AUSTIN, Texas—The University of Texas at Austin’s 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.
Stella Adler. This publicity photograph was probably taken in 1937, the year Stella’s first film “Love On Toast” was released.
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 theatre critic.
“The Adler archive is a deep and rich source for the study of 20th-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.”
“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 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.
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.
Stella Adler’s teaching notes for the role of Amanda Wingfield in Tennessee Williams’ “The Glass Menagerie.” Stella used these notes in a 1974 class in Script Interpretation at the Stella Adler Conservatory.
“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.
“We are thrilled to have this material, for Adler’s life was a spectrum of 20th-century acting and directing,” said Helen Adair, associate curator of the Ransom Center’s Performing Arts Collection. “The archive is one of a handful of collections of a major acting teacher. Scholars and the public will discover that the material documents the evolution of theater and the transformation of acting in America in the second half of the 20th century.”
The Ransom Center already holds the papers of two of the most important playwrights Adler taught in her script analysis classes: Arthur Miller and Tennessee Williams.
The Ransom Center’s Performing Arts Collection features extensive holdings in theater, dance, costume and set design and popular entertainment, including images, production documentation, and correspondence of various British and American actors, producers and playwrights. Major collections include the archives of George Bernard Shaw and visionary designer Norman Bel Geddes as well as the collected photographs and negatives from Broadway photographers Fred Fehl and Bob Golby.
The Center’s general collections include more than 36 million manuscripts, one million rare books, five million photographs, 100,000 works of art and design as well as extensive holdings in its film, French and Italian collections.
The 20 boxes of materials for the Adler archive should be processed and made available to the public and scholars in about a year.
For more information and high resolution photos contact: Jennifer Tisdale, Harry Ransom Center, 512-471-8949.