Henry Koster


Henry Koster (born Hermann Kosterlitz, May 1, 1905 – September 21, 1988) was a German-born film director. He was the husband of actress Peggy Moran. Koster was born to Jewish parents in Berlin, Germany. He was introduced to cinema about 1910 when his uncle opened a very early movie theater in Berlin. Koster’s mother played the piano to accompany the films, leaving the young boy to occupy himself by watching the films. After working initially as a short story writer, Kosterlitz was subsequently hired by a Berlin movie company as scenarist, became assistant to director Curtis Bernhardt. Bernhardt became sick one day and asked Kosterlitz to take over as director.

In 1932, Koster directed his first film in Berlin, the comedy Thea Roland. Koster, who was in the midst of directing his second film Das häßliche Mädchen, had already been the subject of antisemitism, and knew he had to leave. He lost his temper at an SA officer at his bank during lunch hour, and knocked the officer out. When the film, written by Koster with Felix Joachimson, had its premiere in autumn 1933 their names were deleted and both went into exile. Koster left Germany for France, where he was rehired by Bernhardt (who had left earlier). Eventually Koster went to Budapest and met and married Kató Király in 1934. In Budapest he met Joe Pasternak again, who represented Universal in Europe, and directed three films for him. One of those films was Catherine the Last after a script by Joachimson and Károly Nóti that was remade in 1938 by Norman Taurog as The Girl Downstairs both versions starring Franciska Gaal.

In 1936 Koster got a contract to work with Universal Pictures in Hollywood, and he travelled to the United States to work with Pasternak, other refugees and his wife. Although Koster did not speak English, he convinced the studio to let him make Three Smart Girls (1936), for which he personally coached 14-year-old star Deanna Durbin. This picture, a big success, pulled Universal out of bankruptcy. Koster’s second Universal film, One Hundred Men and a Girl (1937), with Durbin and Leopold Stokowski put the studio, Durbin, Pasternak, and Koster on top.

Koster discovered Abbott and Costello working at a nightclub in New York. He returned to Hollywood and convinced Universal to hire them. Their first picture, which featured the Who’s On First? routine, was One Night in the Tropics. The female lead, Peggy Moran, would become Koster’s second wife in 1942. When he married Moran, Koster promised her he would put her in every movie he made from then on. He did, but it was her statue. Usually it is a sculptured head on a mantelpiece or a piano or desk. For The Robe he commissioned a Grecian bust which appears prominently in a Roman villa.

Henry Koster went on to do numerous musicals and family comedies during the late 1930s and early 1940s, with Durbin, Betty Grable, and other musical stars of the era. He and Joe Pasternak filmed a successful screen test for Universal’s newest singing star, Gloria Jean, but Koster would never direct one of her features; when Pasternak left Universal for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in June 1941, Koster went with him. Ironically, despite Koster’s escape from Nazi Germany, when the United States entered World War II Koster was considered an enemy alien and had to stay in his house in the evening. Actor Charles Laughton would visit Koster and play chess with him.

Koster’s postwar career was equally successful. He was nominated for an Academy Award for The Bishop’s Wife (1947), with Cary Grant and Loretta Young. Other notable films of the time include The Inspector General (1949), with Danny Kaye, Walter Slezak, Barbara Bates, and Elsa Lanchester. In 1950 he directed what was his biggest success to date, the James Stewart comedy Harvey. He directed Richard Burton’s first U.S. film, My Cousin Rachel (1952), with Olivia de Havilland; then was given the first CinemaScope film to direct, The Robe (1953), with Richard Burton, Jean Simmons, Victor Mature, Michael Rennie, Dean Jagger, Jay Robinson, Richard Boone, and Jeff Morrow. He directed some more costume dramas, including No Highway in the Sky (1951), with Stewart, Marlene Dietrich, Glynis Johns, Niall MacGinnis, Janette Scott and Jack Hawkins; Désirée (1954) with Marlon Brando and Jean Simmons; The Virgin Queen (1955), with Bette Davis, The Naked Maja (1958) with Ava Gardner and The Story of Ruth (1960), with Elana Eden, then went back to family comedies and musicals, including Flower Drum Song (1961), with Nancy Kwan, James Shigeta, Miyoshi Umeki, Jack Soo, Benson Fong, and Juanita Hall; and Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation (1962), with Stewart and Maureen O’Hara. His last picture was The Singing Nun (1965), with Debbie Reynolds. Koster retired to Leisure Village, Camarillo, California, to indulge in his lifelong interest in painting. He painted a series of portraits of the movie stars with whom he worked.

Although Koster never won an Oscar himself, he directed six different actors in Oscar-nominated performances: Cecil Kellaway, Loretta Young, Celeste Holm, Elsa Lanchester, Josephine Hull, James Stewart and Richard Burton. Hull won the Oscar for Harvey.

Each review will be linked to the title below.

(*seen originally in theaters)

(**seen released in theaters)


  • The Great Opportunity (1925) – directed by Lorand von Kabdebo
  • The Woman from Berlin (1925) – directed by Lorand von Kabdebo
  • Orphan of Lowood (1926) – directed by Curtis Bernhardt
  • Children’s Souls Accuse You (1927) – directed by Curtis Bernhardt
  • One Plus One Equals Three (1927) – directed by Felix Basch
  • Prinz Louis Ferdinand (1927) – directed by Hans Behrendt
  • The Last Fort (1928) – directed by Curtis Bernhardt
  • Sinful and Sweet (1929) – directed by Carl Lamac
  • German Wine (1929) – directed by Carl Froelich
  • Diary of a Coquette (1929) – directed by Constantin J. David
  • The Last Company (1930) – directed by Curtis Bernhardt
  • The Indictment (1931) – directed by Dimitri Buchowetzki
  • The Man Who Murdered (1931) – directed by Curtis Bernhardt
  • Woman in the Jungle (1931) – directed by Dimitri Buchowetzki
  • I’ll Stay with You (1931) – directed by Johannes Meyer
  • Reckless Youth (1931) – directed by Leo Mittler
  • Who Takes Love Seriously? (1931) – directed by Erich Engel
  • The Rebel (1932) – directed by Curtis Bernhardt
  • Gypsies of the Night (1932) – directed by Hanns Schwarz
  • Five from the Jazz Band (1932) – directed by Erich Engel
  • The Tunnel (1933) – directed by Curtis Bernhardt
  • The Weaker Sex (1933) – directed by Robert Siodmak
  • Polish Blood (1934) – directed by Carl Lamac
  • The Brenken Case (1934) – directed by Carl Lamac
  • The Double (1934) – directed by E.W. Emo
  • Gold in the Street (1934) – directed by Curtis Bernhardt
  • Ball at the Savoy (1935) – directed by Steve Sekely


  • Thea Roland (1932) – aka The Adventure of Thea Roland, Das Abenteuer der Thea Roland
  • The Private Secretary Gets Married (1933) – aka Das häßliche Mädchen
  • Peter (1934)
  • The Cross-Patch (1935)
  • The Plain Girl (1935) – aka A csúnya lány
  • The Affairs of Maupassant (1935)
  • Catherine the Last (1936)
  • Three Smart Girls (1936)
  • One Hundred Men and a Girl (1937)
  • The Rage of Paris (1938)
  • Three Smart Girls Grow Up (1939)
  • First Love (1939)
  • Spring Parade (1940)
  • It Started with Eve (1941)
  • Between Us Girls (1942)
  • Music for Millions (1944)
  • Two Sisters from Boston (1946)
  • The Unfinished Dance (1947)
  • The Bishop’s Wife (1947)
  • The Luck of the Irish (1948)
  • Come to the Stable (1949)
  • The Inspector General (1949)
  • Wabash Avenue (1950)
  • My Blue Heaven (1950)
  • Harvey (1950)
  • No Highway in the Sky (1951)
  • Mr. Belvedere Rings the Bell (1951)
  • Elopement (1951)
  • O. Henry’s Full House (1952) – directed with Henry Hathaway, Howard Hawks, Henry King, & Jean Negulesco – anthology
  • Stars and Stripes Forever (1952)
  • My Cousin Rachel (1952)
  • The Robe (1953)
  • Désirée (1954)
  • A Man Called Peter (1955)
  • The Virgin Queen (1955)
  • Good Morning, Miss Dove (1955)
  • D-Day the Sixth of June (1956)
  • The Power and the Prize (1956)
  • My Man Godfrey (1957)
  • Fräulein (1958)
  • The Naked Maja (1958)
  • The Story of Ruth (1960)
  • Flower Drum Song (1961)
  • Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation (1962)
  • Marilyn (1963)
  • Take Her, She’s Mine (1963)
  • Dear Brigitte (1965)
  • The Singing Nun (1966)