Hunt Stromberg was born in Louisville, Kentucky in 1894. Leaving a career as a newspaper reporter and sports writer for the St. Louis Times, he followed an advertising friend into the motion picture industry prior to World War I, becoming publicity director for the Goldwyn Pictures Corporation in New York.
In 1918, the company sent Stromberg to California, where he developed an interest in filmmaking; by 1919 he had become the personal representative of industry pioneer Thomas H. Ince, and by 1921 he had written, produced and directed his first film. He promptly resigned from Ince's staff to form Hunt Stromberg Productions.
From his first independent film, The Foolish Age (1921), Stromberg quickly made his mark by turning out independent, low-budget films in increasing quantity and quality.
In 1922 Stromberg signed Bull Montana, a popular matinee idol, to a long-term contract to star in short comedies, and hired comedy director Mal St. Clair, who had worked with Mack Sennett and Buster Keaton. When Sid Grauman saw a rough cut of the resulting A Ladies' Man (1922), he immediately booked the film to premiere at his Million Dollar Theater in Los Angeles on April 30, 1922. Stromberg continued his string of successes with Breaking into Society (1923), which he wrote, produced and directed.
Stromberg joined newly formed Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in 1925 and became one of its key executives, listed as one of the studio's "Big Four" with Louis B. Mayer, Irving Thalberg, and Harry Rapf—later with Thalberg, David O. Selznick, and Walter Wanger.
He was the first production supervisor to get a "produced by" credit on-screen, well deserved considering his achievements. He produced:all of Jean Harlow's films
Joan Crawford's breakthrough films
Greta Garbo's first American film, Torrent (1926)
the Nelson Eddy/Jeanette MacDonald operetta cycle
the William Powell/Myrna Loy "Thin Man" series
as well as such prestige milestones as Academy Award-winning The Great Ziegfeld (1936), Marie Antoinette (1938), The Women (1939), and Pride and Prejudice (1940). At the height of his career, MGM was producing 52 films a year, or an average of one film a week, staying in the black despite the Great Depression.
Stromberg was one of the top ranked money makers of Hollywood, with a salary to match: US $8,000 a week, guaranteed. In 1937, he was included in management's inner circle and received an additional 1.5% of Loews Theaters profits. The Treasury Department listed Stromberg as one of the ten highest paid executives in the United States.
But there were substantial changes in those years. Thalberg died in 1936, while Selznick and Wanger left MGM in 1937, leaving Mayer in sole, hands-on control. There are conflicting interpretations of what caused the rift, but by the end of 1941 it was over: after 18 years Stromberg walked away from a contract worth millions, and Mayer let him go on February 10, 1942.
Hunt Stromberg was the first producer added to the Society of Independent Motion Picture Producers in 1942 after the group had been formed by Charlie Chaplin, Walt Disney, Samuel Goldwyn, Alexander Korda, Mary Pickford, David O. Selznick, Walter Wanger, and Orson Welles.
Confounding industry expectations, Stromberg launched his own independent production company, based at RKO's Encino movie ranch, in 1943 with the smash hit Lady of Burlesque, starring Barbara Stanwyck, which grossed $1.85 million.
His subsequent films were not as successful and he finally retired in 1951, in the same year his wife, Katherine Kerwin (1895–1951), died. An avid horseman and a shrewd businessman, Stromberg was independently wealthy by this time as well as a founding investor in Santa Anita Park and Hollywood Park Racetracks.
Stromberg died on August 23, 1968. He was survived by his son Hunt Stromberg Jr., a Broadway and television producer in his own right.Roaring Rails (1924), screenwriter
Soft Shoes (1925), screenwriter
The White Sister (1933), director