Joseph Burstyn

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Joseph Burstyn (1900–1953) was a U.S. film distributor who specialized in the commercial release of foreign-language and American independent film productions.

Life and career[edit]

Born in Poland, he arrived in the U.S. in 1921 and initially worked as a public relations representative for the Yiddish theater circuit in New York City before becoming active in film distribution with business partner Arthur Mayer from the late 1930s to the late 1940s.

His most famous releases include The Forgotten Village (1941) written by John Steinbeck, the Roberto Rosselini classics Rome, Open City (1945) and Paisà (1946), The Quiet One (1948), the Academy Award-nominated Little Fugitive (1953), and Fear and Desire (1953), the first feature film directed by Stanley Kubrick.[1]

Joseph Burstyn Inc. vs. Wilson[edit]

From 1951-53, Burstyn was at the center of Joseph Burstyn, Inc. v. Wilson, 343 U.S. 495 (1952)[1], which resulted in a landmark decision by the United States Supreme Court which helped end film censorship in New York.[2]

The court decision determined that certain provisions of the New York State Education Law allowing a censor to forbid the commercial showing of any non-licensed motion picture film, or revoke or deny the license of a film deemed to be "sacrilegious", was a "restraint on freedom of speech" and thereby a violation of the First Amendment; in this case, the film in question was "The Miracle", directed by Roberto Rossellini, an Italian short film that was part of the anthology film Ways of Love (1950).[1]


Burstyn died in November 1953 of a coronary thrombosis during a trans-Atlantic flight.[1][3]

List of films distributed by Mayer and Burstyn (1933-48)[edit]

List of films distributed by Joseph Burstyn Inc. (1950-55)[edit]


  1. ^ a b c “Burstyn, Film Man, Dies on Sea Flight”, New York Times, November 30, 1953 (fee access required)
  2. ^ Jowett, G. (1996). "A significant medium for the communication of ideas": The Miracle decision and the decline of motion picture censorship, 1952-1968. Movie censorship and American culture, pgs. 258-276. Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press
  3. ^ "Obituaries", Time Magazine, December 7, 1953

External links[edit]