Biography of Lee Strasberg (1901-1982)

Actor and American theatrical director of Polish origin, born in Buzdanow (the present-day Ukrainian city of Budanov) in 1901 and died in New York in 1982. Continuer out-done interpretation techniques developed at the Moscow art theatre by the great Russian stage director Konstantin Stanislavski, developed his own method in the United States and, in front of the famed Actor's Studio, formed some of the most glittering stars of American film of several generations.

In search of better economic opportunities, his entire family emigrated to the United States of America in 1909, when the small Lee had eight years of age, so the actor and director always was considered an American citizen. After testing his fortune in various trades, was left to carry their penchant to the theatre and began to interpret his first roles in collective independent that they showed his preference for political theater, which was the first to deserve the attention of Lee Strasberg and that began to put you in touch with the Russian dramatic literature. In view of the enormous possibilities that treasured in this facet of interpreter, in 1925, he decided to professionalize in New York City and began working as an actor - and, soon, also as director of scene-at the Theatre Guild, abandoned that after five years since their firm political convictions were not too much echo in this theatrical group apolitical abulia.

It was following this rupture with the group where had started his professional career when Lee Strasberg decided to found his own company, created that same year of 1930 and baptised with the name of Theatre Group. Humanistic concerns living and its constant search for a space scenic - but also political, social and, ultimately, human - more free and open, led to her encounter with old Moscow's art theatre actors who had decided to stay in the United States after the diaspora of the prestigious collective that founded, in October 1898, Konstantin Stanislavski. Indeed, the outbreak of the Russian Revolution had disengaged and dispersed the members of this company, which in 1917 interrupted their representations and was forced to adapt to the new aesthetic and ideological currents that blazed across the land, with the own Stanislavski forced to formulate his theories in writing to convert its famed realism psychological in a revolutionary interpretation technique; taking advantage of one of the few tours of the ailing group American lands, some of the surviving actors - such as Richard Boleslavsky and Ouspenskaya - María opted to stay there as masters of the famous method of the stage director Moscow, which began to propalar with singular efficiency by some groups as the American Laboratory Theatre or, among others, the Strasberg Theatre Group. This took the situation to become one of the main binders of the "castaways" of the Moscow art theatre, so it soon its collective emerged as the main heir to the legacy of Stanislavski.

Applying to letter the methods learned of the Russian players, Lee Strasberg and the Group Theatre led to U.S. scenarios some more controversial assemblies of the Decade of the thirties, in which both the critics and the public had to take split about innovative mounts of some works already by itself so radical and non-conformist as House of connally (1931), the French Julien Green; Night over Taos (1932), of the American Maxwell Anderson; Men in white (1933), by Sidney Kingsley; and Gentlewoman (1934), of Lawson. After this fruitful period as director of the Group Theatre, Lee Strasberg left the company that he founded in 1937 (and that remained active for four years more) to try his luck in Hollywood, where the growing development of the cinema was a powerful claim which could hardly resist a humanist as interested in the interpretation as he was the director of European origin.

After working for a time in "the Mecca of cinema" and meet different actors, directors and screenwriters that then it would be a fruitful professional relationship, Lee Strasberg returned to New York to assume, on Broadway, the staging of The big knife (the great knife, 1948), playwright of Philadelphia Clifford Odets, whose career had proceeded along parallel to the beaten paths until then by Strasberg, as had been agreed both at the beginning of their careers, in the ranks of the Group Theatre, and more recently in the studios of Hollywood, where Odets earned more money as a screenwriter he could get for his magnificent theatrical texts filo-marxistas. It happened, however, the implementation stage of this great work of maturity of the initiator of the theatre of the proletariat in the United States, under the direction of his old schoolmate of aesthetic and ideological concerns (and, largely thanks to the superb interpretation of John Garfield), garnered a resounding success among New York public and critics, that welcomed in Hollywood that had captured Odest of Strasberg bold mounted to that attack on the entrenched corruption in its text.

From then on, the consecration of Lee Strasberg as one of the leading figures in the field of North American interpretation did not support discussion; and less taking into account that, for already a year, the scenographer renovator had joined the Turkish-born filmmaker Elia Kazan to found which was called to become the all-time most famous drama school, the Actor's Studio. Indeed, since on July 3, 1947 in New York worked the teaching centre, whose Foundation also found present Robert Lewis and Cheryl Crawford, and which was submitted from 1951 to the whole direction of Lee Strasberg, who was in charge of instilling his particular American version of the Stanislavski method to some young and excited students who then become actors of the stature of Montgomery Clift from their classrooms, Shelley Winters, Marlon Brando, Paul Newman, Steve McQueen, James Dean, Carroll Baker, Dennis Hopper, Dustin Hoffman, Jane Fonda, Al Pacino, Sally Field, Scott Glenn, Harvey Keitel, Mickey Rourke, Peter Gallagher, Alec Baldwin, Nastassja Kinski and, among many others, Matt Dillon. But Strasberg school promoted not only the different careers of aspiring actors who passed through it, but also played a decisive role in the diffusion of the works of some authors from the category of Tennessee Williams, whose most famous pieces were put on stage by the interpreters of the Actor's Studio.

In General, the adaptation of the Stanislavski by Lee Srasberg method had as basic objective towards the organicity in action; or, in other words, the reproduction on the scene (or before the camera) of the emotional processes that are experienced in real life. Hence, Strasberg demanded his students and actors who had under his command the pursuit of his own emotional experiences: a hard work done on own memory and, at the same time, related to the deepest reasons that might lead to the portrayed character to act as it did in every moment. Soon saw that the Strasberg method provided a unique performance in the cinematographic field, where, on the one hand, requiring actors a more natural than on the theatrical stages; and, on the other hand, less expressive records could capture with absolute fidelity. And it was obvious that both virtues of the good representative - naturalness and expressiveness - could be fully after a careful application of this process of introspection in the own experiences that it imposed the Strasberg method.

The success of the Actor's Studio led to the opening of other famous schools and academies which were to strictly the proposals of the scenographer of European origin, including the Lee Strasberg Institute, based in Los Angeles. For its part, the own actor and director not only he taught at the New York Center founded by Elia Kazan, but also in numerous universities that was hired as Professor of art dramatic or director of educational activities related to the world of theatre or cinema. Awarded, in 1963, with the "Centennial Gold Medal Award for Excellence in Dramatic Arts", printed left a valuable and detailed explanation of his techniques of interpretation in the book entitled - in its English version - a dream of passion. The development of the method (Barcelona: Icaria, 1990).

Among the large followers of his work - who cared above all, correct the strong inclination psicologicista of this constant quest for inner emotions which postulated Strasberg-, it is obliged to mention the figure of his own son, John Strasberg, as well as the Uta Hagen (who spread their techniques through every corner of North America) and, in a very marked waythe of the stage director and teacher Theatre William Layton, born in Kansas City in 1914 and died in Madrid in 1995. At the end of the 1950s, after a long professional career that started under the guidance of Sanford Meisner (former member of the Group Theatre) and which led him then to the main New York and London stages, William Layton - that it had always shown great interest by Lorcatheatre - was established in Spain and was spreading among Hispanic actors Stanislavski methodlast by subtle sieves of Lee Strasberg, Uta Hagen and, of course, of his former teacher Sanford Meisner. Some such illustrious names as Miguel Narros, José Carlos Plaza, contemporary Spanish Theatre passed through his famous "laboratory Theater of William Layton" José Luis Alonso de Santos, Juan Margallo, Ana Belén, Enriqueta Carballeira, Pere Planella, José Pedro Carrion, Begoña Valley, Chema Muñoz, Paca Ojea, Antonio Valero, Berta Riaza, Arnold Taraborrelli, Pepe Vidal, Miguel Alberto, Nuria Gallardo, Adriana Ozores andamong other many actors and directors of great depth, Ana Duato. Through their respective work, it can be said that live has followed the old legacy of Stanislavski, conveniently shaded by the contributions of Lee Strasberg in contemporary Spanish Theatre.


-HETHMON, Robert H. The method of the Actor's Studio. Conversations with Lee Strasberg (Madrid: Editorial Fundamentos, 1998) [tr. of Charo Álvarez and Ana María Gutiérrez Cabello].