Stella Adler (February 10, 1901 – December 21, 1992) was an American actress and an acclaimed acting teacher, who founded the Stella Adler Studio of Acting in New York City (1949) and the The Stella Adler Academy of Acting in Los Angeles (1985) with long-time protege Joanne Linville, who continues to teach and furthers Adler's legacy. Her grandson Tom Oppenheim now runs the school in New York, which produced alumni including Marlon Brando, Robert De Niro, and Jenny Lumet, daughter of Sidney Lumet. Irene Gilbert, long-time protege and close personal friend, founded the Stella Adler Academy of Acting and Theatre in Los Angeles, and was instrumental in bringing Stella Adler to the West Coast to teach on a permanent basis. The LA school continues to flourish as an acting studio and houses, several theaters, alumni of the Stella Adler-Los Angeles school include Mark Ruffalo, Benicio Del Toro, Brion James, Salma Hayek, Clifton Collins Jr. & Sean Astin.
Born in New York City's Lower East Side, 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. They were a significant part of a vital ethnic theatrical scene that thrived in New York from the late 19th century well into the 1950s. Stella Adler would become the most famous and influential member of her family. 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.
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. 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' with 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, the renowned Russian actor-director Constantin Stanislavski made his only US tour with his Moscow Art Theatre. Adler and many others saw these performances; this had a powerful and lasting impact on her career, as well as the 20th century American theatre. She joined the American Laboratory Theatre School in 1925; there she was introduced to Stanislavski's theories, from founders and Russian actor-teachers and former members of the Moscow Art Theater - Richard Boleslavsky 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. 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 went to Paris with Harold Clurman and studied intensively with Stanislavski for five weeks. During this period, she learned that Stanislavski had revised his theories, emphasizing that the actor should create by imagination rather than memory. Upon her return, she broke away from Strasberg on the fundamental aspects of Method acting.
In January 1937, Adler moved to Hollywood. There she acted in films for six years under the name Stella Ardler, occasionally returning to the Group Theater until it dissolved in 1941. Eventually she returned to New York to act, direct and teach, the latter first at Erwin Piscator's Dramatic Workshop at the New School for Social Research, New York City, before founding Stella Adler Studio of Acting in 1949. In the coming years, she taught Marlon Brando, Judy Garland, Dolores del Río, Robert De Niro, Elaine Stritch, Martin Sheen, Manu Tupou, Harvey Keitel, Melanie Griffith, Peter Bogdanovich and Warren Beatty, among others, the principles of characterization and script analysis. She also taught at the New School, and the Yale School of Drama. For many years, Adler led the undergraduate drama department at New York University, 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."
Adler was Marlon Brando's first professional acting teacher. In 1988, she published 'The Technique of Acting' (Bantam Books), with a foreword by Brando. From 1926 until 1952, Adler appeared regularly on Broadway. Her later stage roles include the 1946 revival of 'He Who Gets Slapped' and an eccentric mother in the 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'. Acting Now: Conversations on Craft and Career, by Edward Vilga. She appeared in only three films, Love on Toast (1937), Shadow of the Thin Man (1941), and My Girl Tisa (1948).
Adler was the only American actor to study with Constantin Stanislavski. She was a prominent member of the Group Theatre, but differences with Lee Strasberg over the Stanislavski System (later developed by Strasberg into Method acting) made her leave the Group.
Adler once 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.'
Adler met with Stanislavsky again later in his career and questioned him on Strasberg's interpretation. He told her that he had abandoned emotional memory (which had been Strasberg's dominant paradigm) but they both believed that the actor did not have what is required to play a variety roles already instilled inside them, extensive research was needed to understand the experiences of characters who have different values originating from different cultures. For instance if a character talks about horse riding you need to know something about horse riding as an actor, other wise you will be faking. More importantly one must study the values of different people to understand what situations would have meant to people, that in the actor's own culture might mean nothing. Without this work she said an actor walks onto the stage "naked." This approach is what one of her students, Robert de Niro, became famous for. She also trained actors sensory imagination to help make the characters' experiences more vivid (a commonality between her and Strasberg). Mastery of the physical and vocal aspects of acting, she believed, was necessary for the actor to command the stage: all body language should be carefully crafted and voices need to be clear and expressive. She often referred to this as an actor's "size" or "worthiness of the stage." Her biggest mantra was perhaps, 'in your choices lies your talent,' she would encourage actors to find the most grand character interpretation possible in a scene, another favourite phrase of hers regarding this was 'don't be boring.'
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 Group Theatre, and finally to Mitchell A. Wilson, the physicist and novelist who died in 1973.
From 1938 to 1946 she was a sister-in-law to actress Sylvia Sidney. Sidney was married to her brother Luther at the time and provided Stella with a niece and nephew. Even after Sidney and Luther divorced, she and Sylvia remained close friends.
She died on December 21, 1992, from heart failure at the age of 91, in Los Angeles, California. Adler was survived by her daughter Ellen, her sister Julia, 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.
Stella Adler's technique, based on a balanced and pragmatic combination of imagination as well as memory, is hugely credited with introducing the subtle and insightful details and a deep physical embodiment of a character. Elaine Stritch once said: "What an extraordinary combination was Stella Adler - a goddess of full of magic and mystery, a child full of innocence and vulnerability." In the book Acting: Onstage and Off, Robert Barton wrote: "Adler established the value of the actor putting himself in the place of the character rather than vice versa ... More than anyone else, Stella Adler brought into public awareness all the close careful attention to text and analysis Stanislavski endorsed."
In 2004, The University of Texas at Austin's Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center acquired Adler's complete archive. It includes correspondence, manuscripts, typescripts, video and audiotapes, photographs and other materials. The archive traces her career from her start in the New York Yiddish Theater to her encounters with Stanislavski and the Group Theatre to her lectures at the Stella Adler Studio of Acting.
In 2006, she was honored with a posthumous star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in front of the 'Stella Adler Theatre' at 6773 Hollywood Boulevard.
The Acting schools Adler founded still operate today in New York City and Los Angeles. Her method, based on use of the actor's imagination, has been studied by many renowned actors, such as Robert De Niro, Elaine Stritch, Martin Sheen, Roy Scheider, Vincent D'Onofrio, Mark Ruffalo, Warren Beatty, Michael Imperioli, Salma Hayek, Sean Astin, Barbara Stuart, Joyce Meadows, Stephen Bauer and Benicio del Toro, in addition to Marlon Brando, who served as the New York studio's Honorary Chairman until his death, and was replaced by another pupil, Warren Beatty.
Sister of Jay Adler and Luther Adler.
One of six children of Jacob P. Adler and Sarah Adler.
Grandmother of Tom Oppenheim
Mother of Ellen Adler (the mother of Tom Oppenheim).
When she went to Hollywood and signed with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer., the studio changed her name to Stella Ardler. Her younger brother Luther, who originated the role of Joe Napoleon in "Golden Boy" on the Broadway stage, wanted to know why M.G.M. hadn't changed her name to Beverly Wilshire.
She appeared in four Broadway plays with her brother Luther Adler: John Howard Lawson's "Success Story" Melvin Levy's "Gold Eagle Guy," and two plays by Clifford Odets: "Paradise Lost" and "Awake and Sing!" Both Lawson and Odets were Communist Party members: Lawson was jailed as one of the "Hollywood Ten," while Odets named names before the House Un-American Activities Committee.
Daughter of Jacob P. Adler, the greatest actor of the Yiddish theater.
Oler sister of fellow Group Theatre company member Luther Adler.
Posthumously awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Biography in: "The Scribner Encyclopedia of American Lives". Volume 3, 1991-1993, pages 9-11. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 2001.
She was awarded a Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for Live Theatre at 6777 Hollywood Boulevard in Hollywood, California.