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.