Category Archives: Stella Stories

Stella Stories: Acting and Sex

Stella in "Love on Toast" (1938)

Stella in “Love on Toast” (1938)

Once when Stella was speaking about Lee Strasberg’s fame as a teacher, Stella called attention to the fact that Strasberg was great at publicity. She ventured that had she taught acting with a sexual approach, she would have been just as famous, meaning that sex sells just like Strasberg’s “method” sells. I bring this up because I recently met one Albert Erdynast who was a friend of Stella’s when she was in her early eighties. They had what one might call a loveship, not consummated, but romantic in nature. Erdynast shared the following anecdote with me, which he happened to write in a piece titled “Conversational Interests: Sex Is a Conversation.”

In 1981, Stella Adler, the acting coach, had a dinner in honor of Christopher Isherwood, who had won a Pulitzer Prize. Among the guests at the dinner were Isherwood’s partner, portrait artist Don Bachardy and Chancellor of the California State University Dr. Ann Reynolds. During the dinner talk, Stella Adler who had asked me to accompany her to dinner parties and other events while she was in Los Angeles, turned to me and asked several questions in succession. The entire dinner table had lost temporary interest in whatever it was they were chatting about and gave their attention to our exchanges.

Stella Adler began with, “After these dinner events, Al, do you go home to your wife?”

I answered, “No, Stella, I am not married.” It had not occurred to Stella herself, early in her marriage to Harold Clurman, that she was not supposed to accept dinner invitations alone. Her then mother-in-law pulled her aside one evening to educate her about proper marital etiquette saying, “Stella, when you are married you are not supposed to date.” Astonished, Stella said, “Really?”

Stella then followed with, “When you go home, after these evenings, do you go home to your girlfriend?”

I answered, “No, Stella, I don’t have a girlfriend at this time.”

Stella then asked, “Well then, Al, what do you do for sex?”

I have asked others, since then, how they would answer such a question.

At that occasion, my answer was this: “In those matters, I am of the same persuasion as the two philosophers Immanuel Kant and Mae West. “Work is the ultimate satisfaction and sex is the ultimate distraction.”

Stella received my answer by declaring that her choice was the same. “On my bed in New York,” she said, “I have fifty books instead of a man.”

Since this exchange, Erdynast has asked others how they answered the same question the last time they were asked that question at a formal dinner. How would you respond?
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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

Stella Stories: Why We Remember Stella Adler

Stella_ScarfThe Stella Stories series continues by  former Adler student, the Emmy-Award writer and director, Elizabeth Page who studied at Adler’s New York school in the 1970s when Stella’s genius at script analysis soared.

I studied with Stella Adler for several years at her studio in New York in the late 1970s. What was she like? Much has been written about her personality and she was certainly larger than life. She was a champagne blonde with bright red lipstick, a regal bearing and laser eyes. She was invariably dressed in a silk blouse and black slacks and would sit on the edge of the stage on a sort of throne and dominate the room. The students were justifiably terrified – she would stop a scene ten seconds in, bellowing, “All right! The curtain came down! Who understands?!” And then she’d turn to us and insist that the moment we stepped on stage, we owed the audience a full characterization, a sense of where we’d come from and a very clear idea of what we were about to do. Anything less and she’d stop us in our tracks.

Why was she so tough? I think it had to do with how she was raised. It’s well known that Stella was born into a theatrical family. What isn’t talked about so much was the attitude in that family. Stella admitted that any child who couldn’t act wasn’t allowed to sit at the table and had to take her meals in the kitchen. That’s pretty harsh by anyone’s standards and suggests why she insisted that actors toughen up. If any of us ever admitted to nerves, she’d lose her temper. “So you’re scared! Do it anyway!” She’d tell us that if we couldn’t get it together in front of her, we’d stand no chance in the business.

She insisted that we draw on our imaginations – that our personal history was relevant only so far as it inspired our imaginations (tweet this). She was forever reminding us that the stage demanded size. That if we were to play Nora or Lady Macbeth, we’d be sunk if we depended on our own experience. That yes, we might relate on a human level to moments of loss or achievement but that to achieve an appropriate characterization, we’d need imagination and inspiration.

Stella-Adler-Quotes-4Stella’s Script Analysis class was always packed. I will never forget her analysis of the first page of “A Doll’s House.” She spent over an hour on the first few lines of stage directions, painting a picture of the life suggested by a home with a study for the man of the house and a living room with carpets, a china cabinet and a fire in the grate. What does it mean to have a porter and a maid? She went on at length about class distinctions, uniforms, bearing. What does it mean for a play to be set in winter – what sorts of opportunities does it afford an actor – how can she illuminate her character in her reaction to snow? To a Chrismas tree? It was brilliant. She was brilliant – that’s why we remember her. Not because she yelled and wore red lipstick. Because she understood plays at a level few people ever achieve and was able to communicate her discoveries in a way that was both practical and inspiring for actors.

Yes, she was passionate and volatile and ruthless. But it came from her commitment to a theatre that took as its mission the exploration of human nature and potential. She yelled not because we lacked talent but because we were lazy or sloppy or disrespectful. I remember a young man with no apparent gifts who did a characterization exercise where we were to observe a profession and then demonstrate it in class. He brought in all the makings of a pizzeria and proceeded to quietly and intently make a pizza. She fell all over him with praise. His preparation, his thoroughness, his concentration, the truthfulness of his action. She always gave a hundred percent and expected the same of us. And it was this commitment that lifted us up and made us love her.

If you have a Stella Story, please submit to sheana@sheanaochoa.com

Elizabeth Page is a six-time Emmy Award winning writer who also writes and directs for the stage. Page’s plays include “Spare Parts” (produced by Olympia Dukakis at Whole Theatre and Off B’way at Circle in the Square Downtown where it was nominated for a John Gassner Award), “The Nazi Plays” (Denver Theatre Centre’s US West Theatrefest) and “Aryan Birth” (“Best Short American Plays”). She is currently working on “runningwater”, a narrative feature about a man who’s lost his family and is offered a second chance; “12”, a twelve-part narrative mini inspired by the 12 steps; and “the gun thing” a short narrative film about gun violence in Connecticut.  Contact: epagenyc@gmail.com.

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.

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

“Stella Stories”: The Day I Studied with an Acting Legend

By Rick Copp, special to SALIA

Anyone who knows me knows I’m a ham. In my twenty plus years working in the entertainment business, I managed on more than one occasion to insert myself into several TV shows and movies I was writing and producing. I got my SAG card doing a voice over on a Tea Leoni FOX sitcom called “Flying Blind.” I played a jovial sidekick on a ‘50s sci fi serial in an action comedy TV movie I co-wrote and co-produced called “The Adventures of Captain Zoom in Outer Space,” and I had a recurring role as a bitchy chef on a 90’s action series remake I co-created called “Team Knight Rider.”

People often ask me if I ever trained to be an actor. Well, let me be clear. Yes. Technically. Well, it all depends on what you call training. I audited a four week acting class with legendary stage star and famed acting teacher Stella Adler in the late ‘80s. Her former students include Marlon Brando,  Warren Beatty and Robert De Niro.

In 1987, I was working as the Director of Development for a New York based television production company where I helped develop children’s shows. The company was owned by a major New York advertising agency with clients like Hasbro toys and one of the CEOs was married to a former Hollywood actress by the name of Anne Newman, who had appeared in a number of classic movies like “El Dorado” with John Wayne and Robert Mitchum and “The Thrill of it All” with James Garner and Doris Day. Anne took a liking to me and one day suggested I join her at Stella Adler’s acting seminar she was taking every Wednesday night. I jumped at the chance. Anne was loads of fun and I thought it would lead to us having a lot of laughs. And I was sure she would pay for the drinks we would inevitably have after class.

How wrong I was. Not about the drinks. Anne came through on that one. It was the class. No laughs. None. First of all, I didn’t get the memo that when Ms. Adler entered the room you were to spring to your feet and applaud wildly. Her disapproving eye caught mine when I was still sitting in the hard back aluminum chair as she was wheeled in (she was in a wheelchair by this time), her right arm raised, slightly waving like the Queen of England. It all went downhill from there.

Every student who took to the stage to do a scene was viciously criticized, torn down, more than a few left in a puddle of tears. She was awful to everyone, but particularly relished attacking the girls. Even so, I kept thanking God I was simply auditing the class as an observer and would not be called down to perform for her. Wrong again.

It was one budding actor’s turn to perform a monologue from some courtroom drama. I noticed his hands were shaking when he took to the stage. Ms. Adler bellowed, “How can you make a closing argument to the jury without anyone there to play to? You MUST have a scene partner.” Her eyes scanned the room. “YOU!”

She couldn’t be pointing at me. I turned around. Anne and I were in the back row. There was no one behind me! Ms. Adler screamed, “YOU! What is your name?” “Rick Copp,” I managed to squeak out, my voice cracking. Stella nodded. “Mr. Copp, would you be so kind as to play the role of the juror so this young man has a scene partner?” I turned to Anne for help, but she looked away pretending she didn’t know me.

“I… I’m not an actor… I’m just auditing…” I said softly. Ms. Adler’s eyes blazed as she bellowed, “I expect EVERYONE in my class to participate. Mr. Copp, if you please!” Anne gave me a nudge. I stood up and walked down to the stage, nodding at the shaking young man about to perform his monologue. I sat down and he started talking. I don’t remember what he was saying. I wasn’t listening. I was doing my own internal monologue. “Omigod! She’s going to yell at me! She’s going to tell me I suck and I have no business being here and I don’t take the work seriously and I am an affront to the entire acting profession and how dare I come into this room and disrupt the real actors who are here to do their work and learn from the great master…” I kept my eyes fixed on the poor young man talking to me. He raised a finger to make a point. He was still shaking. He was blowing it. I was blowing it. This was a HUGE disaster and I was about to be ripped a new one.

Ms. Adler stared at me, an angry frown fixed to her face. Finally, mercifully, she stopped the scene. She was yelling, her face flushed red and it wasn’t even the heavy rouge she was wearing. She was tearing down the poor actor playing the lawyer for something like five minutes. When she finished, she ordered him back to his seat. I was the only one left on stage. “As for you, MISTER Copp…” Oh God, hear it comes. “EXCELLENT work! I BELIEVED you were listening intently to the attorney. I BELIEVED you as a juror. I applaud your concentration!”

You know, in hindsight, the late great Stella Adler truly was an acting legend with much wisdom, a true purveyor of untapped talent. Right? Right?

 

 

 

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“Stella Stories”: Elaine Stritch Recalls Stella

English: Elaine Stritch

Elaine Stritch

When I interviewed Elaine Stritch she told me an anecdote that you’ll have to channel Strich to get the full impact of, but here it goes.  One hot summer evening in New York Stella had a party and ran out of ice. Elaine Stritch admonished her host, “For God’s sake Stella, you’ve run out of ice!  Send someone to go to the corner to buy some.”  Here, Stritch imitates Stella at her meekest: “Well, we don’t, we don’t buy, we make it.”

“Okay,” a parched Stritch resigned herself, “forget it.  I’ll drink it warm.”  Later, a heated discussion ensued about how no one speaks the Queen’s English anymore and Stella said, “Well the theatre isn’t limited by that anymore. What matters is where the language comes from.” And then someone interrupted her and said, “Stella, you’re full of shit,” and Stella responded, “I wish you people would stop yelling at me. I’m just a girl without ice.”

“Stella Stories”: Stanley Rubin Succumbs to Stella

Stanley Rubin

In 2005 I met with the producer Stanley Rubin and his wife, actress, Kathleen Hughes (Stanley says theirs is the “longest platonic romantic relationship in Hollywood”) at their home to talk about Stella.  I began the interview by reading a letter I had that Stella had written to Stanley.

“Dear Stanley, you have seduced me as a woman, made me a fan of your work, created a talented and gracious evening for me and extended your friendship to me with warmth.  I am unashamed and unafraid to say I love you. Oh. Dear Kathy, I wrote Stanley a love letter.”

Kathleen Hughes

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“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.”

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