Born Israel Strassberg.
Date of birth : November 17, 1901, Boudanov (Budzanov), Austria-Hungary.
Date of death : January 17, 1982, New York City.
Places of living :
The Belnord, 225 West 86th Street, near Broadway, New York City :
135 Central Park West (where also lived Marianne Kris), New York City :
Summer house in Fire Island.
Practise : drama teacher.
Native to a poor Jewish ghetto in Poland.
His parents emigrated in the USA in 1909; he grew up in the Jewish community of the Manhattan Lower East Side, a community culturally rich although underprivileged in the material level.
He studied drama with the Russian actress Maria Ouspenskaïa and the director Richard Boleslavski, former colleague of Stanislavski at the famous Art Theater of Moscow.
He became actor during his adolescence, at the Chrystie Street Settlement House of Manhattan, where he was noticed by Philip Loeb, at that time, casting director for the Theater Guild.
Lee remained in the Guild until 1931.
In 1931 (taking the name of Strasberg) he founded the Group Theater with Cheryl Crawford and Harold Clurman
Both actor, producer, director and in charge of the actors training, he perfected an acting approach which became the Method.
With the Group Theater, whose members were from the extreme left-wing, he staged "Men in White" in 1933, which had a lot of success :
In 1937, after some disagreements on the Method principles, he left the Group Theater and went to work on his side.
In 1941, the Group Theater
was disbanded; 2 of its key-members, Luther and Stella Adler, remained in New
York City and Stella became Lee's opponent as drama teacher.
Lee felt a big resentment towards the movie studios, since 1945 when the direction of "Somewhere in the Night", of which he was co-author with Joseph L.Mankiewicz, was refused to him; he was convinced that the studios wanted consistently to fool the actors and the screenwriters.
He ran for 3 years the Fox tests.
Tenacious and disobedient, Lee had been dismissed on May 26, 1947 and had went back to the East of the USA.
But the Actors Studio was still for its main part, Kazan's estate. Because if the Studio was famous outside the theater circle, it was thanks to Kazan's plays and movies.
"A Streetcar Named Desire" of Kazan had started in Broadway 2 months after the Actors Studio's foundation.
was a place where the entertainment professionals had a go at new parts
in front of a colleagues public who criticized or encouraged them, turn
by turn. Most sessions, designed to the only members, were private. The
teaching was given in an informal way, the members went to the
Studio twice a week (on Tuesdays and Fridays from 11.00 AM to 1.00 PM).
They could work individually with teachers or coaches, and for some
rare students, with Strasberg himself, for the pathetic sum of 30$ a month,
at the rate of 3 sessions a week. Then, Strasberg focused on the basis
The studio was a place where the entertainment professionals had a go at new parts in front of a colleagues public who criticized or encouraged them, turn by turn. Most sessions, designed to the only members, were private. The teaching was given in an informal way, the members went to the Studio twice a week (on Tuesdays and Fridays from 11.00 AM to 1.00 PM). They could work individually with teachers or coaches, and for some rare students, with Strasberg himself, for the pathetic sum of 30$ a month, at the rate of 3 sessions a week. Then, Strasberg focused on the basis technique teaching.
Not anyone could be member of the Studio, and you could attend only with an invitation and after having been auditionned by Strasberg.
He was a tyrannical mentor who appeared with distance and coldness towards the majority of his students and rivals. But nevertheless, the members of the Studio were convinced of the superiority of the teaching they received.
The Actors Studio was the place of an individual and group drama experimentation. Every actors were auditionned by Lee Strasberg himself, and some received additional instructions from Strasberg, at his home.
Their professional association started in February 1955; she took private lessons at his home. She didn't attend the public sessions at the Actors Studio before being ready, in May 1955.
The triumphant release of "On the Waterfront" of
The triumphant release of "On the Waterfront" ofElia Kazan in July 1954, consolidated his position at the Studio : Marlon Brando's performance made Kazan a hero, once again. After this success, nobody could doubt that Strasberg was once again, in the second positon, behind Kazan.
"East of Eden",
also of Kazan and another movie the public associated with the Studio,
made Strasberg's situation worse.
Pathetic, he tried to reap the benefit for Marlon Brando as long as James Dean, while Brando had attended the lessons of his enemy Stella Adler, and James Dean had fled, terrified, after a brief stay at the Studio, where Strasberg had cruelly criticized his efforts in the working groups.
From Strasberg's point of view, Marilyn couldn't have come at a more appropriate moment. She gave him a weapon in his fight for his domination at the Studio.
Marilyn Monroe would be Strasberg's movie star like Marlon Brando and James Dean had been Kazan's one.
To Strasberg, when Marilyn would finally give a brilliant performance, it would be his triumph, not Marilyn's one. He wanted to be more than her teacher; when she would be ready, he wanted moreover to direct her.
In 1955, they attended a representation of the play "A Hatful of Rain" in Broadway :
On December 12, 1955, at the premiere of "The Rose Tattoo" :
During the 7 years of her association with Strasberg, she never became a full-fledged member of the organization, but there are some proofs that she planned to become one of the 12 members of the 1962 class.
Strasberg's acting approach was closely related to psychotherapy. Like with her psychiatrists, Marilyn spent many time searching in her past, dramatizing some periods of her unhappy childhood to feed the usual morning-time conversation. Strasberg maintained that it was essential that she worked on this "sense memory" if she wanted to rouse her "real tragic power". Several Marilyn's biographers have noticed the danger of this intense focusing on Marilyn's childhood misfortunes.She found Strasberg's approach exciting and very demanding; as she told to Norman Rosten :
"Lee makes me think. He says that I have to start to face the problems I meet in my work and in my life; the question is to know how or why I can act".
Strasberg believed in her and soon became one of her most faithful partisans and it was particularly comforting for Marilyn. When Joshua Logan who thought to suggest "Bus Stop" to Marilyn, contacted Strasberg to know what he thought of her, this one answered that Marlon Brando and Marilyn were the biggest talents his school had known.
He was the only drama teacher to din to Marilyn his belief according to which she was quite promising as a theater actress, but in spite of the many years she studied the Method and Strasberg's numerous contacts in the theater world, Marilyn had never had a stage role for her.
She soon became a member of the family, sharing the Strasbergs meals and several times spending the night at their home, the nights she felt alone and couldn't sleep. She accompanied them in their second home in Fire Island.
The final expression of his father role towards Marilyn appeared on July 1, 1956 when he led her to the altar for her religious wedding with Arthur Miller ().
In addition to Strasberg's influence on Marilyn's private life, his acting approach and the diligent observation by Marilyn of the Method were obvious in "Bus Stop" (1956). The first movie she shot after having left Natasha Lytess for Paula Strasberg; this one, representing Lee, since then acted as a drama teacher.
He asked 38 000$ for 10 weeks of work. It was much more than the Marilyn Monroe Productionscould afford. Marilyn offered to give a part of her fee, and that's how Paula became the third best paid person on the movie, after Laurence Olivier and Marilyn.
Arthur Miller also criticized Strasberg's behavior on the set of "The Misfits"
(1961). In his autobiography, he wrote that, although Marilyn
completely depended on Strasberg to gather all her self-confidence she
needed so much as an actress, Lee came to attend the outodoor shootings
of "The Misfits"
only when things threatened to completely deteriorate. When he finally
arrived, his solution consisted in making Paula leave the shooting,
because John Huston hadn't show Paula the respect she deserved, according to him. After a first period of grace,
After a first period of grace,Arthur Miller started to express his doubts about Strasberg and his almost religious influence on Marilyn. He hadn't really appreciate the "cultual" aura surrounding the Method, and hadn't like the fact that, just before his appearance in front of the House Un-American Activities Committee, Lee and Paula had suggested him to come as a "friendly" witness, something that even Paula herself had done several years earlier. Arthur Miller, like Elia Kazan, was skeptical about the way Strasberg made the actors dependent on him.
In 1959 Strasberg was refused for the post of head of the new theater of the Lincoln Center. The Actors Studio was in negotiation with the Lincoln Square Project (that's how the Lincoln Center was called) since 1956.
With Elia Kazan and Cheryl Crawford, Lee Strasberg suggested that the theater would be inserted to a cultural center made up of the Metropolitan Opera, the New York Philarmonic and the New York City Ballet. He was convinced that the Actors Studio would be the theatrical company in residence and estimated himself worthy to hold the position of a cultural leadership.Instead of that, Robert Whitehead, recruited to set the theater up, asked Kazan to be his partner.
Beginning of 1961, the Strasbergs were the first people contacted by Marilyn when she was hospitalized at the Payne Whitney Hospital:
On March 13, 1961, party for the benefit of the Actors Studio at the Roseland Dance City, New York :
This same year, Lee and Marilyn worked on the
project of the TV version of "Rain" of Somerset Maugham, but when
NBC refused to entrust Strasberg with the direction, because had hadn't
yet prove himself, Marilyn withdrew from the project.
On February 6, 1962, they attended the representation of "Macbeth" at the Old Vic Theater in Broadway:
Lee was invited at the White House twice in 1962 : on May and October :
Marilyn was generous in many ways, notably by making the Actors Studio benefit of her prestige and offered 10 000$ to Lee so that he could go and study theater in Japan.
Some signs shows that, during her last year of life, Marilyn's faith in Strasberg began to wane. She had moved again in Los Angeles, and according to many witnesses, Dr Greenson, her psychotherapist on the West Coast, wanted her to start from the beginning and all over again.
In her will,
In her will,Marilyn donated to Lee Strasberg all her properties and the main part of her fortune, after the execution of some clauses in favor of close friends.
In 1966 Paula died.
In 1968 he married Anna Mizrahi (Anna Strasberg). They had 2 children, Adam Lee et David Lee Israel :
After Lee's death, she inherited all his properties, which included all Marilyn's possessions, donated to Lee Strasberg in her will, and also 75% of Marilyn's income, after the execution of some specific clauses.
She became Marilyn's only beneficiary, although she hadn't known her.
In 1972, at the Actors Studio :
He was nominated to the Academy Awards for his first appearance in a movie, "The Godfather Part II" (1974)