Stella Adler was the most outstanding personality on the American stage this century. For almost ninety years, she was involved in theater, including a successful career in acting, directing and teaching.
She was born on February 10, 1902, into one of the most distinguished and celebrated acting families in theater. Her mother, Sarah, was a successful actress-manager, while her father, Jacob B. Adler was a noted tragedian, who had immigrated to America at the turn of the century. By 1939, there were fifteen members of the Adler family contributing to the Yiddish Theater and the Group Theater in New York.
Adler made her stage debut with her father in "Broken Hearts" when she was four years old. While growing up, she performed in her father's repertory theater. She would play the parts of boys as well as girls. This theatrical group would put on classical plays, translated into Yiddish, of Shakespeare, Ibsen, and Tolstoy, as well as other modern and classical playwrights.
She attended New York University and later studied with Maria Ouspenskaya and Richard Boleslavski, both former members of the Moscow Art Theater.
She made her debut in London, in 1919, in the role of Naomi, in Elisha Ben Avia. Adler returned to New York to star in a number of plays. She toured Europe and South America with the Yiddish Art Theater of New York. From 1927 through 1931, Adler played over a 100 roles in various productions.
Her association with the Group Theater began in 1931. This famous organization was formed by Harold Clurman, Lee Strasberg and Cheryl Crawford. Adler won 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.
She married Harold Clurman in 1943, having previously married and divorced Horace Eleascheff. Her marriage to Clurman ended in divorce in 1960.
She stayed with the Group Theater for a decade and lamented and deplored the fact that there was a dearth of good roles for women. 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). In between films, she appeared in many stage plays which included an engagement in London.
She founded the Stella Adler Conservatory of Acting in New York City in 1949. She taught here for a decade. 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.
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.
Sources: This is one of the 150 illustrated true stories of American heroism included in Jewish Heroes & Heroines of America : 150 True Stories of American Jewish Heroism, © 1996, written by Seymour "Sy" Brody of Delray Beach, Florida, illustrated by Art Seiden of Woodmere, New York, and published by Lifetime Books, Inc., Hollywood, FL.