Stella Adler was an American actress and an acclaimed acting teacher, who founded the Stella Adler Studio of Acting in New York City with a long time protege Joanne Linville who continues to teach and furthers Stella Adler’s legacy. Her Grandson Tom Oppenheim now runs the school in New York, which boasts Alumni including Marlon Brando, Robert De Niro, and more recently Jenny Lumet, ,. She founded The Stella Adler Academy of Acting and Theatre in Los Angeles and the school continues to florish as an acting studio and houses several theaters. She began acting at the age of four as a part of the “Independent Yiddish Art Company” of her parents, and concluded it 55 years later, in 1961. During that time, and for years after, Stella Adler taught acting as well.
Born in New York City’s Lower East Side, Adler was a member of the Jewish-American Adler acting dynasty, the youngest daughter of Sara and Jacob P. Adler, the sister of Luther and Jay Adler, and half-sister of Charles Adler; in fact all her five siblings were actors. Jacob and Sara Adler were two of the finest actors of the American Yiddish theatre. They were a significant part of a vital ethnic theatrical scene that thrived in New York from the late 19th century well into the 1950s. Adler would become the most famous and influential member of her family.
She began her acting career at the age of four in the play ‘Broken Hearts’ at the Grand Street Theater on the Lower East Side, as a part of her parents ‘Independent Yiddish Art Company’. She grew up acting alongside her parents often playing roles of boys and girls. Her work schedule allowed little time for schooling, but when possible she studied at public schools and New York University. She made her London debut, at the age of 18, as ‘Naomi’ in the play ‘Elisa Ben Avia’ with her father’s company, in which she appeared for a year before returning to New York. In London she met her first husband, Englishman Horace Eliashcheff; their brief marriage however ended in a divorce.
She made her English-language debut on Broadway in 1922, as the Butterfly in the play ‘The World We Live In’, and also spent a season in the vaudeville circuit. In 1922-1923, the renowned Russian actor-director Constantin Stanislavski made his only US tour with his Moscow Art Theatre. Adler and many others saw these performances; this had a powerful and lasting impact on her career, as well as the 20th century American theatre. She joined the American Laboratory Theatre School in 1925; there she was introduced to Stanislavski’s theories, from founders and Russian actor-teachers and former members of the Moscow Art Theater – Richard Boleslavski and Maria Ouspenskaya. In 1931 she joined the Group Theatre, New York, founded by Harold Clurman, Lee Strasberg and Cheryl Crawford, through theater director and critic, Clurman, whom she later married in 1943. With Group theatre she worked in plays like ‘Success Story’ by John Howard Lawson, two Clifford Odets plays, ‘Awake and Sing!’ and ‘Paradise Lost,’ and directed the touring company of Odets’s ‘Golden Boy’ and ‘More to Give to People’. Members of Group Theatre were leading interpreters of the Method acting technique based on the work and writings of Stanislavski.