Stella Adler

Stella Adler

Adler, Stella, 1901-92, American actress, director, and acting teacher, b. New York City. The daughter of Jacob and Sarah Adler, stars in New York's Yiddish theater, she made her acting debut in 1906 in one of her father's productions. A member of the American Laboratory Theater in the 1920s, Adler co-founded (1931) The Group Theatre and was influenced by the ideas of Constantin Stanislavsky, with whom she briefly studied (1934) in the Soviet Union. Returning to The Group Theatre, she performed with the company and taught her modified version of the Stanislavsky method, which emphasized the use of imagination as the basis of acting technique. After a stint (1937-42) in Hollywood, where she acted in films and was a producer at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM), she came back to New York, resumed theatrical acting and directing, taught at the New School, and later founded (1949) her own acting school. Adler, whose students included Marlon Brando, Robert De Niro, Warren Beatty, and many other performers, exerted a profound influence on American acting.

See her The Technique of Acting (1988); B. Paris, ed., Stella Adler on Ibsen, Strindberg, and Chekhov (1999); H. Kissel, ed., Stella Adler: The Art of Acting (2000); J. Rotté, Acting with Adler (2000).

Stella Adler (February 10, 1901* – December 21, 1992) was an American actress.

Early life

Born in New York City, Adler was a member of the Jewish-American Adler acting dynasty, the daughter of Sara and Jacob P. Adler, the sister of Luther and Jay Adler, and half-sister of Charles Adler. 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 New York from the late nineteenth century well into the 1950s. Stella was destined to become the most famous and influential member of the family. She began her acting career at the age of four and concluded it fifty-five years later, in 1961. During that time, and for years after, Stella Adler taught. With the full force of her formidable energy, she dedicated herself to transmitting to others, the craft that served her so well.

Stanislavski and The Method

She was the only American actor to be instructed in the art of acting by Constantin Stanislavski. She was a prominent member of the Group Theatre, but differences of opinion with Lee Strasberg over the correct teaching of Stanislavki's System (later developed by Strasberg into Method acting) contributed to the ultimate break-up of the group.

Adler's biggest issue with Strasberg concerned whether an actor should use the technique of substitution, recalling personal experience for a believable result, 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.


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.

From 1926 until 1952 Adler appeared regularly on Broadway. She appeared in only three films, Love on Toast (1937), Shadow of the Thin Man (1941), and My Girl Tisa (1948).

Personal life

She was three times married, first to Horace Eliascheff, the father of her only child, Ellen, then to Harold Clurman, the famous director and critic, and one of the founders of the legendary Group Theater, and last to Mitchell A. Wilson, the physicist and novelist who died in 1973.

She died in Los Angeles, California, from heart failure at the age of 91* in 1992, and was interred in the Mount Carmel Cemetery, Glendale, New York.

  • Rumor has it that Miss Adler was actually born in either 1898 or 1899, but while in Hollywood in the 1930s, was encouraged to change the year to 1901 as a pre-1900 birth was undesirable for actresses.

Stella Adler Studio

The acting studios Adler founded still operate in New York City and Los Angeles 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 and Benicio del Toro, in addition to Marlon Brando, who served as the studio's Honorary Chairman until his death. Adler's legacy continues with the work of the Stella Adler Studio of Acting.

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)

See also


External links

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