Harry Ransom CenterThe University of Texas at Austin

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Fall 2004 Newsletter

Adler Archive Waiting in the Wings


Stella Adler, ca. 1937.


Stella Adler's teaching notes for the role
of Amanda Wingfield in Tennessee Williams's
The Glass Menagerie. Adler used these
notes in a 1974 class in Script Interpretation
at the Stella Adler Conservatory.

The Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center has acquired the complete archive of Stella Adler (1901-1992), founder of the famed Stella Adler Conservatory of Acting. Adler is best known for having taught the principles of acting and character and script analysis to young talents who later came to dominate the American stage and screen. Among her students were Marlon Brando, Robert De Niro, Elaine Stritch, Martin Sheen, Harvey Keitel, Melanie Griffith, Peter Bogdanovich, and Warren Beatty.

The Adler archive is a rich trove of correspondence, manuscripts, typescripts, video and audio tapes, photographs, and other materials that trace and define Adler's career, beginning with her start in the New York Yiddish Theater in 1906, where as a child she acted alongside her parents, Jacob and Sara Adler. Also included are materials related to Stella Adler's marriage to director, actor, and writer Harold Clurman, including Clurman's works as a theater critic.

"I'm very pleased that not only my mother's work, but also a part of the history of American Yiddish Theater, will reside in a great archive," said Ellen Adler, daughter of Stella Adler. "It is my hope that the public, including teachers and students of acting, will readily utilize this collection."

An accomplished actress at an early age, Adler joined the American Laboratory Theatre of Russian actor and teacher Richard Boleslavski in the mid-1920s.

In 1931 Adler was drawn into the Group Theatre by Harold Clurman, whom she married in 1943. The archive contains a rich correspondence between Adler and Clurman that documents their relationship from the 1930s though the 1950s. The archive also contains extensive correspondence to Clurman from intimates, friends and colleagues, including Waldo Frank, Alfred Steiglitz, Audrey Hepburn, and many others, dating from the 1930s onward.

In 1934 Adler left for Europe, where she met and studied intensively with the legendary acting teacher Constantin Stanislavski of the Moscow Art Theatre. Credited with defining the most influential approach to acting in modern times, Stanislavski dramatically changed theater and acting with his teachings and directing. Adler's archive contains documentation of her meetings with Stanislavski in Paris, an important encounter for the modern American theater.

"Adler's work is the bridge between the teachings and directing of Stanislavski and the development of realistic acting in America," said Gordon Peacock, the Ransom Center's Curator Emeritus of Performing Arts.

Upon returning from Paris, Adler gave lectures to members of the Group Theatre and actors and directors such as Elia Kazan, Sanford Meisner, and Robert Lewis about her work with Stanislavski. Adler's interpretation of Stanislavski's methods put her at odds with other Group Theatre members, particularly Lee Strasberg.

In 1949 Adler founded the Stella Adler Theater Studio, later the Stella Adler Conservatory, which still flourishes today as the Stella Adler Studio of Acting. Adler taught acting for more than 40 years.

"To me Stella Adler is much more than a teacher of acting," said former student Marlon Brando in the foreword of Stella Adler's The Technique of Acting. "Through her work she imparts a most valuable kind of information-how to discover the nature of our emotional mechanics and therefore those of others. Little did she know that through her teachings she would impact theatrical culture worldwide. Almost all filmmakers anywhere in the world have felt the effects of American films, which have been in turn influenced by Stella Adler's teachings."

Of specific importance to actors, directors, and scholars is the impressive collection of Adler's teaching notes and more than 700 hours of audio/visual materials. Adler's lectures include script analyses, character classes, and discussions of individual playwrights.

"The Adler archive is a deep and rich source for the study of twentieth-century American theater," said Thomas F. Staley, director of the Ransom Center. "From rare material dealing with Adler's parents-who occupied a preeminent position in the New York Yiddish Theater-to Adler's brilliant and important teaching notes and materials, this archive is a significant acquisition for the Ransom Center."  

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