Category Archives: About Stella (research that didn’t make it into the book)

Stella Stories: The Never Ending Yarn of Family Portrait

Bonnie Adler Lowenthal and me, 2014

Bonnie Adler Lowenthal (Stella’s cousin) and me, 2014

After Stella Adler’s biography was published, I learned of a family member I never met, a cousin Bonnie Adler Lowenthal who lives in Long Beach, less than an hour from Los Angeles where I reside. I was honored Bonnie attended  “Stella: A Life in Art,” a celebration held at the Stella Adler Academy and Theatres in Hollywood to commemorate the 80th anniversary of Stella’s teaching career and, of course, her first biography. Through Bonnie, I learned of yet another cousin of Stella’s, Eric Brown. Together they told me about the “other” half of the Adler clan: Jacob Adler’s sister, Sara, and her offspring (yes another Sara Adler!). Sara had remained in Russia after most Jews fled the persecution of the Russian pale. Jacob risked his life to reenter Odessa and bring his sister and her brood of children to New York. A rift between the two sides of the family ensued as the bohemian, theatrical Jacob and his children didn’t mix with the “conservative,” other half of the family who went into retail.

Francine Larrimore, 1937 (Broadway star and Stella Adler's cousin)

Francine Larrimore, 1937 (Broadway star and Stella Adler’s cousin. Larrimore was a name taken from a Lexington Avenue drugstore.)

And yet the famed Broadway star Francine Larrimore came from this “other” side of the family. Stella looked up to her cousin who had managed to successfully make the leap to Broadway before Stella and her siblings. As legend has it, by the 1920s, no curtain went up on Broadway without an Adler on the stage. Here, Stella’s cousin Eric discusses his side of the Adler clan.

In 1978 I was 28 years old, playing piano bar, and living on East 92nd Street in Manhattan with a writer by the name of Russell O’Neil. As we got to know each other better, at one point he exclaimed to me, “You mean to tell me that you wanted to be an actor? Your cousin is Stella Adler and you never studied with her?”

Indeed I had wanted to be an actor for as long as I could remember and had started off after graduating high school by going to Boston University’s School of Acting. However, after 2 rather fraught years, I decided that music was my greater calling and ended up studying theory and composition at Hartt College in West Hartford, Connecticut.

But the acting bug had never entirely left me (once bitten, does it ever entirely leave anybody?). Although it was true that the great Stella Adler and I were 1st cousins twice removed (translation: she was my maternal grandfather’s 1st cousin; his mother Sara, and her illustrious father Jacob P. Adler, were sister and brother), we had only met each other a few times in my life, and that was mostly in passing.

I decided Russell had a point and called her up out of the blue. Much to my surprise, she answered the phone herself, first try.

“Hello, Stella? You probably don’t remember me, but my name is Eric Brown. I’m Louis Adler’s grandson, and I’ve always wanted to be an actor.” Just like that.

“How old are you, dahling?”

“Twenty-eight,” I replied.

“You’re a little ohh-lld, aren’t you?”

I forged ahead: “Well, better late than never!”

“Good answer! Good answer, dahling! Why don’t you call my assistant and tell him to make an appointment for you to audition. We’ve already started the term. But if you pass, you can audit the class.”

I was accepted (I’m proud to say) and began to audit the class. To say it was an experience is vastly inadequate. To watch her in action was nothing short of a marvel, each and every week. There she’d be in her chair (which was nothing short of a throne) from which she did, for all the world, hold court. Students would present their scenes, either monologues, or in pairs, and she would then set about to rip the actor to shreds. But never spuriously. She had an uncanny and unerring way of absolutely knowing what was false in any given performance. And she knew how to go for the jugular, but not in any pedestrian terms. She could pinpoint how a person’s personal failings as an actor within a given moment in a given scene was the result of some larger social issue, and from there she would do nothing less than pontificate on life’s larger lessons and how we all can and must grow from them. She was regal, and absolute in her authority; at once intimidating and incredibly warm.

Top from left: Stella Adler; unknown; Lillian Barth Adler Myra (Sara's daughter); Myra's husband? Nan and Albert Adler (Sara's oldest son) Second row, left to right: Paul Adler; Amelia Adler; Jacob P. Adler & his sister Sara Adler (holding a picture of her Francine; Stella (Sara's daughter); I believe the man at the end of the row was actually Sara's husband. But he was so "incidental" that even on his deathbed (this is a sworn-to family story), he was relegated to a cot in the dining room so as not to inconvenience Sara.  Bottom row: Charlotte (Amelia's daughter, and later the "Black Sheep" of the family); Irma (Myra's daughter); and my grandfather Louis, holding his first-born child, Helen

Top from left: Stella Adler; unknown; Lillian Barth Adler, Myra Phorylles (Sara’s daughter); Myra’s husband, Nan and Albert Adler (Sara’s oldest son)
Second row: Paul Adler; Amelia Adler; Jacob P. Adler & his sister Sara Adler (holding a picture of her Francine; Stella (Sara’s daughter);the man at the end of the row was actually Sara’s husband. But he was so “incidental” that even on his deathbed (this is a sworn-to family story), he was relegated to a cot in the dining room so as not to inconvenience Sara.
Bottom row: Charlotte (Amelia’s daughter, and later the “black sheep” of the family); Irma (Myra’s daughter); and my grandfather Louis, holding his first-born child, Helen

At the same time, my friend Russell became convinced that I was sitting on a gold mine in terms of my family: not only did I boast Stella and Luther Adler as my cousins, with the great Jacob P. Adler as my great-grandmother’s brother, but my very own great-Aunt Francine Larrimore, my grandfather’s sister, was a star of the Broadway stage in the ‘20s and ‘30s, her most famous role inarguably having been originating the role of Roxy Hart in THE original stage play of “Chicago” by Maurine Watkins on Broadway in 1926. Since he was a writer and had certain connections, Russell was able to get the New York Times Publishing Company interested in our doing a book about the family, with one proviso: that we get the cooperation of Stella Adler.

Russell thought that perhaps, being the actual writer on the project, as well as the liaison between all parties, it might be best if he tried approaching Stella. They had a good conversation, but she was quite adamant: she was not interested in participating in anything in her lifetime.

As fate would have it, I found myself out of work in January 1979, and I physically found tolerating winters more and more difficult. I was offered my first opportunity to play piano on a cruise ship. Although it meant giving up studying with Stella, it seemed the most expedient solution to a number of issues, so I reluctantly grabbed the opportunity.

Francine Larrimore, 1936

Francine Larrimore, 1936

At the same time, I had also done some preliminary research on my beloved Aunt “Tween” (Francine Larrimore), who had passed away in 1972, and whom I had loved very much. Although most of her memorabilia was bequeathed to the drama department of some school in Montana, my grandfather still had a small trove of her belongings, among which was a wonderful family photograph that I knew no one had, and I wanted very much to give a copy to Stella. I also had to tell her why I would be dropping out of her class.

The day before I was to fly down to San Juan, Puerto Rico, to embark on my first cruise in the Caribbean, I was going to have my last class with Stella, the perfect time to give her the photo and tell her about my leaving. Directly after class, I was to meet Russell for dinner at Sardi’s, after which we were going to see the latest comedy satire duo since Nichols and May, “Monteith and Rand” (I had gone to acting school with John Monteith), and then off I’d go first thing the next morning.

Only one hitch: Stella was a no-show for the class! And I wasn’t about to leave my family picture with just anyone: I wanted to see for myself her reaction, for both she and her father were in the picture.

But after class I dashed over to Sardi’s to meet Russell, and we were seated at a banquette table. And who should be shown to the seat RIGHT NEXT TO MINE? None other than Stella herself! I told her about my leaving to play piano on a cruise ship, and then presented her with the family portrait. She was visibly moved.

And then you could see she made some connections she had not made before. She looked at me and said, “YOU’RE the one who wants to do the book about the family! Call me when you get back, dahling. We’ll talk!”

Unfortunately, I spent most of the next several years at sea (it paid very well), so although we did try to keep the book project alive, it did ultimately collapse.

I remember one time calling Stella and her saying, “I’m busy, dahling. We’re packing to leave the country.” “Oh? Where are you going?” “Well, first we’re going to Long Island, and then we’re going to Los Angeles.”

My explanation has always been one or both of two things. One was that “packing to leave the country” immediately summoned up to anyone not familiar with her comings and goings the full extent of the seriousness of her impending departure; and/or she was so territorial about New York City that leaving its environs to her was like “leaving the country.” I truly think it was a little of both.

 By Eric Brown, special to SALIA

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Stella’s Legacy at the Stella Adler Academy in Hollywood

Stella Adler Executive Director and faculty interviewed on Actors E Chat (from left: Tim McNeil, John Jack Rodgers, Milton Justice and Kurt Kelly)

Stella Adler Executive Director and faculty interviewed on Actors E Chat (from left: Tim McNeil, John Jack Rodgers, Milton Justice and host Kurt Kelly)

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.

Milton Justice

Milton Justice

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.

The First Biography on Stella Adler Is Here!

Stella did not mentor Judy Garland, but she did launch her "adult" career in "Me and My Gal"

Stella did not mentor Judy Garland, but as the producer on “Me and My Gal,” Stella launched Garland’s “adult” career.

Stella Adler’s first biography has been released and you can find it in bookstores and online. You can also win a free copy, which I explain at the end of this post (tweet this). However, there are two items I need to publically address and correct before the rebuttals come in.

Last week, I spoke about Stella! during what became a four-minute radio spot on KCRW, which you can listen to at “All Thing’s Considered.” The segment was edited down and what remains, I fear, may sound a bit like hagiography. Out of context, it could seem that I’m giving Stella sole credit for revolutionizing modern acting.

As I’ve written in the past, I wrote the biography to reclaim Stella’s contribution to contemporary acting, but she didn’t do it alone. Her colleagues, most notably Lee Strasberg and Sanford Meisner, led the pedagogical crusade that is often referred to as method acting. The most important point I made during my radio spot was that Stella was the only American teacher to have actually studied with the father of modern acting, Constantin Stanislvski (tweet this). It was he who first developed a comprehensive system that serves as the foundation of modern acting. Stella and her colleagues disseminated his system in the United States, each emphasizing particular aspects of it. It was Stanislavski’s system that transformed acting from an unappreciated, undeveloped trade to an actual craft one studies and hones like other art forms such as painting and architecture.

The other item, and more important, is an error I found on the book cover. When my author’s copies arrived in the mail, I opened the box, took out the hardback, and started from the beginning: the cover flap. Slowly I began reading the first paragraph, which I noted was not what I had entrusted to the copy editor: “Stella mentored successive generations of superstars, including Judy Garland, Elizabeth Taylor,” and I snapped the book shut. Stella did not mentor Garland or Taylor.

Stella was incorrectly credited on my cover flap as having mentored Elizabeth Taylor. For the record, she did not and corrections are being made.

Stella was incorrectly credited on my cover flap as having mentored Elizabeth Taylor. For the record, she did not and corrections are being made.

Working with producer Arthur Freed on the star-studded film Me and My Gal, Stella recommended Garland for her role, which was the first time Garland was cast as a woman as opposed to the girly persona Hollywood had cultivated. As far as I know, that is the extent to which Stella influenced Judy Garland’s career. I still don’t know how the error of Elizabeth Taylor occurred, but I contacted my editor and they issued an erratum to be placed inside each book as a correction. The other actors mentioned in that first paragraph are correct.

After seeing those errors on the cover, I couldn’t open the book further for fear of other errors. I need to get over this. I need to take the flap off, feel the book, smell it, and see my words (not a revised copy editor’s) over its new, pristine pages and admire the photographs I carefully chose for its inserts. Maybe I’ll do this tonight. Maybe I’ll do it next month. For now, it’s enough that the biography is available for others to open and discover Stella.

And on that note there are several ways you can get a free copy of the book:

Goodreads: Sign into Goodreads and Click Enter To Win.

ClassicMovieHub is hosting a giveaway of 6 copies.

Indiegogo: As part of my book launch, I’m mounting a performance of “Harold and Stella: Love Letters,” edited correspondence between Stella and her second husband Harold Clurman during 1942. If you contribute to my campaign there are great perks such as a signed copy of the book to DVDs of Stella’s masterclasses. Watch the 2 minute video on “Love Letters” below.

Finding Stella Adler: A Journey from a Student of Acting to a Student of Life

By Jen Snelling, special to SALIA

Photo by Rue Drew

Photo by Rue Drew

Amidst Stella’s archives I found two over-size albums that were essentially scrapbooks of letters, cards and notes that Stella’s students had given to her over the years. I never had a chance to refer to these powerful life-changing testimonies in Stella’s biography, but their contents inspired me throughout the journey to publication. Recently, I reconnected with a student who studied at Stella’s west coast school, someone who never met Stella, and yet, Stella influenced her as intensely as the students who had penned notes to the woman herself. That Stella continues to touch the lives of people posthumously testifies to the power of her spirit. I am overjoyed to be able to share one of those stories in this guest blog by Jen Snelling.

Of all people who I could try to understand, and learn from, Stella Adler would be at the top of the list. Her students, the teachers that studied with her, her assistants and editors have given me an invaluable introduction to myself through her teachings. When I revere a person on the level of “this person changed my life” but that person remains in the realm of “but I know nothing about them” it really bothers me.

I have lamented many times that I was a generation or two too late to have learned the answers to questions I have about a great artist, and I have also been disheartened many times to know that even though there are those I might be able to cross paths with in this life, chances are I will not be able to work with them or gain the insight I want from them. Stella Adler is no exception, although, in some ways, she is the only exception. Continue reading

One Evening at the Theater with Stella Adler

Stella Adler (early 1940s) photo by Marcus Blechman

Stella Adler (early 1940s)
photo by Marcus Blechman

What is a biography without photos? I love to read about a person or place and then flip forward in the book to the photo inserts and actually see what I’ve been reading about. I’m keeping this in mind as I begin culling the pictures of Stella I have amassed along my travels.

Although I would love to have photos throughout each chapter, it isn’t “economically” plausible for the publisher. I can choose 24 maximum. In a way, it makes my job easier. I have to glean the best from what I have in an order that looks good design-wise on the page.

One major hiccup: I didn’t always note where I found a particular photo. Oy vey! You see, now I have to track down each photo and get permission to print them in the book. Blasted copyright!

Stella Adler circa 1990 photo by Irene Gilbert

Stella Adler circa 1990 photo by Irene Gilbert

When looking through my own collection, I found a photo of Stella at ninety years old standing in front of a mirror. On the mirror is attached a poster of the Serenity Prayer. The prayer is not affiliated with any particular religion; it’s a sage and humble mantra that I actually use myself in a pinch. 12-Step programs have adopted the prayer, which leads me to a “Stella Story,” not in the book, in which she has a delightful cameo.

Betty Garrett in "Spoon River Anthology" (1963) photo by Life

Betty Garrett in “Spoon River Anthology” (1963) photo by Life

In her memoir Betty Garret and Other Stories: A Life on the Stage and Screen, Garret writes about one raucous performance at which Stella was present during the run of Spoon River Anthology in 1963:

At a Matinee performance one day, the oddest thing happened. We were nearing the end of the first act when, from a box at stage right, I distinctly heard someone say, “Bullshit!”

 During intermission, I asked Chuck Aidman if he’d heard someone say“bullshit.”

 “Yeah, what was that?”

We came back out for the second act and the voice continued. It kept moving around the theater and every so often we would hear someone say, “Crap!” or “Bullshit.” Finally, when Joyce Van Patten was doing one of her most sensitive and beautiful characterizations, the voice said, “Act it, Miss Van Patten! Act it.”

 If was so upsetting that finally Chuck moved up to the front of the stage and said, “Excuse me, I must stop the show. There is someone in the audience who is very disturbing to us on the stage and I’m sure to you out there. Will he please leave.”

And the voice called out, “The essence of drama is conflict, Charlie!”

With that the great acting teacher, Stella Adler, who just happened to be sitting in the second row, stood up, and said very dramatically, “Throw that man out!”

That inspired Bob Elston to jump off the stage, run up the aisle, and go smashing against a locked door he thought would take him to the heckler.

We never knew what it was all about until years later when Joyce told me she had received a letter that read: “Dear Miss Van Patten, I am a member of Alcoholics Anonymous and one of our twelve steps is to make amends for any hurt that we may have caused anyone. So I want to apologize very deeply for interrupting your beautiful performance in “Spoon River.” Please extend my apologies to the other members of your cast.

For anyone curious, the Serenity Prayer reads:

God (or fill in the blank), grant me the serenity to accept the things I can not change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

 

Orange Is the New Black: Stella Adler’s Stint at a Women’s Prison

Mulgrew recalls Stella's expression:  "You're in the banker's way. Get out!" If you were in the banker's way, you were thinking like a banker, meaning you were mediocre; you were thinking about money; you were thinking about material things.

Mulgrew recalls Stella’s expression: “‘You’re in the banker’s way. Get out!’ If you were in the banker’s way, you were thinking like a banker, meaning you were mediocre; you were thinking about money; you were thinking about material things.”

I just finished the first season of “Orange Is the New Black,” and although I’d love to go into a deep feminist analysis of the show, this is a blog about Stella Adler. (And as you all know, I don’t have time: 35 days till I turn in Stella’s biography to my publisher!)

What does Stella have to do with a prison dramedy? Other than the fact that my favorite character, “Red,” played by Kate Mulgrew studied with Stella, there’s a little known fact about Stella once going to Chino Prison in California to talk to the women.

Of this experience Stella remembered, “A psychologist said to me, ‘You know, you can’t lie to them. Nobody can lie them, because they have been through so much. They know if you’re a liar.” The psychologist obviously didn’t know about Stella’s commitment to emotional truth.

quote-the-theatre-was-created-to-tell-people-the-truth-about-life-and-the-social-situation-stella-adler-1566

I wish I could tell you what Stella told these women lifers. What I do know I deleted from my latest draft of the book. I had to. I didn’t have enough factual information. But here’s what I wrote:

Although Stella had a practical, no-nonsense temperament when it came to work, she was prone to sentimentality, even toward the most unlikely of people.  Her confidant and lover during the 40s and 50s, Stanley Moss, mentioned how Stella met one of the Manson girls when she was asked to speak to a group of women at Chino Prison. “She had some kind of batty relationship that I really didn’t listen to with one the girls in the Manson case,” Moss recalled. “There couldn’t have been a relationship but maybe a correspondence or something with this one girl who sort of played up to her as an actress.  And she sentimentalized about this poor helpless little girl who of course murdered a pregnant woman.”

Of the three Manson women who were incarcerated in Chino Prison around the time Stella visited, the one most likely to have captured Stella’s attention may have been the pretty and well-spoken Leslie Van Dousen who after over forty years since her crime at nineteen years old has not been allowed parole.

Director John Waters points out how most murderers of equal crimes (Van Dousen was not involved in the murder of Sharon Tate) spend no more than eight or nine years in prison before being paroled. Waters calls Van Dousen his friend, and believes she has been rehabilitated. Perhaps, Stella was not so “batty” after all in seeing Van Dousen as a woman changed from the girl once caught up in drugs and a cult. Van Dousen has never responded to any of this author’s inquiries, leaving the extent of her and Stella’s “relationship” up to speculation.

Kate Mulgrew at Stella by Starlight Gala (2009)

Kate Mulgrew at Stella by Starlight Gala (2009)

What I take from this story is what “Orange Is the New Black” offers its viewers: the human side of the industrial prison complex.

I would have so enjoyed watching the series with Stella. A self-proclaimed “Jewish broad from Odessa,” Stella would have loved “Red” and all her Russian colors.

Happy “Accidents”: Friendship in Art

Stella Adler and Irene Gilbert

Stella Adler and Irene Gilbert

Amongst Irene Gilbert’s two-inch thick letters from Stella Adler, I discovered the following missive:

Dear Irene,

Somewhere, a long time ago, a wandering child was holding a rose and she did not know where to put it. She found a place and stayed with the rose and the place, and I was there by accident; and so you, the rose and I are still together.  Do you see what an accident does?

Stella was an avid letter writer with the hallmark of being effusively sentimental.  Throughout the correspondence I’ve read between Stella and her friends, family and students, I’ve recognized an expression of gratitude that in life she was either too busy or proud to communicate.

Irene and Stella met in 1963 when Stella came to Los Angeles to teach a course on acting.  28-year-old Irene sat in class, like so many before and after, listening to Stella speak about acting with such gravitas, she was called to action.

The teaching engagement was for the current summer only with no plans for Stella to return to the West Coast. Irene had other plans. She stayed in contact with Stella for the remainder of the year and began planning Stella’s return the following summer. Neither the “wandering child” nor Irene realized it was the beginning of a partnership that would bloom into a West Coast school that Stella would eventually bequeath to Irene: the Stella Adler Academy.  Continue reading

Actors: Our Modern Day Philosophers?

Rodin's "The Thinker" via www.musee-rodin.fr

Rodin’s “The Thinker” via http://www.musee-rodin.fr

Without knowing Stella Adler, having only heard of her fame as an American acting teacher who taught Marlon Brando, an image of a woman arises that has nothing to do with the person who was Stella Adler. Those still alive who knew her can tell you a little about the person, but much more about how she influenced their lives.  This is the pattern I’ve noticed: the constant iteration of how much Stella changed someone’s life, opened it up to avenues they had never seen prior to knowing her.

Stella once admitted that she would have known nothing if she hadn’t had to study character.  It was through wanting to understand Nora (in A Doll’s House) that she learned about the ice in Norway, through Blanche (in A Streetcar Named Desire) that she came to understand the American South. In her pursuit of acting, she became a scholar of history, art, architecture, music, politics, geography, poetry.

By examining characters – an actor’s paints and brushes – Stella’s students had to examine human nature. The common person does not go around dissecting the very visceral and ethereal nature of man. This is the job of the philosopher. Stella made philosophers out of actors, which is how she changed so many lives. She instilled in those she touched a consciousness of their role in society, their obligations to themselves as artists, as well as an obligation to serve the world by sharing that which they discovered in themselves. She woke people up. This was her genius: the ability to shake people from the rote, minutia of life that deadens their response to the world around them.

You did not yawn in Stella’s class.  Not because she was a diva and you had to coddle her ego, but because as an actor you were not allowed to let life tire you. You did not chew gum in class.  Not because Stella was a despot, but because “anything you do automatically deadens your mind.”

Continue reading

All Mothers Are Not Created Equal: Part II on Stella’s Mother with a Word from Arthur Miller

Brando in "Truckline Cafe," the performance that prompted Sara Adler to tell Brando he could "change his name to Adler."

Brando in “Truckline Cafe,” the performance that prompted Sara Adler to tell Brando he could “change his name to Adler.”

As Mother’s Day approaches it seems appropriate to continue where my last post left off paying tribute to Stella Adler’s mother. In previous posts, it is clear that Stella came from an acting dynasty. Jacob and Sara put their children on stage as soon as they could walk and Stella was no exception.  They performed as the troupe, The Acting Adlers. Early in the 20th century legend had it that no curtain went up in New York without an Adler being on stage.

After first seeing Marlon Brando play in Elia Kazan’s production of Truckline Café, Madame Adler went up to the young actor and announced, “If you want, you can change your name to Adler.”

The quintessential actress, Sara was not one to reveal her age.  A famous story has been retold time again, but instead of writing about it here, I’d like my readers to hear it the way I originally heard it in my interview with the late Arthur Miller who was actually “on the scene” when the story took place.  Listen to Mr. Miller here. Continue reading

The Work/Life Balance of the Actor: On the 60th Anniversary of Sara Adler’s Death

Stella in Kreutzer Sonata with Sara Adler

Stella in “Kreutzer Sonata” with her mother Sara Adler

People referred to Stella Adler’s mother as Madame Adler. She and Stella’s father were known as the great tragediennes of the Yiddish stage. Together they ushered in the golden age of the Yiddish Theatre on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. They were treated as royalty, not so different from the way fans look at A-list celebrities today.

Upon her death on April 28, 1953, Variety wrote that Madame Adler “was an empress of a whole area of the island of Manhattan, the empress of a family dazzling in its individual talents and, most certainly, empress of the Yiddish theatre in America.” The writer then encapsulated Madame Adler’s legend by relating a story heard from Stella:

She was 88 when it happened: a time when most women are dead or, if they are still live, have no heart for such gallantry.  She was to meet her daughter, Stella, at 6  o’clock.  At 7 o’clock, the empress had not yet arrived and Stella was frantic.  After all, Sara was nearing 90.  But at 7:05, she walked in, erect, her hair freshly curled, a look of dismay on her face.  “What happened, Mama?” Stella cried. “Ah, the men. Terrible!” the empress replied. “A woman of charm is not safe in the streets any more. Oglers; flirts. They give her no peace. Terrible!” Continue reading