When he was a child, his family left the Russian Empire and moved to the United States, settling in New York City. At a young age, Strelitsky began working in the city"s growing motion picture industry and directed his first silent film short in 1914. He took the name John Malcolm Stahl and in the early 1920s, signed on with Louis B. Mayer Pictures in Hollywood.
In 1924 he was part of the Mayer team that founded Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios.
With the industry"s transition to talkies and feature-length films, Stahl successfully made the adjustment. From 1927 through 1930 Stahl was an executive at the short-lived independent studio Tiffany Pictures, and renamed the company "Tiffany-Stahl Productions".
The following year, he directed Magnificent Obsession, starring Irene Dunne and Robert Taylor. John Stahl continued to produce and direct major productions as well filler shorts up to the time of his death.
Some of his other notable directorial work was for The Keys of the Kingdom in 1944 and the 1945 film noir, Leave Her to Heaven starring Gene Tierney, who was nominated for Best Actress.
Stahl died in Hollywood in 1950 of a heart attack, aged 63. He was interred in the Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery in Glendale, California.