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Lee Strasberg (born Israel Lee Strassberg; November 17, 1901 – February 17, 1982) was a Polish-American actor, director, and theatre practitioner.
He co-founded, with directors Harold Clurman and Cheryl Crawford, the Group Theatre in 1931, which was hailed as "America's first true theatrical collective".
In 1951 he became director of the nonprofit Actors Studio in New York City, considered "the nation's most prestigious acting school," and in 1966 he was involved in the creation of Actors Studio West in Los Angeles. Although other highly regarded teachers also developed "the Method", Strasberg is often considered the "father of method acting in America", according to author Mel Gussow, and from the 1920s until his death in 1982 "he revolutionized the art of acting by having a profound influence on performance in American theater and film." From his base in New York, he trained several generations of theatre and film notables, including Anne Bancroft, Dustin Hoffman, Montgomery Clift, James Dean, Marilyn Monroe, Jane Fonda, Julie Harris, Paul Newman, Ellen Burstyn, Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, Geraldine Page, Eli Wallach, and directors Frank Perry and Elia Kazan.By 1970, Strasberg had become less involved with the Actors Studio and, with his third wife, Anna, opened the Lee Strasberg Theatre and Film Institute with branches in New York City and in Hollywood, to continue teaching the 'system' of Konstantin Stanislavski, which he had interpreted and developed, particularly in light of the ideas of Yevgeny Vakhtangov, for contemporary actors.
The institute's primary stated goal was "to reach a larger audience of eager and emerging talent" than was served by the Actors Studio's notoriously selective admission process, and as teachers of the method began to deploy their own personal interpretations of the discipline, "to dispel growing confusion and misrepresentation of the method, preserving what had by now become fundamental discoveries in actor training." The Lee Strasberg Theatre and Film Institute has its own rigorous sets of entrance criteria required for admission into their program.Former student Elia Kazan directed James Dean in East of Eden (1955), for which Kazan and Dean were nominated for Academy Awards.
As a student, Dean wrote that Actors Studio was "the greatest school of the theater [and] the best thing that can happen to an actor." Playwright Tennessee Williams, writer of A Streetcar Named Desire, said of Strasberg's actors, "They act from the inside out.
They communicate emotions they really feel.
Lee Strasberg was born Israel Strassberg in Budzanów in Austrian Poland (part of Austria-Hungary, now in Ukraine), to Jewish parents, Baruch Meyer Strassberg and his wife, Ida (born Chaia), née Diner, and was the youngest of three sons. His father emigrated to New York while his family remained in their home village with an uncle, a rabbinical teacher. His father, who worked as a presser in the garment industry, sent first for his eldest son and his daughter. Finally, enough money was saved to bring over his wife and his two remaining sons. In 1909 the family was reunited on Manhattan's Lower East Side, where they lived until the early 1920s. Young Strasberg took refuge in voracious reading and the companionship of his older brother, Zalmon, whose death in the 1918 influenza pandemic was so traumatic for the young Strasberg that, despite being a straight-A student, he dropped out of high school.
A relative introduced him to the theatre by giving him a small part in a Yiddish-language production being performed by the Progressive Drama Club. He later joined the Chrystie Street Settlement House's drama club. Philip Loeb, casting director of the Theater Guild, sensed that Strasberg could act, although he was not yet thinking of a full-time acting career and was still working as a shipping clerk and bookkeeper for a wig company. When he was 23 years old, he enrolled in the Clare Tree Major School of the Theater. He became a naturalized United States citizen on January 16, 1939, in New York City at the New York Southern District Court.
Lee Strasberg's first marriage was to Nora Krecaum from October 29, 1926 until her death three years later in 1929. In 1934, he married actress and drama coach Paula Miller (1909–1966) until her death from cancer in 1966. Lee and Paula were the parents of actress Susan Strasberg (1938–1999) and acting teacher John Strasberg (born 1941). His third wife was the former Anna Mizrahi (born April 16, 1939) and the mother of his two youngest children, Adam Lee Strasberg (born July 29, 1969) and David Lee Israel Strasberg (born January 30, 1971).