Pasternak in 1957
September 19, 1901
|Died||September 13, 1991 (aged 89)|
Joseph Herman "Joe" Pasternak (September 19, 1901 – September 13, 1991) was an Hungarian-born American film producer in Hollywood. Pasternak spent the Hollywood "Golden Age"of musicals at MGM Studios, producing many successful musicals with singing stars like Deanna Durbin, Kathryn Grayson and Jane Powell, as well as swimmer/bathing beauty Esther Williams' films. He produced Judy Garland's final film, Summer Stock, in 1950. Pasternak worked in the film industry for 45 years, from the later silent era until shortly past the end of the classical Hollywood cinema in the early 1960s.
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.
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. 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.
In 1928, Universal Pictures sent Pasternak to Europe as an associate producer to work on German-language films for the international market.  Pasternak produced a series of movies directed by, and often starring, William Dieterle: The Brandenburg Arch in 1929 with Paul Henckels and June Marlowe; Triumph of Love and Silence in the Forest also in 1929; Rustle of Spring and Ludwig II, King of Bavaria, a drama, both in 1930, and One Hour of Happiness in 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).
Other Pasternak 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 (Infidelity, 1931); Ich geh' aus und Du bleibst da (The Inconstant: I go out and you stay here in German and French, 1931); Der Storch streikt (The Stork Strikes, 1931); The Night Without Pause (1931) with Sig Arno co-directed by Andrew Marton; Bobby geht los (Bobby goes off, 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.
Pasternak 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 (The Invisible Secretary, 1933) and Pardon, tévedtem (Excuse me, I was wrong, 1933). (Note translations are basic, not officially approved titles.)
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
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."
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. 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. In 1938, Pasternak did a comedy, Youth Takes a Fling, 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 again in First Love (1939). In 1939, he 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 the three women 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. Finally, with Dietrich he did Seven Sinners (1940) (with John Wayne) and The Flame of New Orleans (1941).
In June 1941, after finishing Eve, Pasterrnak left Universal. Although he still had two years to run on his contract, he had "differences of opinion" with management, and by mutual consent the parties elected to terminate the contract.
In June 1941, Pasternak announced he had joined MGM as a producer for a reported $3,500 a week. Several studios had been interested in the him, 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. Pasternak later sat on the executive committee and came to be regarded as one of the three most important persons in the company, alongside Louis B. Mayer and Vice President Sam Katz.
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. Pasternak followed these with Thousands Cheer (1943) with Grayson and Gene Kelly, which was 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.
Pasternak was responsible for Esther Williams' first proper vehicle, Thrill of a Romance (1945), co-starring Van Johnson; it made over $3 million in profits. Also hugely popular were Anchors Aweigh (1945) with Grayson, Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra. Pasternak also did some non-musical romantic comedies, including Her Highness and the Bellboy (1945) with Hedy Lamarr and Robert Walker, and No Leave, No Love (1946) with Johnson. Both were popular. 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 in 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. This Time for Keeps in 1947 with Williams, was more profitable.
In 1948 Pasternak had very mixed results. Three Daring Daughters in 1948 with Powell and Jeanette MacDonald, while popular, lost money. Pasternak also tried his first drama in the U.S. with Big City (1948), starring O'Brien, which was a big money loser. More popular were the 1948 musicals On an Island with You with Esther Williams; A Date with Judy with Jane Powell, Wallace Beery and Elizabeth Taylor; and Luxury Liner again with Powell. Pasternak unfortunately had a big flop with the Sinatra-Grayson musical The Kissing Bandit that same year, which lost MGM over $2 million.
In 1949, Pasternak bounced back with In the Good Old Summertime with Garland and Johnson, and introduced Mario Lanza in That Midnight Kiss with Kathryn Grayson, which was a solid hit. Nancy Goes to Rio with Powell, a remake of It's a Date, made a minor loss. In 1950, The Toast of New Orleans with Grayson was a solid hit, as was Duchess of Idaho with Williams. Pasternak produced the final Judy Garland film at MGM, Summer Stock in 1950, co-starring Gene Kelly, and then had the biggest hit of his career to date with The Great Caruso in 1951, a vehicle for Mario Lanza which made almost $4 million in profit for the studio. After the popular Rich, Young and Pretty (1951) with Powell, Pasternak made a film noir with Mickey Rooney, The Strip (1951) 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 again tried a drama, this time with Turner, Flame and the Flesh (1954), but it was not a notable success. 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 in 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.
The industry was changing, and musicals were becoming increasingly unprofitable for MGM. Conversely, a tough biopic Pasternak produced about Ruth Etting, 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. Pasternak had two big flop musicals, one in 1956, The Opposite Sex, a remake of The Women with Allyson, and another in 1957, Ten Thousand Bedrooms with Dean Martin. Also unsuccessful was the Jean Simmons comedy This Could Be the Night in 1957. It was then time for a change.
In April 1956 Pasternak left MGM after 14 years. He set up the independent production company Euterpe with Sam Katz. 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 screenplay by Felix Jackson. However Euterpe and Columbia could not come to terms and dissolved their agreement in November 1957.
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 Cyd 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 group of new stars: George Hamilton, Dolores Hart, Yvette Mimieux, Connie Francis, Jim Hutton, and Paula Prentiss.
In the 1960s, Pasternak produced a mix of hits and misses. He reunited Hutton and Prentiss in The Horizontal Lieutenant (1962) but it was not as popular as Boys. Then he had a failure with Billy Rose's Jumbo (1962) starring Day, which lost almost $4 million. However, Pasternak responded with a comedy starring Glenn Ford, The Courtship of Eddie's Father in 1963 that was a hit; 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. 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 (1966), both of which made money. He also did a Natalie Wood comedy Penelope (1966), which was a box office disappointment.
Pasternak produced the 1965, 1966 and 1967 Academy Awards. In 1966 he was honored with a retrospective of his work.
20th Century Fox
In 1967 Pasternak left MGM and went to 20th Century Fox. He only made one film there The Sweet Ride (1968). Pasternak had a stroke before filming, and Sweet Ride would turn out to be his last film. In 1968 he was also 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."
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. 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.
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.
- Ludwig II, King of Bavaria (1929)
- Rustle of Spring (1929)
- Secret Police (1929)
- The Daredevil Reporter (1929)
- Two People (1930)
- Witnesses Wanted (1930)
- Of Life and Death (1930)
- Next, Please! (1930)
- The Night Without Pause (1931)
- I Go Out and You Stay Here (1931)
- Five from the Jazz Band (1932)
- The Rebel (1932)
- A Tremendously Rich Man (1932)
- Scandal in Budapest (1933)
- Peter (1934)
- Spring Parade (1934)
- A Precocious Girl (1934)
- Little Mother (1935)
- Catherine the Last (1936)
- Three Smart Girls (1936)
- One Hundred Men and a Girl (1937)
- Mad About Music (1938)
- Youth Takes a Fling (1938)
- That Certain Age (1938)
- Three Smart Girls Grow Up (1938)
- The Under-Pup (1939)
- First Love (1939)
- Destry Rides Again (1939)
- It's a Date (1940)
- Spring Parade (1940)
- A Little Bit of Heaven (1940)
- Seven Sinners (1940)
- Nice Girl? (1940)
- The Flame of New Orleans (1941)
- It Started with Eve (1941)
- Seven Sweethearts (1942)
- Presenting Lily Mars (1943)
- Thousands Cheer (1943)
- Song of Russia (1944)
- Two Girls and a Sailor (1944)
- Music for Millions (1944)
- Thrill of a Romance (1945)
- Anchors Aweigh (1945)
- Her Highness and the Bellboy (1945)
- Two Sisters from Boston (1946)
- Holiday in Mexico (1946)
- No Leave, No Love (1946)
- The Unfinished Dance (1947)
- This Time for Keeps (1947)
- Three Daring Daughters (1948)
- Big City (1948)
- On an Island with You (1948)
- A Date with Judy (1948)
- Luxury Liner (1948)
- The Kissing Bandit (1948)
- In the Good Old Summertime (1949)
- That Midnight Kiss (1949)
- Nancy Goes to Rio (1950)
- Duchess of Idaho (1950)
- The Toast of New Orleans (1950)
- Summer Stock (1950)
- The Great Caruso (1951)
- Rich, Young and Pretty (1951)
- The Strip (1951)
- Skirts Ahoy! (1952)
- The Merry Widow (1952)
- Because You're Mine (1952)
- Small Town Girl (1953)
- Latin Lovers (1953)
- Easy to Love (1953)
- Flame and the Flesh (1954)
- The Student Prince (1954)
- Athena (1954)
- Hit the Deck (1955)
- Love Me or Leave Me (1955)
- Meet Me in Las Vegas (1956)
- The Opposite Sex (1956)
- Ten Thousand Bedrooms (1957)
- This Could Be the Night (1957)
- Party Girl (1958)
- Ask Any Girl (1959)
- Please Don't Eat the Daisies (1960)
- Where the Boys Are (1960)
- The Horizontal Lieutenant (1962)
- Billy Rose's Jumbo (1962)
- The Courtship of Eddie's Father (1963)
- A Ticklish Affair (1963)
- Looking for Love (1964)
- Girl Happy (1965)
- Spinout (1966)
- Made in Paris (1966)
- Penelope (1966)
- The Sweet Ride (1968)
- L. N. (1940, Feb 18). "Joe Pasternak, former busboy, creates american cinderellas". Washington Post (1923-1954) Retrieved from https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.sl.nsw.gov.au/docview/151243589?accountid=13902. Subscription to Proquest required.
- Staff Writer. (1936, Feb 27). "Former waiter coming here as film producer." Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) Retrieved from https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.sl.nsw.gov.au/docview/164536040?accountid=13902. Subscription to Proquest required.
- Scheuer, P. K. (1980, Jan 09). "Pasternak: The man who out-disneyed disney." Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) Retrieved from https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.sl.nsw.gov.au/docview/162644291?accountid=13902. Proquest subscription required.
- Douglas W. Churchill. (1941, Jun 07). "Screen News Here and in Hollywood". New York Times (1923-Current File) Retrieved from https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.sl.nsw.gov.au/docview/106040730?accountid=13902. Subscription to Proquest required.
- W. W. (1928, Dec 09). "Screen Life in Hollywood", The Washington Post (1923-1954) Retrieved from https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.sl.nsw.gov.au/docview/149873208?accountid=13902. Subscription to Proquest required.
- Staff Writer. (1937, Jan 17). "Design for Producing". New York Times (1923-Current File) Retrieved from https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.sl.nsw.gov.au/docview/101997453?accountid=13902 ProQuest subscription required.
- Scheuer, P. K. (1965, Feb 09). "Koster got start sitting under tree." Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) Retrieved from https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.sl.nsw.gov.au/docview/155129220?accountid=13902. Proquest subscription required.
- Douglas W. Churchill (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 https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.sl.nsw.gov.au/docview/105541796?accountid=13902. Proquest subscription required.
- Scott Eyman: Lion of Hollywood – The Life and Legend of Louis B. Mayer, p.363 Linked 2014-01-28
- Larry Ceplair, Steven Englun: The Inquisition in Hollywood: Politics in the Film Community, 1930-1960, p.312 Linked 2014-01-28
- The Eddie Mannix Ledger, Los Angeles: Margaret Herrick Library, Center for Motion Picture Study.
- "Edwin Schallert. (1944, July 16) "Crown as Hollywood's Zip Girl of 1944 Goes to Esther Williams: Bathing Beauty Possessed of More Than Pulchritude". Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) Section C1.
- Variety says that it earned $1.8 million; see Staff Writer. (1949, Jan 5) "Top Grossers of 1948", Variety p 46
- "Top Grossers of 1949". Variety. 4 January 1950. p. 59.
- R. L. Coe. (1956, Apr 15). "Horatio Alger had Pasternak in mind". Washington Post and Times Herald. (1954-1959) Retrieved from https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.sl.nsw.gov.au/docview/148819771?accountid=13902. Proquest subscription required.
- TCM: Gidget - production notes Linked 2014-01-28
- AFI: Euterpe Productions, Inc. Linked 2014-01-28
- AFI: Euterpe, Inc. Linked 2014-01-28
- IMDb: Euterpe Linked 2014-01-28
- Thomas M. Pryor (1957, Nov 13). "Film to be Made on Olympic diver". New York Times (1923-Current File) Retrieved from https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.sl.nsw.gov.au/docview/114288587?accountid=13902 Proquest subscription required.
- Hedda Hopper. (1959, Jul 03) "Looking at Hollywood: Joe Pasternak to Film College Vacation Tale". Chicago Daily Tribune (1923-1963) Section a4.
- V. C. (1966, Jul 12). "To Joe Pasternak, Froth is Success". New York Times (1923-Current File) Retrieved from https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.sl.nsw.gov.au/docview/117427117?accountid=13902. Proquest subscription required.
- L. B. Norma. (1967, Feb 19). "Joe pasternak, in 60s, is busy making films of young love". Chicago Tribune (1963-Current File) Retrieved from https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.sl.nsw.gov.au/docview/179149951?accountid=13902. Proquest subscription required.
- L. Lilliston. (1970, Apr 05). "Pasternak's bout with parkinsonism". Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) Retrieved from https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.sl.nsw.gov.au/docview/156471005?accountid=13902 Proquest subscription required.