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Theater director Lee Strasberg co-founded the Group Theatre, where he directed experimental plays, and later became artistic director of the Actors Studio.
After her disagreements with 20th Century Fox, Marilyn Monroe left Hollywood for New York City to become a serious actress. She studied method acting at the Actors Studio and became close with teachers Lee Strasberg and his wife, Paula.
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Born in 1901 in Budzanów, Poland, Austria-Hungary (now Budanov, Ukraine), Lee Strasberg came to the United States at age 7. In the early 1920s, he became an actor and stage manager with the Theatre Guild. In 1931, Strasberg co-founded the Group Theatre, where he directed brilliant experimental plays such as Men in White (1933). After working in Hollywood (1941–1948), he returned to New York City to become artistic director of the Actors Studio.
"The real secret to method acting—which is as old as the theater itself—is creating reality."
Born on November 17, 1901, in Budzanów, Poland, Austria-Hungary (now Budanov, Ukraine), Lee Strasberg went on to become one of the top acting teachers of the 20th century. Al Pacino, Sidney Poitier, Paul Newman, Maureen Stapleton and Marlon Brando were among his many students at the Actors Studio in New York City. Strasberg moved to New York with his family in 1909. He first became involved in the theater at the Chrystie Street Settlement House, acting in productions staged there.
Strasberg had a life-changing experience in 1923, when he attended a performance directed by Constantin Stanislavski. The production was part of the Moscow Art Theatre's American tour, and Stanislavski's work influenced Strasberg's entire career path. Around this time, Strasberg began working with the Theatre Guild. He started out as an assistant stage manager and then moved into acting.
After retiring from the stage in 1929, Strasberg soon created his own dramatic organization. He formed the Group Theatre in 1931 with Cheryl Crawford and Harold Clurman. While with the Group Theatre, Strasberg directed numerous plays, including the Pulitzer Prize-winning drama Men in White by Sidney Kingsley. The organization also produced several works by Clifford Odets.
In 1948, Strasberg joined the Actors Studio as a teacher. The studio had been founded the previous year by Elia Kazan, Cheryl Crawford and Robert Lewis. Its aim was to provide theatrical professionals—actors, directors and playwrights—with the opportunity for creative exploration and growth. Strasberg became famous for his approach to acting, which drew from Stanislavski's techniques.
Strasberg asked his students to engage in what is known as "method" acting—actors call upon their own emotions and experiences and incorporate them into their performances. "The real secret to method acting—which is as old as the theater itself—is creating reality," Strasberg once said, according to the Boston Globe. "That is tremendously difficult. Some actors think behaving casually is the same thing."
In the early 1950s, Strasberg became the artistic director of the Actors Studio. He spent more than 30 years leading this creative enterprise, working with such great talents as James Dean, Julie Harris, Jane Fonda and Joanne Woodward. In 1969, Strasberg established the Lee Strasberg Theatre and Film Institute.
Strasberg returned to acting in the 1970s. In 1974, he played a Jewish crime figure in Francis Ford Coppola's The Godfather: Part II, and received an Academy Award nomination for his supporting role in the film.
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