Born in Jersey City, New Jersey in 1925, Joseph Sargent began making films with boyhood friends after his father gave him an 8mm camera at the age of 11. He initially began acting in Broadway shows before moving to Los Angeles and appearing in small roles in several television shows and films. During the mid 1950's he was given the opportunity to direct an episode of the series Lassie, and jumped at the chance, beginning a career in directing that lasted more than 50 years.
His early television directorial work included Bonanza, Mr. Novak, Daniel Boone, Gunsmoke, The Fugitive, Star Trek, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color, The Invaders, and It Takes a Thief. His first feature film was Colossus: The Forbin Project, released in 1970. During the 1970's and ‘80s Sargent alternated between television and film, helming such theatrical features as The Man (1972), White Lightning (1973), The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974), MacArthur (1977), Goldengirl (1979), Coast to Coast (1980), Nightmares (1983), and his final feature, Jaws: The Revenge (1987), after which he primarily focused on movies-for-television.
During the later part of his career, Sargent directed numerous award-winning and critically acclaimed television movies—many biographical or based on historical events. These include The Karen Carpenter Story (1989), Caroline? (1990), Never Forget (1991), Somebody’s Daughter (1992), Miss Rose White (1992), Abraham (1993), World War II: When Lions Roared (1994), the mini-series Streets of Laredo (1995), Mandela and de Klerk (1997), Miss Evers’ Boys (1997), Crime and Punishment (1998), A Lesson Before Dying (1999), For Love or Country: The Arturo Sandoval Story (2000), Bojangles (2001), Something the Lord Made (2004), Warm Springs (2005), Sybil (2007), and Sweet Nothing in My Ear (2008).
For his directorial efforts, Sargent was nominated for nine DGA Awards, winning four times: twice in 1973 for Most Outstanding Television Director of the Year and for The Marcus Nelson Murders, the television movie that led to the series Kojak; in 2005 for Something The Lord Made, and in 2006 for Warm Springs. Sargent was nominated for nine Primetime Emmys, winning four times; for The Marcus Nelson Murders in 1973, Love Is Never Silent in 1986, Caroline? in 1990, and Miss Rose White in 1992.
Sargent served on the DGA’s Western Directors Council from 1974-83 as well as the 1973 and 1977 Negotiating Committees.