Stella Adler, 91, an Actress And Teacher of the Method
By PETER B. FLINT
Published: Tuesday, December 22, 1992
Stella Adler, an exponent of Method acting whom many considered the leading American teacher of her craft, died yesterday at her home in Los Angeles. She was 91 years old.
She died of heart failure, said Irene Gilbert, the director of the Stella Adler Conservatory in Hollywood.
Miss Adler was born into a celebrated acting family rooted in the Yiddish theater. She made her stage debut at the age of 4, appeared in nearly 200 plays in the United States and abroad, and occasionally directed productions. She also shaped the careers of thousands of grateful performers, including Marlon Brando, Warren Beatty and Robert De Niro, at the Stella Adler Conservatory of Acting, which she founded in Manhattan in 1949 and where she taught for decades.
Mercurial, with honey-blond hair and expressive gray-green eyes, Miss Adler was aristocratic, physically and vocally, and her teaching was passionate, scholarly and volatile, delivered with evangelical showmanship, wicked wit and pungent phrases. She kept her students spellbound by raging, purring, cursing, cajoling and, from time to time, complimenting. 'She Dares Her Students'
Her classroom performances were among the most energetic in New York, Foster Hirsch wrote in his 1984 book "A Method to Their Madness." "Stella," he wrote, "is theatrical royalty who instills in her students a sense of the nobility of acting. She dares her students to act , to lift their bodies and their voices, to be larger than themselves, to love language and ideas."
Miss Adler counseled: "The teacher has to inspire, to agitate. You cannot teach acting. You can only stimulate what's already there." Often blunt, she told one actress: "You've got no talent! Nothing affects you!" As a young actor mumbled through a monologue, she shouted, "Everything is Hoboken to you!"
Miss Adler's most frenetic years were with the Group Theater, the experimental Depression-era company founded by Harold Clurman, Lee Strasberg and Cheryl Crawford. It was a pivotal movement in the growth of American performing arts, uniting writers, directors and actors in working to shape socially relevant theater. Members of the ensemble were leading interpreters of the Method, the technique based on the work and writings of Konstantin Stanislavsky, the legendary Moscow Art Theater actor and director, who died in 1938. The Two Methods
The Method revolutionized American theater. Classical acting instruction had focused on developing external talents, while Method acting was the first systematized training that also developed internal abilities, sensory, psychological, emotional.
Strasberg, who headed the Actors Studio until his death in 1982, rooted his view of the Method on what Stanislavsky had stressed in his early career, that the actor should perform extensive "affective memory" exercises, improvising and conjuring up "the conscious past" to convey emotion: for example, dwelling on a personal tragedy to show anguish.
Miss Adler, opposing this approach, went to Paris and studied intensively with Stanislavsky for five weeks in 1934. She found he had revised his theories to stress that the actor should create by imagination rather than by memory and that the key to success was "truth, truth in the circumstances of the play."
"Your talent is in your imagination," she taught. "The rest is lice." She discussed plays as scripts for actors, exploring the texts for performance clues. She also believed that the art, architecture and clothes of an era were important in shaping a role. The Limits of Reality
One student volunteered, "When you told me to imagine a lake in Switzerland, I couldn't help but remember a real lake I had seen in Switzerland."
"Then put your lake in Morocco," Miss Adler replied. "You must get away from the real thing because the real thing will limit your acting and cripple you. To think of your own mother's death each time you want to cry onstage is schizophrenic and sick."
"Don't use your conscious past," she advised. "Use your creative imagination to create a past that belongs to your character. I don't want you to be stuck with your own life. It's too little."
- Really?: The Claim: Nasal Irrigation Can Ease Allergy Symptoms
- Well: Stomach Bug Crystallizes an Antibiotic Threat
- This Land: At an Age for Music and Dreams, Real Life Intrudes
- Showdown at the Coffee Shop
- A Gallop Toward Hope: One Family’s Adventure in Fighting Autism
- United Tastes: But Surely They’re Homemade?
- The Curious Cook: They Do the Work, You Reap the Yogurt
- Op-Ed Contributor: Big Profits, Big Questions
- Putting Twitter’s World to Use
- 18 and Under: Another Awkward Sex Talk: Respect and Violence
- Tea Parties Forever
- U.S. May Drop Key Condition for Iran Talks
- A Reticent Justice Opens Up to a Group of Students
- U.S. Planning to Reveal Data on Health of Top Banks
- $80,000 for a Year Off? She'll Take It!
- Disney Expert Uses Science to Draw Boy Viewers
- Finding Utility in the Jumble of Twittered Thoughts
- Study Says Small-Car Buyers Sacrifice Safety for Economy
- White House to Announce Easing of Cuba Restrictions
- In Minnesota, a Senate Race Without End