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Masteroff was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to Louis Masteroff from Korsun, Russia (now Ukraine) and to the former Rose Pogost from Kishinev,[circular reference] Russia. He graduated from Temple University and served with the United States Air Force during World War II. He studied with the American Theatre Wing from 1949-1951 and began his career as an actor, making his Broadway debut in The Prescott Proposals in 1953.
Following a national tour, Masteroff's first play, The Warm Peninsula, opened on Broadway at the Hayes Theater in January 1959 with Julie Harris, June Havoc, Farley Granger, and Larry Hagman in the lead roles.
In 1963 he wrote the book for the Sheldon Harnick-Jerry Bock musical She Loves Me, which garnered him a Tony Award nomination for Best Author of a Musical. The musical, directed by Hal Prince, ran on Broadway for 301 performances.
Three years later, when Hal Prince gained control of the rights to John Van Druten's play I Am a Camera and The Berlin Stories by Christopher Isherwood, he discarded the book for a musical adaptation already written by Sandy Wilson and hired Masteroff to fashion his own. With lyrics and music by Kander and Ebb, Cabaret opened on Broadway in November 1966 and ran for 1,165 regular performances, winning the Tony Award for Best Musical.
Masteroff wrote the libretto for an operatic adaptation of Eugene O'Neill's Desire Under the Elms. He wrote the book and lyrics for the musicals Six Wives (Off-Broadway, 1992) and Paramour, the latter based on Jean Anouilh's The Waltz of the Toreadors (Old Globe Theater, San Diego, 1998).
- Simonson, Robert. "Joe Masteroff, Librettist of Cabaret, Dies at 98" Playbill, September 28, 2018
- "Interview with Librettist, Joe Masteroff" broadwayworld.com, March 13, 2014
- The Warm Peninsula Playbill, retrieved September 28, 2018
- She Loves Me Playbill, retrieved September 28, 2018
- Breslauer, Jan. "A Veteran Returns to the Ring" Los Angeles Times, September 27, 1998
- Cabaret Playbill, retrieved September 29, 2018
- 70, Girls, 70 Playbill, retrieved September 29, 2018
- Gans, Andrew. "Judy Kaye, Alexander Gemignani, Nick Wyman, Claybourne Elder, Alexandra Silber Cast in 'Six Wives' Concert at the York; Evening Will Be Recorded" Playbill, October 10, 2013
- Staff. "Review. Paramour " Variety, October 2, 1998