Stella Adler was born on February 10, 1901 in Manhattan. She was the youngest daughter of Jacob Pavlovitch Adler and Sara Levitzky, a Russian immigrant couple who founded and managed the Yiddish Art Company. Adler had five siblings, all of whom were actors as well.
Adler attended public schools when her work schedule permitted (she began performing on stage in 1905) and took courses at the American Laboratory Theater school in 1925, where she was first introduced to Stanislavsky’s theories about acting. In the 1930s, Adler traveled to Russia to study with actor and director Konstantin Stanislavski.
Adler eventually appeared in nearly 200 plays, while at the same time profoundly affecting the careers of numerous performers at the Stella Adler Conservatory of Acting in Manhattan, which she founded in 1949. Adler stressed the artistic use of the imagination, opposing Lee Strasberg’s Method acting, which she believed was psychologically and emotionally abusive.1 Of Strasberg, Adler said, “I thought his way led to insanity.”2
Adler also taught at the New School, the Yale School of Drama, and for many years headed the undergraduate drama department at New York University. As Rosemary Malague points out in An Actress Prepares: Women and “the Method,” where Strasberg’s technique has received enormous attention over the years, a re-assessment of both Adler and Uta Hagen’s influence—and their pedagogical approach to teaching acting—is long overdue.
Adler was married three times: to Horace Eliascheff, with whom she had a daughter, Ellen; critic and Group Theatre co-founder Harold Clurman; and physician and novelist Mitchell Wilson. She died on December 21, 1992 at her home in Manhattan.
Adler was under investigation by the FBI well before her name was included in Red Channels. Her name first came to the Bureau’s attention during World War II. In July 1943, a confidential information (whose name was redacted from FBI files) identified Adler as being “presently connected to the Communist Party in Hollywood and to have long been in the service of the Party.”1
Although Adler had appeared in dozens of roles in theater, she is best known as a teacher today. Like other women touched by the blacklist, roles in television were off-limits to her and teaching provided a regular means of work and a steady living.
- 1. James W. Mason, “Lola Adler; Pearl Adler; Stella Adler, with aliases Stella Ardler; Mrs. Harold Clurman,” FBI Report, Los Angeles, CA: July 22, 1943, FBI File #100-18558.
As late as 1960, the FBI continued to monitor Adler’s activities, reviewing her passport applications and once again questioning her regarding her membership in the Communist Party (she denied it).[“Stella Adler Clurman,” FBI Report, Washington, DC: October 6, 1960, FBI File #100-57874.
Google Drive: See Stella Adler's FBI Files.