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Stella Adler (February 10, 1901December 21, 1992) was an Americanmarker actress and an acclaimed acting teacher, who founded the Stella Adler Conservatory in New York City (1949), where she taught acting for over four decades. Her Grandson Tommy Oppenheim now runs the schools in both States, operating from his office within the New York Studio at 31 West 27th St (bet. Broadway & Sixth Ave.). She began acting at the age of four as a part of the "Independent Yiddish Art Company" of her parents, and concluded it 55 years later, in 1961. During that time, and for years after, Stella Adler taught acting as well.

Early life

Born in New York Citymarker's Lower East Sidemarker , Adler was a member of the Jewish-American Adler acting dynasty, the youngest daughter of Sara and Jacob P. Adler , the sister of Luther and Jay Adler, and half-sister of Charles Adler, in fact all her five siblings were actors. Jacob and Sara Adler were two of the finest actors of the Americanmarker Yiddish theatre. They were a significant part of a vital ethnic theatrical scene that thrived in New Yorkmarker from the late 19th century well into the 1950s. Adler would become the most famous and influential member of her family.


She began her acting career at the age of four in the play 'Broken Hearts' at the Grand Street Theater on the Lower East Side, as a part of her parents 'Independent Yiddish Art Company' . She grew up acting alongside her parents often playing roles of boys and girls, and her work schedule allowed little time for schooling, but when possible she studied at public schools and New York University. She made her London debut, at the age of 18, as 'Naomi' in the play 'Elisa Ben Avia' of her father's company, in which she appeared for a year before returning to New York. In London she met her first husband, Englishman Horace Eliashcheff, their brief marriage however ended in a divorce.

She made her English-language debut on Broadway in 1922, as the Butterfly in the play 'The World We Live In', and also spent a season in the vaudeville circuit. In 1922-1923, legendary Russian actor-director Constantin Stanislavski, made his only US tour, with his Moscow Art Theatremarker, Adler saw his performances as did many others; this was to have a lasting impact on her career, and also on the 20th century American theatre . She joined the American Laboratory Theatre School in 1925, here she was introduced to Stanislavski's theories, from founders and Russian actor-teachers and former members of the Moscow Art Theatermarker - Richard Boleslavski and Maria Ouspenskaya. In 1931 she joined the Group Theatre, New Yorkmarker, founded by Harold Clurman, Lee Strasberg and Cheryl Crawford, through theater director and critic, Clurman, whom she later married in 1943. With Group theatre she worked in plays like 'Success Story' by John Howard Lawson, two Clifford Odets plays, 'Awake and Sing!' and 'Paradise Lost' and directed the touring company of Odets's 'Golden Boy' and 'More to Give to People'. Members of Group Theatre were leading interpreters of the Method acting technique based on the work and writings of Stanislavski.

In 1934 Adler herself, went to Paris with Harold Clurman, and studied intensively with Stanislavski, for five weeks, during this period she found that Stanislavski had revised his theories to stress that the actor should create by imagination rather than by memory. Upon her return, she broke away from Strasberg on the fundamental aspects of Method acting .

Three years later, in January 1937, she moved to Hollywood, where she acted in films for six years, under the name Stella Ardler, occasionally returning to Group Theater until it dissolved in 1941. Eventually she returned to New York to act and direct, and most importantly to teach, first at the Erwin Piscator Dramatic Workshop at the New School for Social Research, New York City , and eventually founding Stella Adler Conservatory in 1949. In the coming years, she taught students like Marlon Brando, Dolores del Río, Robert De Niro, Elaine Stritch, Martin Sheen, Manu Tupou, Harvey Keitel, Melanie Griffith, Peter Bogdanovich and Warren Beatty at her school, the nuances of principles of characterization and script analysis, besides this she has also taught at the New School , remained as an adjunct professor of acting at Yale School of Drama and for many years headed the undergraduate drama department at New York Universitymarker , and became one of America's leading acting teachers

"Stella Adler was much more than a teacher of acting.
Through her work she imparts the most valuable kind of information - how to discover the nature of our own emotional mechanics and therefore those of others.
She never lent herself to vulgar exploitations, as some other well-known so-called "methods" of acting have done.
As a result, her contributions to the theatrical culture have remained largely unknown, unrecognized, and unappreciated."
-Marlon Brando

Adler was Marlon Brando's first professional acting teacher. Brando met her through his sister, Jocelyn, who was studying drama with Adler, and he decided to take drama as well. Brando had been considered unsuitable for the Army and had been expelled from the military school that his father had sent him to. Adler believed when she met Brando that he would be the best American actor in theater before the end of the year.

In 1988, she turned author, with the publishing of 'The Technique of Acting' (Bantam Books), with a foreword by her former pupil, Marlon Brando .

From 1926 until 1952 Adler appeared regularly on Broadwaymarker, and over the years, Her later notable stage roles include the 1946 revival 'He Who Gets Slapped' and, in London, an eccentric mother in a 1961 black comedy, 'Oh Dad, Poor Dad, Mama's Hung You in the Closet and I'm Feelin' So Sad.' Among the plays she directed was a 1956 revival of the Paul Green-Kurt Weill antiwar musical 'Johnny Johnson', in all appearing in nearly 200 plays . She appeared in only three films, Love on Toast (1937), Shadow of the Thin Man (1941), and My Girl Tisa (1948).

Stanislavski and The Method

Adler was the only Americanmarker actor to be instructed in the art of acting by Konstantin Stanislavski. She was a prominent member of the Group Theatre, but differences of opinion with Lee Strasberg over the correct teaching of the Stanislavski System (later developed by Strasberg into Method acting) contributed to her breaking off from the group.

Adler's biggest issue with Strasberg concerned whether an actor should use the technique of "affective memory" (recalling a personal event or sensory experience for more expressive and truthful behavior), or living in the moment, using your partner to create a believable result. It's been said that after Strasberg died, Adler asked for a moment of silence in her class for the famous actor. Afterwards, she allegedly claimed that it will take a hundred years to repair what Strasberg did to acting.

The fundamental difference between Strasberg and Adler is in how each approaches the problem of accessing emotion. Strasberg was always a strong advocate of emotional memory, i.e. using the five senses to evoke a past private emotion, whereas Adler thought that if you studied the text and truly believed in the imaginary circumstances, all the emotions in the script would surface organically. At one point Stella said 'Drawing on the emotions I experienced for example when my Mother died, to create a role, is sick and schizophrenic. If that is Acting, I don't want to do it' referring to Lee Strasberg's 'Emotion memory recall method' which is what Lee interpreted Stanislavsky as teaching. To clarify what Stanislavsky meant, Stella travelled to Paris to study privately with Stanislavsky for two weeks. He taught her that it was all about creating the character from the imagination. Stella once told a student 'your life isn't big enough to do King Lear', aluding to the fact he must research and create it from the imagination.

Personal life

Adler married three times, first to Horace Eliascheff, the father of her only child, Ellen, then from 1943 to 1960 to Harold Clurman, the famous director and critic, and one of the founders of the legendary Group Theatre, and finally to Mitchell A. Wilson, the physicist and novelist who died in 1973.

She died on December 21, 1992, from heart failure at the age of 91, in Los Angeles, Californiamarker, and was survived by a daughter, Ellen, of Manhattan; a sister, Julia, of Englewood, N.J., and two grandchildren including Tom Oppenheim,current president and artistic director of Stella Adler Studio of Acting, New York City . She was interred in the Mount Carmel Cemetery, Glendale, New York.


In 2004, The University of Texas at Austinmarker's Harry Ransom Humanities Research Centermarker acquired the complete archive of Stella Adler to be preserved for future research, it included correspondence, manuscripts, typescripts, video and audiotapes, photographs and other materials, tracing her career, from her start in the New York Yiddish Theater in 1906, to her encounters with Konstantin Stanislavski and the Group Theatre in the 1930s, to her lectures on the Adler technique at the Stella Adler Studio of Acting .

In 2006, she was honored with a posthumous star on the Hollywood Walk of Famemarker in front on the 'Stella Adler Theater' on Hollywood Boulevard .

Stella Adler Studio and the Illuminary

The acting studios Adler founded still operate in New York Citymarker and Los Angelesmarker today. Her method, based on use of the actor's imagination, has been studied by many renowned actors, such as Robert De Niro, Martin Sheen, Roy Scheider, Vincent D'Onofrio, Mark Ruffalo, Warren Beatty, Michael Imperioli, Barbara Stuart, Joyce Meadows, Stephen Bauer and Benicio del Toro, in addition to Marlon Brando, who served as the studio's Honorary Chairman until his death, and was replaced by another pupil Warren Beatty. Adler's legacy continues with the work of the Stella Adler Conservatory, and with the Actors Circle Theatre, established by Arthur Mendoza, a former pupil and founding principal instructor at her studio in Hollywoodmarker.

Career on Broadway

All works are the original Broadway productions unless otherwise noted.

  • The Straw Hat (1926)
  • Big Lake (1927)
  • The House of Connelly (1931)
  • 1931 (1931)
  • Night Over Taos (1932)
  • Success Story (1932)
  • Big Night (1933)
  • Hilda Cassidy (1933)
  • Gentlewoman (1934)
  • Gold Eagle Guy (1934)
  • Awake and Sing! (1935)
  • Paradise Lost (1935)
  • Sons and Soldiers (1943)
  • Pretty Little Parlor (1944)
  • He Who Gets Slappedrevival (1946)
  • Manhattan Nocturne (1943)
  • Sunday Breakfast (1952)


  • The Fervent Years: The Group Theatre and the Thirties, By Harold Clurman, Stella Adler. Da Capo Press, 1983. ISBN 0306801868.
  • The Technique of Acting, by Stella Adler. Bantam Books, 1988. ISBN 0553052993.
  • Creating a Character: A Physical Approach to Acting, by Moni Yakim, Muriel Broadman, Stella Adler. Applause Books, 1993. ISBN 155783161.
  • Stella Adler: The Art of Acting, by Stella Adler, Howard Kissel, Applause Books, 2000. ISBN 1557833737.
  • Stella Adler on Ibsen, Strindberg, and Chekhov, by Stella Adler, Barry Paris. Random House Inc, 2001. ISBN 0679746986.


  • "Don't use your conscious past. 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."
  • "You can't be boring. Life is boring. The weather is boring. Actors must not be boring."
  • "Growth as an actor and as a human being are synonymous."
  • "A junkie is someone who uses their body to tell society that something is wrong."
  • "The word theatre comes from the Greeks. It means the seeing place. It is the place people come to see the truth about life and the social situation. The theatre is a spiritual and social X-ray of its time. The theatre was created to tell people the truth about life and the social situation."
  • "Life beats down and crushes the soul and art reminds you that you have one."

Further reading

  • Acting with Adler, by Joanna Rotté. Limelight Editions, 2000. ISBN 0879102985.

See also


  1. Stella Adler 10 Feb 1901 21 Dec 1992 (New York, New York, NY)563-22-9174 California; Social Security Death Index
  2. A New Act Unfolds in Drama Dynasty New York Times, April 9, 2008.
  3. Stella Adler, 91, an Actress And Teacher of the Method New York Times, December 22, 1992.
  4. Stella Adler
  5. Adler Stella Notable American Women: A Biographical Dictionary Completing the Twentieth Century, by Susan Ware, Stacy Lorraine Braukman, Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. Harvard University Press, 2004. ISBN 067401488X. Page 9-10
  6. Twentieth Century Actor Training: Principles of Performance, by Alison Hodge. Routledge, 2000. ISBN 0415194512. Page 139
  7. Stella Adler Great Jewish Women, by Elinor Slater, Robert Slater. Published by Jonathan David Company, Inc., 1994. ISBN 0824603702. Page 14-16.
  8. THEATER; Stella Adler In Her Latest Role: Author New York Times, September 4, 1988.
  9. Stella Adler (1901-1992) - Biographical Sketch Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, University of Texas at Austin.
  10. Adler, Stella. The Art of Acting. Applause, Canada: 2000.
  11. Stella Adler Acting Now: Conversations on Craft and Career, by Edward Vilga. Rutgers University Press, 1997. ISBN 0813524032. Page 1-2.
  12. A New Act Unfolds in Drama Dynasty New York Times, April 9, 2008.
  13. Ransom Center acquires Stella Adler archive 'The University of Texas at Austin, April 26, 2004.
  14. Adler Gets Posthumous Hollywood Walk Star Fox News, Friday, August 04, 2006.
  15. Stella Adler Quotes

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