“Stella Stories”: Stella and the Crane Family

By Robert Scott Crane, special to SALIA

Stella and Bob Crane on set

Both of my parents were actors. This alone should qualify me for some sort of disability program, but unfortunately, it does not.

Recently, I began research for a film role.  Like some strange thespian archeologist, I wound up in the cellars of the UCLA Film and Television Archives. Tucked between a 1958 “Stars of Jazz” program and a 1973 Linda Lovelace interview, I stumbled upon a personal Holy Grail, a 1964 program titled “Stella Adler and the Actor,” hosted by Bob Crane, my father.

I immediately set up an appointment to view the program at UCLA, with two friends: Matthew David Wilder (Director and Writer of the upcoming Inferno: A Linda Lovelace Story), and Nathan Haugaard (Director and Writer of the award winning Short Film, Adalyn).  The three of us were glued to the screen, silent for the entire broadcast.

From around the time I first learned to walk, I had been hearing the name Stella Adler. At first, I didn’t pay much attention, but over time, I realized that this Adler woman carried some weight in our household. My mother, Sigrid Valdis, studied with Stella Adler in the 1950’s at Stella’s New York studio. This was a life changing experience for my mother, which she spoke of often. She would imitate Stella’s accent, mannerisms and hand gestures and say to me with enormous dramatic weight: “Use Your Imagination!”  It was a simple lesson, and it stuck.  (I always thought that Shirley MacLaine must have studied my mother for her portrayal of Doris Mann in Postcards From The Edge.)

Needless to say, finding “Stella Adler and the Actor” was a mind blowing discovery, especially since my mother had never mentioned it, IMDB had never listed it, and no one at Samuel French had ever even heard of it.The black and white program runs an hour long and aired on KTLA, one of the three commercial stations we had here in L.A. at that time. It is hard to imagine CBS, ABC or NBC broadcasting anything like it today.

The program starts and ends with a sit down interview with Stella and my dad. I never thought my dad studied acting or even took it seriously. He was easy going and carefree, hip, glib and flip. My dad was a drummer, a comedian and a radio DJ, and is best remembered as Col Hogan of television’s Hogan’s Heroes.

Because I was so young when he passed, I did not get to witness first hand his dedication to his craft, his workaholic ethic or his method.  I had to research these things and it was not easy.  He was a pro, and like all pros, he hid his tricks and made it all look so simple.  Over time, I would find journals and notebooks (he took meticulous notes).  Then I found some old footage from early performances of his at the Pasadena Playhouse, and footage of him performing plays during Hogan’s off season.  Slowly I began to see a man who was forever learning, practicing and refining his craft. Seeing him sitting down next to Stella cemented this image of him that I had put together piece by piece.

After the initial interview, we follow Stella into her Los Angeles studio where she talks with her students and directs three scenes (one from Ibsen with actor John Saxon). Then Stella talks to the class about the importance of honoring the writer’s intent and being faithful to what is written on the page and who the character is.

When the program ended, my two viewing guests and I agreed what a fantastic teaching tool this was and what a historical treasure it was to find. Of course,   being writers, they loved how Stella stressed the importance of the writer.  Neither of them had seen any footage of Adler before, and this was their introduction to her teaching. I could see the light bulbs going off above their heads.

Becoming an actor was not something I originally set out to do. I rebelled and tried not to follow directly in my parent’s footsteps. I studied music, and became a record producer. I did very well, but slowly the acting bug started to creep into my life. I found myself doing radio theater, and that turned into a few small film roles. At last, the acting itch was too big not to scratch.  I attended the Stella Adler Conservatory in Los Angeles and this was truly a life changing experience for me.

In the past, I never liked school and I would often argue with my teachers. However, my time at Adler stands out as the single greatest experience I have ever had in a school setting.  I loved it. I learned a new way to approach not just art, but life itself. I studied under the Zen master, Ron Burrus. I also studied with other fantastic teachers like Vincent Chase, Christopher Thornton, and the late, great Robert Easton.   Whenever these teachers would tell a story about their experiences with Stella, I would hang on their every word.  For me it was like information coming down from the mountain, lessons from on high.

It is a shame that so little footage exists of Stella actually teaching from her prime years in New York City. I am always on the lookout for anything I can read, listen to or watch that includes Stella. Through “Stella Adler and the Actor,” Stella has once again shone light upon my life. I found a new level of appreciation, not only for her but also for my parent’s dedication to their craft.  I am forever indebted.

Thank you, Stella.

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3 responses to ““Stella Stories”: Stella and the Crane Family

  1. I really like this post and am looking forward to more Stella stories. After reading your biography of Stella Adler, I can’t wait to see it in print, and learn more about this fascinating person!

  2. Perhaps we don’t need the little footage footage there is, when we have you instead …

  3. This is a great! I hope someday soon Crane will release the program! Sounds magical. 🙂

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