Marlon Brando, Robert de Niro, Shelley Winters, Peter Bogdanovitch — they all studied with Stella Adler, one of the leading proponents of Stanislavsky’s method in America. The daughter of Jacob and Sara Adler, Yiddish theater royalty, Stella spent her whole long life (1901−1992) in the theater. As a child, she acted in her family’s stage productions on the Lower East Side, before moving uptown to the ‘Great White Way.’ During the Depression, she worked with Lee Strasberg, Cheryl Crawford, and Harold Clurman to form the Group Theatre. The rise of Hollywood, the outbreak of World War II, and the venom of the post-War Blacklist reconfigured many careers, but Stella’s calling remained the theater — as a director, an actor, and later, as a teacher of acting. Even Adler’s brief role as a gunrunner for the Irgun almost seems an extension of her acting skills! Ochoa recounts the history of Adler’s career and relationships, careful to include every last story anyone told anyone about Stella…and even a few Ochoa simply imagines. A good editor would have pruned away some of the irrelevant tales and reined in Ochoa’s awkward, over-embellished prose. Still, readers who can ignore style may find the substance useful. Bibliography, notes, photographs.
Bettina Berch, author of the recent biography, From Hester Street to Hollywood: The Life and Work of Anzia Yezierska, teaches part-time at the Borough of Manhattan Community College.