In the epilogue of my just released book Stella! Mother of Modern Acting, I write about Stella Adler’s legacy, in terms of those who studied with her as actors, as well as those who studied her technique in order to teach it to future generations. It’s true that Stella did not have a teacher-training program, a pedagogical system from which one could graduate. And she told her friend of thirty years, Irene Gilbert, to whom she bequeathed her LA-based school, The Stella Adler Academy and Theatres, that when she died, her technique would die with her. Nonetheless, Stella Adler worked intensively with a small number of actors who have continued her tradition. While there will never be another Stella Adler, the spirit of her teachings and her philosophy about acting and the theatre lives on.
Her most ardent and prolific disciple, Milton Justice, has taken Stella’s teachings worldwide to Sydney, Auckland, and Seoul. Justice teaches master classes at The Stella Adler Academy in Hollywood, returns to Yale yearly to instruct in its drama department, and speaks and conducts workshops at USC and LAMDA.
Before I first interviewed Justice in 2011 I did my homework, and learned that he was a producer, director and an Academy Award winning documentarian. I remember asking Justice how I should refer to him in the book—as a documentarian, a producer, an actor? And he answered that he never wanted to be an actor. What he wanted to do was study with Stella. This was before he began teaching master classes at Stella’s west coast school. When I looked him up on the Internet, little was said about him being a leading practitioner of Stella Adler’s technique. I didn’t assume that the sparse information I had about him teaching meant that he was carrying on Stella’s approach. In my mind he could have been teaching directing courses. During our interview, he told some of the best stories about Stella that I had heard, but he didn’t discuss his knowledge of her technique. Meanwhile other teachers made it a point to mention their apprenticeship with Stella.
I imagine this is the reason why on the last page of my book I write “Milton Justice, who was asked to teach Stella’s technique at Yale although he was not formally trained by her….” I did not include that qualifier with the other teachers I mentioned in the epilogue, which could lead people to think Justice unqualified to carry on Stella’s tradition. Nothing could be further from the truth. Stella personally asked Justice to be the Artistic Director of the theatre company borne out of the Los Angeles Academy. The ironic truth is that Justice’s “qualifications” aren’t plastered around the Internet or mentioned in interviews because he much prefers talking about Stella and the art of acting, not himself. Stella was the same way, and that is the reason she is so unrecognized today. She didn’t seek publicity because, like Milton Justice, she had loftier things on her mind — such as refining acting craft.
After all of these years devoted to reclaiming Stella’s contribution to modern day acting, the last thing I would want is for one of her sanctioned devotees to be diminished in any way. Thank you, Milton Justice, for carrying on Stella’s work.