Belligerent and evasive, Josef von Sternberg chose to ignore his illegitimate birth in Austria, deprived New York childhood, abusive father, and lack of education. The director who strutted onto the set in a turban, riding breeches, or a silk robe embraced his new persona as a world traveller, collected modern art, drove a Rolls Royce, and earned three times as much as the president.
Von Sternberg traces the choices that carried the unique director from poverty in Vienna to power in Hollywood, including his eventual ostracism in Japan. Historian John Baxter reveals an artist few people knew: the aesthete who transformed Marlene Dietrich into an international star whose ambivalent sexuality and contradictory allure on-screen reflected an off-screen romance with the director.
In his classic films The Blue Angel (1930), Morocco (1930), and Blonde Venus (1932), von Sternberg showcased his trademark visual style and revolutionary representations of sexuality.
Drawing on firsthand conversations with von Sternberg and his son, Von Sternberg breaks past the classic Hollywood caricature to demystify and humanize this legendary director.
John Baxter, codirector of the annual Paris Writers Workshop, is the author of Immovable Feast: A Paris Christmas and We’ll Always Have Paris: Sex and Love in the City of Light, as well as biographies of many Hollywood luminaries including Federico Fellini, Luis Buñuel, Steven Spielberg, Ken Russell, George Lucas, Woody Allen, Stanley Kubrick, and Robert DeNiro. He lives in Paris, France.
“Baxter paints a fascinating portrait of a man clearly riddled with complexes which often led him to adopt an extremely arrogant persona.” —David Thompson, coeditor of Scorsese on Scorsese
"This book presents my father as a real individual, in a real setting. There is much to his history presented here that I did not know, and Baxter has presented it with a great deal of insight. It is the first time someone has attempted writing about his life in this way, not merely presenting the facts, but embellishing his life with his own interpretations."
—Nicholas von Sternberg
"Provocative, well-written, and whether you love Sternberg's work or you hate it, you'll find it hard to put this book down."—Kevin Brownlow, author of The Parade's Gone By
"Fans of Erich von Stroheim and Orson Welles will find familiar terrain in this accomplished work."—huffingtonpost.com
"The ego has landed. The most indefatigable self-glorifier in US cinema (born plain Joe Sternberg and affecting the "von") gets thoroughgoing, perceptive and even sympathetic treatment from a veteran biographer. The maker of The Blue Angel, Morocco, Blonde Venus and The Scarlet Empress deserves no less."—Financial Times