“Stella Stories”: John Abbott on Stella

This particular “Stella story” is better understood by being prefaced by the fact that having been brought up in the Yiddish theatre, Stella had a penchant for Jews, not as a culture or out of any loyalty to Judaism, but simply because she was surrounded by great artists who happened to be Jewish.  She respected them from an early age and fostered a loyalty to them. That being said, once, Stella was watching an actress perform a scene in class, which wasn’t going particularly well.  Frustrated, Stella charged the stage with her typical appalled shrill, “This isn’t acting!  What kind of person has the audacity to stand upon the platform unprepared!  It’s insulting.  I don’t want to be subjected to it.”  And the girl who she was berating turned around at which moment Stella saw the star of David dangling from her necklace and it was as if the rant had never been uttered. “No, not you darling,” and Stella pointed to the other actors on stage, “Them.”

So it was of particular interest to Stella if someone she met was Jewish.  If you were talented, whether you were Jewish or not, you became Jewish in Stella’s eyes.

In the late 80s, Stella (also in her late 80s) began threatening to retire.  Parties were given in her honor, such as one someone aptly labled “Bon Voyage Party” on a VHS recording of the event.  Among others, the actor John Abbott spoke.  He had known Stella for over 50 years.  This is what he shared:

In 1937 Roger Macdougall and I were out dining, and I said, “If you wait here a little while Stella Adler is coming later.”  “I’d give anything to meet Stella Adler,” Macdougall replied.  Later, in came Stella with her usual great, big hat with little quivering feathers around the edges and long black gloves.  And she swept in.  I think she was probably in her mind rehearsing for her entrance in “Love on Toast.” 

Stella in "Love on Toast" (1938)

She was followed by a small entourage: Two or three very handsome young men and a couple of rather ugly women.  And I said, “I want you to meet Roger Macdougall. Do you remember he wrote “The Man in the White Suit” for Alec Guinness, which was a very popular picture in those days.  And I introduced them and Stella extended her lovely black glove.  And he said [Abbot delivers a sound Scottish accent], “I’m right glad to meet you Ms. Adler. I learned a lot about you from John and I learned about your family and the Yiddish theater.” And then Stella held his hand a little longer and looked into his honest, Scottish eyes and said, “Mr. Macdougall, what is your accent?”  “My accent? Well I was born right up in the John O’Groats; I suppose if I have an accent it’s Scottish.”  She looked at him a moment longer and said, “It sounds Jewish to me.”

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3 responses to ““Stella Stories”: John Abbott on Stella

  1. Not knowing much about Stella, I now know she was Jewish and enchanted by Jewish people. I wonder why that was? It’s sounds as if she was nostalgic. Home sick.

  2. Your intuition never ceases to amaze me! Yes, home sick, her entire life. Thank you for that clarity.

  3. Last night watching the “Actors Studio” George Clooney was being interviewed. The host read a quote from Stella about choices and progressed to every choice leads to the acting…(authenticity). I’m paraphrasing. Now I know George Clooney study her technique and that your work is very relevant today.

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