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Oak Park, Illinois
Birth Sign
Oak Park, Illinois

American filmmaker John Eliot Sturges was renowned for his tense war flicks and westerns. He started out in the film industry in Hollywood in the early 1930s as an editor before moving on to create a number of instructional movies and documentaries for the US Army Air Forces during the “Second World War.” He didn’t start helming blockbuster movies until after the war, when he made such masterpieces as “Bad Day at Black Rock,” “Ice Station Zebra,” “The Magnificent Seven,” “Gunfight at the O.K. Corral,” and “The Great Escape.” In the third Moscow International Film Festival, the latter submitted a film. He received a “Academy Award” nomination for Best Director for his innovative use of the widescreen Cinema Scope format in the thriller “Bad Day at Black Rock.” In addition to winning the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival, he was nominated for Best Director by the Directors Guild of America. His action movie “The Old Man and the Sea” took home the Best Foreign Language Film trophy at the Japan-based “Blue Ribbon Awards.” The “American Cinema Editors” presented him with the “Golden Eddie” Filmmaker of the Year award in 1970. He received the “Golden Boot Award” from the “Motion Picture & Television Fund” for his major contributions to the Western subgenre throughout the years.

Early Childhood & Life

The second son of Reginald G. R. Carne and Grace Delafield Sturges, he was born John Eliot Crane on January 3, 1910, in Oak Park, Illinois, United States. When John was just two years old, his English-born father, a real estate developer and banker, moved the family to Southern California and started the Bank of Ojai.

When John was approximately five years old, his father’s drinking caused family issues that ultimately led to their parents’ divorce, which was followed by his mother moving to a tiny house in Santa Monica with the kids. After that, his mother raised him and his brothers. Later, John took on his mother’s last name, which she had regained following their divorce, and he continued to use it throughout his entire life.

John Sturges was satisfied with his outdoor pursuits during his growing years, which included firing his BB pistol, riding ostriches, building wireless receivers, and racing soapboxes, despite the financial struggles the mother and her children endured.

He attended Berkeley High School after the family moved to Berkeley, California, in 1923. He took part in plays while still in high school, playing figures like the King Tut mummy and a pilgrim. He went to the “Marin Junior College” (now “College of Marin”) on a football scholarship and majored in science.

He made a career as a stage manager at the Tamalpais Theatre in San Anselmo in the years 1930–1931. In 1931, he moved to Los Angeles. In order to support himself while attending Santa Monica City College to study engineering, he worked odd jobs like pumping gas and painting.

Career of John Sturges

Sturges Carne joined RKO in 1932 as an assistant art director in the design and art departments, working under his brother Sturges Carne, who was the art director at the RKO Studios. His appointment to color consultant followed the eventual success of movies like “The Garden of Allah” and “Becky Sharp,” wherein he assisted Robert Edmond Jones in bringing three-strip Technicolor to RKO in 1934.

After that, he spent four years as an apprentice in the studio’s editing division. He next took on the role of second unit director for his master George Stevens’ successful adventure movie “Gunga Din” (1939). He served as the primary editor on the Garson Kanin-directed movies “They Knew What They Wanted” (1940) and “Tom, Dick, and Harry” (1941).

During the “Second World War,” he served as a Captain in the Army and filmed over 45 documentaries for the U.S. Army Air Corps and intelligence that were stationed in California, Culver City, Dayton, and Ohio. The films were broadcast to the troops, with “Thunderbolt,” a 43-minute video he co-produced with filmmaker William Wyler, being the most prominent. He received a Bronze Star for this two-year-old, color classic that was released in theaters.

When he joined “Columbia Pictures” with a weekly salary of $300, he made his directorial debut in Hollywood. He was given the opportunity to helm several B-movies. He made his debut as a filmmaker with the 1946 films “Alias Mr. Twilight,” “The Man Who Dared, Shadowed,” “Keeper of the Bees,” and “For the Love of Rusty,” as well as the 1949 movie “The Walking Hills.”

After working for Columbia Pictures for a while, Sturges secured a contract with the renowned American media conglomerate Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc (MGM) in November 1949. He worked on seven films for the company in less than two years, including the drama “The Girl in White” (1951), the film noir “The People Against O’Hara” (1951), the biographical “The Magnificent Yankee” (1950), the criminal drama “Mystery Street” (1950), and the drama “Right Cross” (1952).

He established himself as one of Hollywood’s leading action filmmakers with the 1953 Anscocolor western “Escape from Fort Bravo,” which made a $104,000 profit. But after spending so much time in front of the camera, his major break came with the 1955 thriller “Bad Day at Black Rock,” in which he reteamed with Tracy. In addition to receiving high marks from reviewers, the thriller movie, which also starred Robert Ryan, was a financial success, making $947,000. It garnered three nominations for “Academy Awards,” including one for Best Director, Sturges’ sole career-long nomination.

With movies like “Underwater!” (1955), “The Scarlet Coat” (1955), and “Backlash” (1956), he advanced, but he was not quite satisfied with the studio’s interference, which prompted him to work as a freelancer. His next big success was the 1957 movie “Gunfight at the O.K. Corral” with “Paramount Pictures,” which was based on a true story that took place on October 26, 1881. The movie, which starred Kirk Douglas as Doc Holliday and Burt Lancaster as Wyatt Earp, generated $4.7 million on its initial release and a whopping $6 million after it was redone.

It was nominated for two “Academy Awards,” one for sound recording and one for film editing. After ten years, Sturges produced ‘Hours of the Gun,’ a sort of sequel to the movie, with Jason Robards playing Holliday and James Garner playing Earp. The Magnificent Seven (1960), The Great Escape (1963), Ice Station Zebra (a 1968 picture with an all-male cast), Joe Kidd (1972), and The Eagle Has Landed were some of his other well-known productions (1976).

Personal Legacy & Life

He wed Warner Bros. secretary Dorothy Lynn Brooks in 1945. Michael Eliot Sturges, a boy, and Deborah Lynn Sturges Wyle, a daughter, were the couple’s only children. Later, the couple got divorced.  In 1984, he wed Katherine Helena Soules, his fishing companion, for a second time.  He had chronic emphysema, and on August 18, 1992, in San Luis Obispo, California, at the age of 82, he passed away from a heart attack.

Estimated Net Worth

John is one of the wealthiest and most well-liked directors. John Sturges’ net worth is around $1.5 million, according to our analysis of data from sources including Wikipedia, Forbes, and Business Insider.


Glenn Lovell’s book “Escape Artist: The Life and Films of John Sturges” was released by the University of Wisconsin Press in 2008.