Stella Adler on Method Acting

Stella1
Credit: The Famous People

A big influence on the modern Hollywood acting style comes from Stella Adler. She had done away with the earlier big gestures used in silent film acting, such as an actor placing both hands on their heart to indicate sorrow. She bridged the gap between early twentieth-century Russian theatre and what was becoming popular in film at the time. Adler drew from the imagination rather than personal experience. She had a name in American theatre, appeared in a handful of films and has taught some of the greatest actors of all time. She was known for her harsh, but fair analysis of student’s skills. Some included Marlon Brando and James Dean. Even after her passing, the likes of Mark Ruffalo and Angelina Jolie have studied at her acting schools.

Stella Adler was born on the 10th of February, 1901. Her father, Jacob P. Adler, was a famous actor on the Yiddish Theatre circuit. She was only four-years-old when he had her star in one of his productions, Broken Hearts. Adler had no formal acting training, but instead learnt from her father and by watching others. By her late-teens, she had been in over one hundred plays either in the Yiddish Theatre or as part of a vaudeville act. Adler’s performances took her all over the United States, Europe and South America.

In 1931, she was invited to join the Group Theatre in New York City. Adler accepted the offer but never felt fully welcome. Many agree this is where she achieved her best work as Sarah Grassman in Success Story, Adah Menken in Gold Eagle Guy, Bessie Berger in Awake and Sing and Clara in Paradise Lost. The Group Theatre was formed by Harold Clurman, Cheryl Crawford and Lee Strasberg; themselves experimental actors focusing on cutting edge techniques and deeply influenced by Russian theorist Konstantin Stanislavski. Adler and Strasberg frequently clashed over the interpretation of Stanislavski’s work.

Stella2
Credit: Stella Adler: A Life in Art

Having a break, Adler headed to Europe in 1934. On a chance encounter in Paris, she met Stanislavski and was not only able to speak with him, but was instructed and taught by him for the next five weeks. Stanislavski was born in Moscow in 1863, was an actor himself and brought new psychological and emotional aspects to the craft. His theories were big in the United States in the 1930s. Adler was the first and only American to study directly under him. Returning home with new insight, Adler and Strasberg still couldn’t find a common ground so she decided to leave the Group Theatre.

In 1937, Adler gave Hollywood a shot. She appeared in three films: Love on Toast (1937), Shadow of the Thin Man (1941) and My Girl Tisa (1948). Adler spent six years as an associate producer at MGM. She taught acting at the New School for Social Research around this time. Adler also directed commercial theatre in the 1940s and 1950s.

The Stella Adler School of Acting first opened its doors in New York in 1949. She could finally teach acting her own way. Where Lee Strasberg highlighted an actor’s need to draw upon personal experience to envision a character, Adler focused and honed the imagination. She was against the idea of using past traumas as a way to achieve an emotion, especially a negative one. In her own words: “drawing on emotions I experienced – for example, when my mother died – to create a role is sick and schizophrenic, I don’t want to do that.” Adler instead focused on spiritual realism, emotional memory, dramatic and self-analysis, and disciplined practise. Adler received critical acclaim for her work with Marlon Brando and his performance in A Streetcar Named Desire (1951). He was nominated for Best Actor at the 1952 Academy Awards.

Stella3
Credit: Los Angeles Times

Today, Adler’s school is known as the Stella Adler Studio of Acting. It is a not-for-profit organisation; an LA branch opened in 1984. Both run weekly acting classes. Some actors to come through Adler’s schools include Robert De Niro, Paul Newman, Marilyn Monroe, Al Pacino, Alec Baldwin, Dustin Hoffman, Salma Hayek, Steve Buscemi and Scarlett Johansson.

Stella4
Credit: John Kehoe Bookseller

Adler officially retired from acting in 1961. In the later part of the decade, Adler juggled her time between her acting school and teaching at Yale University’s School of Drama. She was head of drama at New York University in the 1980s. Adler released a book in 1988, The Technique of Acting. The book is still widely taught and referenced. She continued to teach until her death from a heart attack on December 21, 1992.

Stella5
Credit: Pinterest

This article was originally posted on The Sydney Feminists Blogspot on November 21st, 2017. (http://thesydneyfeminists.blogspot.com.au)

Sources:

8 Acting Techniques (and the Stars Who Swear by Them) (https://www.backstage.com/advice-for-actors/resources/8-acting-techniques-and-stars-who-swear-them/)

Encyclopaedia Britannica – Stella Adler (https://www.britannica.com/biography/Stella-Adler)

PBS – American Masters (http://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/stella-adler-about-stella-adler/526/)

Stella Adler Biography (https://www.thefamouspeople.com/profiles/stella-adler-5150.php)

Stella Adler – IMDb (http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0012245/bio)

Stella Adler Los Angeles (http://www.stellaadler.la/)

Stella Adler Studio of Acting (http://www.stellaadler.com/)

The Hawksian Woman Archetype

to_have_and_have_not-dvd-r1-01347
Credit: Envisioning the American Dream

In film theory, the Hawksian woman archetype describes the female lead characters in movies directed by Howard Hawks. An archetype is a character model, or pattern, that is common in storytelling. Hawks made a number of films during Hollywood’s Golden Age that featured female characters with very similar traits. The Hawksian woman archetype stepped outside the Hollywood norm – his female characters were not reduced to being damsels in distress or sexualised objects – and instead had spunk, charisma, wit, intelligence and were cool under pressure. They knew exactly what they wanted and were not afraid to go after it, but, most importantly, had the respect of their male counterparts and were considered “one of the gang” among them.

howardhawks
Credit: Typology Central

Film critic Naomi Wise (1945-2011) first coined the term Hawksian woman in 1971. Howard Hawks, himself, was born on May 30th, 1896. He made his way to Hollywood in the 1920s where he landed a position at the Mary Pickford company. Hawks moved around, doing odd jobs in the industry, while building a reputation. His directorial debut was The Road to Glory in 1926. He had a consistent career with movies in the comedy, drama, film noir and western genres, many of which are now considered masterpieces of American cinema, such as A Girl in Every Port (1928), Only Angels Have Wings (1939), His Girl Friday (1940), Red River (1948), The Thing from Another World (1951), Gentleman Prefer Blondes (1953) and Rio Bravo (1959). He also directed the original Scarface in 1932. It was considered the most violent film made up until that point and was at the centre of a censorship battle. It led to tougher rating restrictions on cinema under the Motion Picture Production Code. Hawks did not consider himself a feminist, but explained in interviews that, in film and life, lively women were more interesting.

Hawksian women were known for their strong and tough-talking personalities, with semi-masculine qualities. Especially for love interests, men were slightly feminised too. Wise points out that a typical Howard Hawks film would have a male character suffering from an emotional dilemma and it would be the woman who helps resolve it. Humphrey Bogart’s character, Harry Morgan, in To Have and Have Not (1944), notes “a man alone ain’t got no chance”. With Morgan in an emotional upheaval, it was Marie (Lauren Bacall) who assists and guides him through the ordeal. Some actresses featured in Hawksian roles include Katherine Hepburn, Rosalind Russell, Barbara Stanwyck, Joanne Dru and Marilyn Monroe. Hawks had a clause built into their contracts where actresses could only appear in movies twice a year. This was to keep their exposure fresh and to leave the audience wanting more.

MV5BZmYwNjdjNDQtMmZjNi00NDIwLWE2MjUtOGYxZmIzOTZlMTM2XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNDY1NzU5NjY@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,771,1000_AL_
Credit: Pinterest

Unarguably the most iconic Hawksian woman was Lauren Bacall. She was born Betty Joan Perske on September 16th, 1924. Bacall was first noticed by Hawks’s wife, Nancy, on the cover of a glamour magazine. After bringing Bacall’s picture to the attention of her husband, Hawks organised a screen test for her and was impressed. He hired a speech coach, had her name changed to Lauren Bacall and brought her out to Hollywood. Bacall was always uncomfortable with her screen name as she felt it dishonoured her Jewish heritage. Bacall’s two big Hawksian roles were Marie “Slim” Browning in To Have and Have Not and Vivian Sternwood Rutledge in The Big Sleep (1946). Both films starred Humphrey Bogart as the male lead. Twenty-five years older than Bacall, the two began a romantic relationship that led to marriage. Their personal lives were covered extensively by the media of the day. Bacall was with Bogart at the time of his death in 1957.

e428cce29615c826c03cd5dc58f9af8e
Credit: Here’s Looking Like You, Kid

Popularity of the Hawksian woman archetype began to slow down by the early 1950s. World War II had ended and soldiers had returned home. Women’s roles in society had become restricted to the household as wives and mothers. Hollywood, and the entertainment industry alike, began to substitute strong heroines for devoted house wives and stay-at-home mothers. Notable examples of the new perfect housewife archetype can be seen in TV shows like I Love Lucy (1951-1957) and Leave It to Beaver (1957-1963).

e5e5e973a699376f47dd835bea432232.jpg
Credit: Pinterest

Film critic Naomi Wise described the Hawksian woman as “some of the most honest portrayals of women” (p. 118) Hollywood cinema has to offer. Howard Hawks directed forty-five films in his career. Only fifteen of them featured the archetype. He passed away in 1977 at the age of eighty-one. Lauren Bacall continued to act up until her death in 2014. She was eighty-eight. Hawks’s influence can be felt in modern films and television series. The Hawksian woman legacy lives on.

Bacall&Hawks
Credit: NewStatesman

This article was originally posted on The Sydney Feminists Blogspot on May 16th, 2017. (http://thesydneyfeminists.blogspot.com.au)

Sources:

Classic Hollywood Archetypes: The Hawksian Woman (http://finefettleguide.blogspot.com.au/2014/01/classic-hollywood-archetypes-hawksian.html)
Decline of the Hawksian Archetype (https://hawksianwomen.wordpress.com/2014/12/12/decline-of-the-hawksian-archetype/)
Examples of the Hawksian Woman (https://hawksianwomen.wordpress.com/2014/12/12/examples-of-the-hawksian-woman/)
Hawksian Woman (https://www.revolvy.com/main/index.php?s=Hawksian%20woman)
Hawksian Woman, The. Wise, Naomi. 1971.
Howard Hawks Biography.com (http://www.biography.com/people/howard-hawks-9331796)
Humphrey Bogart & Lauren Bacall: May to December, A Romance to Remember (http://www.biography.com/news/humphrey-bogart-lauren-bacall-love-story)
Lauren Bacall Biography.com (http://www.biography.com/people/lauren-bacall-9194111)
Top 10 Hawksian Woman Movies (http://mavenrose.com/top-10-hawksian-woman-movies/)