Henry Koster was born Herman Kosterlitz in Berlin, Germany. He became a film director and later moved to Hollywood. Koster’s father, a salesman, left home when Henry was a young man. Koster still managed to finish gymnasium in Berlin while working as short story writer and cartoonist.
Koster 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, Koster was subsequently hired by a Berlin movie company as scenarist, became assistant to director Curtis Bernhardt. Bernhardt became sick one day and asked Koster to take over as director. In about 1931 or 1932, Koster directed two or three films in Berlin for UFA.
Koster, who was in the midst of directing a film, had already been the subject of anti-Semitism, 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. He went directly to the railroad station and left Germany for France, where he was rehired by Bernhardt. Eventually Koster went to Budapest and met and married Kato Kiraly in 1934. In Budapest he met Joe Pasternak, who represented Universal in Europe, and directed three films for him.
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, 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, with Durbin and Leopold Stokowski put the studio, Durbin, Pasternak, and Koster on top.