Lee (Israel) Strasberg

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Lee (Israel) Strasberg (Strassberg)

Birthdate: (80)
Birthplace: Budaniv, Terebovlyans'kyi district, Ternopil's'ka oblast, Ukraine
Death: February 17, 1982 (80)
New York, NY, USA
Immediate Family:

Son of Baruch Meyer Strassberg and Chaja Ida Strassberg
Husband of <private> Strasberg (Mizrahi); Nora Strasberg (Krecaun ) and Paula Strasberg (Miller)
Father of <private> Strasberg; <private> Strasberg; Susan Eizabeth Strasberg and <private> Strasberg
Brother of stillborn Strassberg; Blima Bluma Strassberg; Anczel Hersz Strassberg; Chancie Hinda; Salomon Strassberg and 2 others

Managed by: Private User
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Immediate Family

About Lee (Israel) Strasberg

Born Israel Strassberg on Nov. 17, 1901, in Budzanow, Poland, now part of the Ukraine, he was the son of a provincial innkeeper. At the age of 7, he emigrated with his family to the United States, where his father worked in the garment industry. Growing up on the Lower East Side, he attended the theater whenever possible and joined the Chrystie Street Settlement's drama group as an actor.

It was at that time that he changed his name to I. Lee Strasberg, subsquently dropping the initial. He worked as a wigmaker; studied improvisational acting techniques with Richard Boleslavsky, a student of Stanislavsky, and began working as an actor. He made his professional debut in Processional, produced by the Theatre Guild in 1925, and was also assistant stage manager for the Lunts in The Guardsman.

Working for the guild, he met, among others, Harold Clurman. In his book The Fervent Years, Mr. Clurman recalled his first impression of Mr. Strasberg on stage in a play by Pirandello, as a young, pale-faced man of intellectual demeanor. Meeting him, Mr. Clurman said, we were drawn together by our common dissatisfactions, our still unshaped ideals.

In Search of a Responsive Theater

Those ideals took shape with the formation of the Group Theater, founded in 1931 by Mr. Clurman, Mr. Strasberg and Cheryl Crawford. It was a pivotal moment in the growth of American performing arts, bringing together actors, directors and writers in search of a theater that would be responsive to society.

Their production was Paul Green's The House of Connelly, directed by Mr. Strasberg. As Mr. Clurman said: Lee Strasberg is one of the few artists among American theater directors. He is the director of introverted feeling, of strong emotion curbed by ascetic control, sentiment of great intensity muted by delicacy, pride, fear, shame. The effect he produces is a classic hush, tense and tragic, a constant conflict so held in check that a kind of beautiful spareness results. The roots are clearly in the intimate experience of a complex psychology, an acute awareness of human contradiction and suffering.

Climax of Character's Existence

Mr. Clurman's description of his friend as director bears a direct relationship to Mr. Strasberg's subsequent work at the Actors Studio. The Method requires that an actor in preparing for a role delve not only into the character's life in the play, but also, far more importantly, into the character's life before the curtain rises. In rehearsal, the character's prehistory, perhaps going back to childhood, is discussed and even acted out. The play became the climax of the character's existence.

Mr. Brando based his acting technique on the Method. It made me a real actor, he once said. The idea is you learn to use everything that happened in your life and you learn to use it in creating the character you're working on. You learn to dig into your unconscious and make use of every experience you ever had.

Kim Stanley, explaining what she learned at the studio, has said: Lee tries to make you find things in yourself that you can use. In this respect, it's not unakin to analysis. The times I most fulfilled myself were the times I remembered what Lee told us in class - to do the work 'moment by moment,' to allow yourself to look and listen.

Controversial Teachings

Throughout Mr. Strasberg's career, his teachings were controversial. Opponents of the Method believe that it encourages actors to be self-indulgent, to forget the character in pursuit of behavorial motivation, and that it does not prepare actors to play classics. Stereotypically, opponents contend, the Method actor is mannered to the point of unintelligibility.

On the other hand, Tennessee Williams, whose plays have been populated by graduates of the studio, has said studio actors had a more intense and honest style of acting. They act from the inside out, he said. They communicate emotions they really feel. They give you a sense of life.

Mr. Strasberg was not a founder of the studio; it was created in 1947 by Elia Kazan, Mr. Crawford and Robert Lewis. But in a year, Mr. Srasberg had joined the three, associates from the now defunct Group Theater, and he soon became the guiding force. He remained synonomous with its work for the rest of his life.

Perceiving Talent

At the studio, we do not sit around and feed each other's egos, Mr. Strasberg once said. People are shocked how severe we are on each other. Duse, probably the greatest I've ever seen, was capable of better. If she came to the studio, we would pull her apart.

The first role of the studio, he said, was to perceive talent before it was fully trained. Among the many actors who have worked at the studio are Julie Harris, Paul Newman, Joanne Woodward, Geraldine Page, Maureen Stapleton, Anne Bancroft, Dustin Hoffman, Patricia Neal, Rod Steiger, Mildred Dunnock, Eva Marie Saint, Eli Wallach, Anne Jackson, Ben Gazzara, Sidney Poitier, Karl Malden, Shelley Winters and Sally Field.

A number of plays were developed there, including A Hatful of Rain, End as a Man, Any Wednesday, The Night of the Iguana, The Zoo Story and The Death of Bessie Smith.

A major reversal for Mr. Strasberg occurred in 1961, when the studio was not invited to become the resident theatrical company at Lincoln Center. Mr. Kazan, his former associate, was selected to head the initial company.

Broadway Season in 1963

To demonstrate its ability as a production unit, in 1963 the studio presented a season of plays on Broadway, including Strange Interlude and The Three Sisters, productions that generally disappointed the critics. From that time, most plays were performed as in-house projects in the studio's home at 432 West 44th Street. Mr. Strasberg retained his hope that the studio could become the basis for a national theater.

He retired as an actor in 1929, returning to the stage briefly in 1936 to perform in a one-act play by Clifford Odets. However, he was famous for performing in class.

At the suggestion of Mr. Pacino, he resumed his professional acting career in Godfather II. He divided his later years between acting in films and teaching. He made his final appearance as an actor in November in the television film Skokie. He also found time to finish his autobiography. He married three times, to Nora Z. Krecaun and Paula Miller, both of whom died, and Anna Mizrahi. He is survived by his third wife and his four children.

In an 80th birthday interview, he said that he was looking forward to his next 20 years in the theater. According to friends, he was healthy until the day he died.

It was so unexpected, Mr. Pacino said. What stood out was how youthful he was. He never seemed as old as his years. He was an inspiration.

There will be a service today at 11 A.M. in the Shubert Theater. Among the scheduled speakers are Mr. Pacino, Mr. De Niro, Miss Burstyn and Geraldine Fitzgerald. Burial will be in the Westchester Hills Cemetery.

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Lee (Israel) Strasberg's Timeline

November 17, 1901
Budaniv, Terebovlyans'kyi district, Ternopil's'ka oblast, Ukraine
May 22, 1938
Age 36
New York, New York County, New York, United States
February 17, 1982
Age 80
New York, NY, USA