Sheana Ochoa, Author of STELLA! Mother of Modern Acting

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kingrat
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Re: Sheana Ochoa, Author of STELLA! Mother of Modern Acting

Post by kingrat »

Thanks so much for your great responses. I'm really enjoying your visit.
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Re: Sheana Ochoa, Author of STELLA! Mother of Modern Acting

Post by Sheana Ochoa »

I'm impressed with the questions today from everyone. Thank you all.

Christy, to answer your question about how Stella's "personal experience" informed her theory of acting, I'm assuming you mean her beginnings in the Yiddish theater? Like all Jacob Adler's children, Stella was put on stage as soon as she could walk. Her parents and the immigrant experience, which the Yiddish plays validated, instilled Stella with a great sense of responsibility to both the playwright's vision and the audience's satisfaction. At the turn of the century, acting was hardly a profession of high regard, but in the Yiddish theater the players were idolized and admired -- the way we revere figures like Deepak Chopra and Stephen Hawking. The Adler children held the same reverence for their parents and their inherited duty to convey the great themes of the human condition from the works of Shakespeare, Ibsen and there own Yiddish playwrights.

There's a story I mention in the book where Adler is playing King Lear and a fan mistakes the drama for real life. When Lear's daughter disrespects him, the audience member runs up to the stage to console Adler, telling him he can come live with his family.

Stella strove for this exact authenticity while Jacob stressed that when she play a character, she must research his or her (she played boys as well as girls as a youngster) clothing, period, socioeconomic status. As the Yiddish theater died out and Stella joined the Group Theater whose mission was to present plays relevant to the Depression-era times, Stella already had specific standards. She wasn't alone. The Group was greatly influenced by the teachings of Stanislavsky and the emphasis on authenticity. And so it was a natural progression to synthesize what she had learned growing up with what the Group sought to accomplish as one in the same. Her unadulterated loyalty to the play/role/author manifested as her mission in life, clarifying what Stanislavsky theorized in his writings to her American counterparts and later to her students. From the Group Theater came the three great acting teachers of the 20th century: Strasberg, Meisner and Stella. Meisner learned from Stella, emphasizing his own aspect of Stanislavsky's system. Strasberg, as I answered in an earlier question, also believed that the truth in acting was the goal. He and Stella simply clashed regarding how one arrives at that goal.

For Masha: Your question is a good one and you arrived at the answer on your own. Stella and Stanislavsky communicated in French. She spoke Yiddish, English, German, French and Italian, but not Russian. In the book when they meet, it's very tense for Stella. Stanislavsky and his Moscow Art Theater embodied everything the Group and Stella believed in. It's funny you ask how they communicated, because Stella was too nervous to speak to Stanislavsky when they first met. When she finally did, it was to tell him how he had ruined acting for her! Of course, this was because she had been working under Strasberg's emphasis of just one of Stanislavsky's exercises (affective memory), which she felt was unhealthy.

Looking forward to another great day with the SSO tomorrow!
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Re: Sheana Ochoa, Author of STELLA! Mother of Modern Acting

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Thank you, Sheana. I appreciate your thoughtful reply. While working on the Sidney bio I've enjoyed learning about Group Theatre, Clurman, The Gentle People. Sylvia resented being referred to as "the money ball" for the Group and taking time out to give birth to Jody Adler offered a good excuse and exit. Sylvia and the Adlers were pretty much on the same page. While doing The Gentle People Sylvia was also active in lobbying for a total boycott of German trade (her parents had fled Poland during pogroms in the early 1900's).

I can appreciate your frustration with a nine month deadline. I worked on my first book (Kay Francis - I Can't Wait to be Forgotten) for two years before seeking a publisher. I have an excellent proof reader in London. I've learned that "less is more" and I really need the time to keep whittling away at the narrative until its tight and succinct. And yes, I catch typos after publication. Ugh!

You've chosen a worthwhile subject who deserves having their life story and significant contribution to the arts. Thanks for doing this for Ms. Adler. Cheers, Scott
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Re: Sheana Ochoa, Author of STELLA! Mother of Modern Acting

Post by Masha »

Sheana Ochoa wrote: Stella and Stanislavsky communicated in French. She spoke Yiddish, English, German, French and Italian, but not Russian.
I thank you for that information!

I did think it odd that the son of a Tsarist Muscovite and the daughter of an Odesan mentsh might have a language in common.

I thank you for joining us this weekend and sharing your insights with us.
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Re: Sheana Ochoa, Author of STELLA! Mother of Modern Acting

Post by Sheana Ochoa »

Scott, I forgot to mention that I also have a few letters between Syliva Sidney's son Jody Adler and Stella. If his bravery up against ALS is a reflection of Sidney's mothering, she did a great job!
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Re: Sheana Ochoa, Author of STELLA! Mother of Modern Acting

Post by moira finnie »

I am relishing the great questions and your in-depth replies, Sheana. I was particularly delighted with your description of the lively world of the Yiddish theater. I have three questions that I hope you may be able to answer.

1.) Did you find that there were any times when Stanislavsky students and teachers Richard Boleslawski and Maria Ouspenskaya interacted with the Adlers during their early years in America?

2.) Were Edward G. Robinson and Paul Muni a part of the Adler's artistic circles? Did they ever work with Stella?

3.) Could you please describe Stella's relationships with her siblings, the well known Luther, her brother Jay and her half-brother Charles? Was there a degree of artistic rivalry among them as actors or were they supportive of one another? It has been suggested that the Adler family may have regarded Jay Adler as a bit of a black sheep. Jay, whose film career was much more extensive than that of his brothers or sister, was a distinctive figure in many films (esp. noirs). Despite the fact that he was so often an uncredited bit player and in supporting roles, his presence stood out for me long before learning of his filial pedigree, so I can't help wondering about his life and career.

Thanks in advance for any insights you can share--and thank you so much for visiting here.
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Re: Sheana Ochoa, Author of STELLA! Mother of Modern Acting

Post by Sheana Ochoa »

I'm in a writing work shop, but wanted to share this wonderful Hirschfeld drawing of Morris Carnovsky and John Garfield paying tribute to Stella.
al-hirschfeld-of-stella-and-carnovsky.jpg
al-hirschfeld-of-stella-and-carnovsky.jpg (37.28 KiB) Viewed 14591 times
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Re: Sheana Ochoa, Author of STELLA! Mother of Modern Acting

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Great questions, Moira! Sheana will be back with us in a little while.
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Re: Sheana Ochoa, Author of STELLA! Mother of Modern Acting

Post by OScott »

Thanks so much Sheana. I'm looking forward to reading Stella's life story. I'm sure it will prove enlightening for putting the Adler clan in perspective while writing about Sylvia Sidney. I've forwarded a couple of emails to you in regards to the letters you mentioned. Cheers, Scott
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Re: Sheana Ochoa, Author of STELLA! Mother of Modern Acting

Post by sandykaypax »

Thanks so much for your replies, Sheana! I'm really enjoying reading this thread.

Did Stella Adler fall into teaching acting, or was it something that she sought out? Was there any element of her own acting process that she felt couldn't be taught, an element of talent or imagination?

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Re: Sheana Ochoa, Author of STELLA! Mother of Modern Acting

Post by Rita Hayworth »

Stella Adler had some issues with the formidable and controlling Lee Strasberg; care to explain why she didn't get along with him? Care to explain the relationship that they had? Did Lee and Stella have some quarrels and/or fights about the acting profession and could you share some insights as well in this rocky relationship ... thanks Sheana Ochoa.

I don't know much about Lee; the only movie that I saw him act in was The Godfather: Part II (1974) as Hyman Roth.

Thanks for joining us this weekend. :)
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Re: Sheana Ochoa, Author of STELLA! Mother of Modern Acting

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Stella seems to have found solace in her trips to Europe, and especially Italy. In the course of your research, did you find any indications of her specific fascination with Italy? Thanks, Sheana.
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Re: Sheana Ochoa, Author of STELLA! Mother of Modern Acting

Post by Sheana Ochoa »

Moira, you've asked a question I've never been asked before. How do you know so much about Boley and Ouspenskaya? I love it!

After the Moscow Art Theatre wowed New York on tour, Stanislavsky's students Bolevslavski and Ouspenskaya launched the American Laboratory Theatre, or the Lab.

Stella, anxious with the state of the fading Yiddish theatre (which was her bread and butter) went to the NYPL to read more on Stanislavsky (old friend of her father Jacob Adler.) While there, as these things tend to happen, a member of the Lab noticed Stella's reading titles and led her to the Lab. It's a great scene in the book and exciting to write about because it was a turning point in the history of acting in America.

Within a year or two, Harold Clurman and Strasberg showed up at the Lab to take a directing class, met Stella and the rest is, as they say, history.

Funny you asked about Boley interacting with the Adlers. The rest of the family thought it superfluous that Stella, who had been acting since she was in diapers, would be studying acting. I mean, who studies acting?
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Re: Sheana Ochoa, Author of STELLA! Mother of Modern Acting

Post by Sheana Ochoa »

Moira, you probably know Paul Muni was trained on the Yiddish stage so naturally he was part of the Adler circle. In a previous post I discussed Stella's work as a member of the Bergson Group. I didn't want to give too much away, but basically the Bergson Group was the American name for a militant organization knows as the Irgun Zvai Leumi, or simply the Irgun. She joined before the British and Zionist viewed the group as an illegal terrorist organization. They saw themselves as Freedom Fighters and after having witnessed the Holocaust unfold, Stella was not one to sit idly by while the American Zionists didn't want to bring attention to the "Jewish problem" in Europe. The American leaders were very hush hush about it all, not wanting to rock the boat with their hard sought assimilation. So what does Muni have to do with this?

Well, there was a very successful melodrama called "A Flag Is Born" that went on tour. The story is set in a graveyard with a young Brando (forfeiting a Hollywood invitation) playing the "outspoken" Jew to an elderly couple representing and admonishing the American Jews for their silence. The couple was played by the brilliant Celia Adler (from Jacob Adler's second marriage) and Paul Muni. Brando later recalled that while working with Muni on stage, he would get "goose bumps" over Muni's performance. The entire story of this production is rather phenomenal, which of course is in the book.
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Re: Sheana Ochoa, Author of STELLA! Mother of Modern Acting

Post by Sheana Ochoa »

Moira,

Yes, the great character actor Jay Adler was thought of as "the black sheep" of the family, but as Stella would say, "Jay was also its heart." It's difficult to sum up the talent, dynamic, and relationships of the Adlers. I don't know if there were so much rivalries among the siblings as vacancies to fill the void of not having had nurturing parents, while still idolizing their mother and father. What you did have were large personalities, which would from time to time, clash with long-standing grudges. This was particularly the case with the great Yiddish star Celia Adler. She was the daughter of Jacob's short-lived marriage to another actress on the Yiddish stage in London. When Jacob came to build the Yiddish theatre in the new world, he realized there were already three other companies on the Lower East Side doing the same thing. In one was his future wife and mother to Stella, Luther, Jay, et al. Sara Adler was also already married, but that didn't stop the inevitable affair. However, when Dinah showed up with baby Celia in tow, Jacob had to cut short a night on the town with Sara. Besides herself, Sara followed Jacob to his rooms. There was a confrontation between the two women, which Sara never forgot. She wouldn't allow her children to associate with their half-sister, Celia, when they were coming up.
One thing that was very touching during my research was whenever I found an old telegram. One sister or brother or even Adler would send a "break a leg" telegram to whoever was having an opening night.
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