Euterpe Linked 2014-01-28
  20. ^ By THOMAS M PRYOR Special to The New,York Times. (1957, Nov 13). FILM TO BE MADE ON OLYMPIC DIVER. New York Times (1923-Current File) Retrieved from
  21. ^ Looking at Hollywood: Joe Pasternak to Film College Vacation Tale Hopper, Hedda. Chicago Daily Tribune (1923-1963) [Chicago, Ill] 03 July 1959: a4.
  22. ^ By, V. C. (1966, Jul 12). TO JOE PASTERNAK FROTH IS SUCCESS. New York Times (1923-Current File) Retrieved from
  23. ^ Norma, L. B. (1967, Feb 19). Joe pasternak, in 60s, is busy making films of young love. Chicago Tribune (1963-Current File) Retrieved from
  24. ^ Lilliston, L. (1970, Apr 05). Pasternak's bout with parkinsonism. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) Retrieved from

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