Born to a Jewish family in Szilágysomlyó, Austria-Hungary (now Șimleu Silvaniei, Sălaj County, Romania), Pasternak was a successful film producer in Germany and Austria by the time he was 28 years old.
Pasternak worked for Universal Pictures in Europe, where he made German-language musicals for the international market. He hit upon a successful formula, building light musical comedies around an adolescent soprano (Franciska Gaal). Following the establishment of the Nazi regime, Pasternak emigrated to Universal's Hollywood studio in 1936. He adapted his usual format for English-speaking audiences, casting 14-year-old Canadian singer Deanna Durbin in Three Smart Girls (1936). The film became a huge hit and reputedly saved Universal from bankruptcy. Pasternak produced a string of Durbin musicals, and soon discovered another talented soprano, Gloria Jean. who began her own series in 1939. Pasternak proved to be a real asset for the studio, generating a number of popular films, including Destry Rides Again (1939) and Seven Sinners (1940).
In 1941 he moved to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, where he continued to produce operetta films, featuring the rich singing voices of Kathryn Grayson and Jane Powell, although his biggest MGM success came with The Great Caruso (1951), a vehicle for and Mario Lanza. another MGM star. Pasternak continued to make musicals for MGM into the 1960s, with Elvis Presley or Connie Francis.
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. For his contribution to the motion picture industry, Joe Pasternak has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 1541 N. Vine Street.
He was also an enthusiastic amateur chef, and he wrote a book Cooking with Love and Paprika (published in 1966).
Joe Pasternak died in Beverly Hills, California from complications arising from Parkinson's disease only a few days shy of his 90th birthday. He is interred in the Hillside Memorial Park Cemetery in Culver City, California.
Partial filmography 
- Ludwig II, King of Bavaria (1929)
- Little Mother (1935)
- Three Smart Girls (1936)
- One Hundred Men and a Girl (1937)
- Destry Rides Again (1939)
- The Under-Pup (1939)
- Anchors Aweigh (1945)
- Thrill of a Romance (1945)
- Three Daring Daughters (1948)
- The Toast of New Orleans (1950)
- Summer Stock (1950)
- The Great Caruso (1951)
- The Merry Widow (1952)
- The Student Prince (1954)
- Athena (1954)
- Hit the Deck (1955)
- Love Me or Leave Me" (1955)
- The Opposite Sex (1956)
- Where the Boys Are (1960)
- Please Don't Eat the Daisies (1960)
- Billy Rose's Jumbo" (1962)
- The Courtship of Eddie's Father (1963)
- Girl Happy (1965)
- Spinout (1966)
- Made in Paris (1966)
- The Sweet Ride (1968)