Stella Adler (February 10, 1901 – December 21, 1992) was an
American 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.
City's Lower East
Side , Adler was a member of the Jewish-American Adler
acting dynasty, the youngest daughter of Sara and Jacob
, the sister of
, 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 American Yiddish theatre. They were a
significant part of a vital ethnic theatrical scene that thrived in
York from the late 19th century well into the
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
Stanislavski, made his only US tour, with his Moscow Art
Theatre, 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
Theater - Richard
Boleslavski and Maria
Ouspenskaya. In 1931 she joined the Group Theatre, New York, founded by
Harold Clurman, Lee Strasberg and Cheryl Crawford, through theater director
and critic, Clurman, whom she later married in 1943.
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
Dramatic Workshop at the New School for Social
, New York City , and eventually founding Stella Adler Conservatory
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
University , and became one of America's leading acting
"Stella Adler was much more than a teacher of
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
As a result, her contributions to the theatrical
culture have remained largely unknown, unrecognized, and
- -Marlon Brando
Adler was Marlon Brando
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
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 .
until 1952 Adler appeared regularly on Broadway, 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
and My Girl Tisa
Stanislavski and The Method
the only American actor to be instructed in the art of acting by
She was a prominent member of the Group Theatre
, but differences of
opinion with Lee Strasberg
correct teaching of the Stanislavski
(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.
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.
on December 21, 1992, from heart failure at the age of 91, in
California, 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.
University of Texas at Austin's Harry
Ransom Humanities Research Center 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
she was honored with a posthumous star on the
Walk of Fame in front on the 'Stella Adler Theater' on Hollywood
Stella Adler Studio and the Illuminary
acting studios Adler founded still operate in New York City and Los
Her method, based on use of the
actor's imagination, has been studied by many renowned actors, such
as Robert De Niro
, Martin Sheen
, Vincent D'Onofrio
, 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 Hollywood.
Career on Broadway
All works are the original Broadway productions unless otherwise
- 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!
- Paradise Lost (1935)
- Sons and Soldiers (1943)
- Pretty Little Parlor (1944)
- He Who Gets Slapped
— revival (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
- 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.
- 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
- "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."
- Acting with Adler, by Joanna Rotté. Limelight
Editions, 2000. ISBN 0879102985.
- Stella Adler 10 Feb 1901 21 Dec 1992 (New York, New York,
NY)563-22-9174 California; Social Security Death Index
- A New Act Unfolds in Drama Dynasty
Times, April 9,
- Stella Adler, 91, an Actress And Teacher of the
Method New York Times, December 22, 1992.
- Stella Adler Britannica.com.
- 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.
- Twentieth Century Actor Training: Principles of
Performance, by Alison Hodge. Routledge, 2000. ISBN
0415194512. Page 139
- Stella Adler Great Jewish Women, by
Elinor Slater, Robert Slater. Published by Jonathan David Company,
Inc., 1994. ISBN 0824603702. Page 14-16.
- THEATER; Stella Adler In Her Latest Role:
Author New York Times, September 4, 1988.
- Stella Adler (1901-1992) - Biographical Sketch
Harry Ransom Humanities
Research Center, University of Texas at
- Adler, Stella. The Art of
Acting. Applause, Canada: 2000.
- Stella Adler Acting Now: Conversations on
Craft and Career, by Edward Vilga. Rutgers University Press,
1997. ISBN 0813524032. Page 1-2.
- A New Act Unfolds in Drama Dynasty
Times, April 9,
- Ransom Center acquires Stella Adler archive
'The University of Texas at
- Adler Gets Posthumous Hollywood Walk Star
Friday, August 04,
- Stella Adler Quotes