(1902 - 1992)
"The theatre - acting, creating, interpreting - means total involvement,
the totality of heart, mind and spirit ... the total development of a human
being into the most he can be and in as many directions as he can possibly take."
- Stella Adler
The youngest daughter of Jacob P. Adler, a noted tragedian,
and Sara Adler, a successful actress-manager, Stella Adler was born in New York,
New York on February 10, 1901. According to most theatre historians, it was
largely because of the efforts of the Adler's Company, a classical repertory
troupe, that the Yiddish American theatre flourished in the early decades of
the twentieth century.
In 1906, acompanied by her father at the age of four, Stella Adler made her
stage debut in "Broken Hearts". In 1919, with training from New York University,
and Maria Ouspenskaya and Richard Boleslavski of the Moscow Art Theater, Stella
Adler made her professional debut in London as Naomi, in "Elisha Ben Avia".
In 1931, she joined the Group
Theatre founded by her future husband Harold Clurman, as well as
Lee Strasberg and Cheryl Crawford. Adler on high praise for her performances in "Success
Story" by John Howard Lawson, and later in two seminal Clifford Odets plays,
"Awake and Sing" and "Paradise Lost".
Adler stayed with the Group
Theatre for a decade meanwhile protesting the lack of decent roles
for women in theatre. She felt that the theater was geared for men and that
the plays were written for men only. However, she credited the company for bringing
the best out of her and for revitalizing her life in theater. Adler appeared
in the movies "Love 0n Toast" (1938), "Shadow of the Thin Man" (1941),
and "My Girl Tisa" (1948). Between films, she appeared in over a hundred
stage productions internationally.
1949 she founded the Stella Adler Conservatory of Acting in New York . She formulated
an ambitious curriculum specifically designed to provide each student with a
'practical acting technique' that would not only help him to 'extend his range',
but also enable him to 'develop his craft and independence' in the theatre.
Believing that a teacher's job is to 'agitate' as well as to 'inspire', Stella
Adler was a stern task mistress. She demanded from her students "maximum, not
minimum' efforts and to get them she would encourage, wheedle, scold and occasionally
"My ability to bring out the student's talent is somewhere deep
inside me, and I must do whatever I need to pull it out." - Stella Adler
More often than not, she demonstrated the effect she wanted, moving seemingly
effortlessly from Desdemona to Nina to Blanche DuBois, in a single scene-study class.
According to Foster Hirsch's "A Method to Their Madness", her classroom performances
are surely among the "most energetic" in New York. "For two hours, sharing personal
antecdotes, theatrical reminiscences and bits of Philosophy...she never stopped radiating:
the acting teacher as bravura actress." Some of her most famous students were Marlon
Brando, Robert De Niro and Warren Beatty. She later became an adjunct professor of acting
at the School of Drama at Yale University. She wrote a book, Stella Adler on Acting,
which defined her theories of acting.
"The ultimate aim of the training is to create an actor who can be responsible
for his artistic development and achievement." - Stella Adler
Adler died on December 21, 1992, of heart failure in her home in Los Angeles,
California. For over ninety years her theories on acting have been the center of controversy and
stimulation in developing new and talented performers. She will always be remembered for her
contributions to the theater and the arts.