Lee Strasberg, who shaped three generations of actors, playwrights and directors, was born 99 years ago, and to mark the upcoming centennial, his heirs are burnishing his legacy in Los Angeles and New York.The man who introduced "method acting" to America and taught the likes of Paul Newman, Al Pacino, Marlon Brando, Marilyn Monroe, John Garfield, Jack Nicholson, Robert DeNiro and hundreds of other luminaries, was born Israel Lee Strassberg in the Polish part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.He arrived in New York when he was 8 years old, made his professional acting debut in 1924, co-founded the legendary Group Theatre in 1931, and, after a Hollywood interlude in the 1940s, co-founded the equally famous Actors Studio in 1950.
In the 1960s, he reached out to a larger public by establishing the Lee Strasberg Institute, first in Los Angeles and then in New York. Today, 18 years after Strasberg's death, his work is carried on by his wife, Anna, as artistic director, and son David Lee as CEO of the Lee Strasberg Creative Center in West Hollywood and the Lee Strasberg Theatre Institute in Manhattan.
Teachers at the bicoastal centers, with a combined student enrollment of nearly 1,000, perpetuate "The Method," in which actors are encouraged to use their emotional experience and memory in preparing to "live" a role.
Anna Strasberg has a pithier definition. "The Method is really so simple," she offered in a recent interview. "It's telling the truth of the character simply under imaginary circumstances."
In Los Angeles, the year-long centennial celebration has been inaugurated with the formation of an in-house production company, called The Group at Strasberg (TGAS). TGAS is drawing its talent from both coasts and, the 29-year-old CEO hopes, will evolve into a permanent ensemble group.
"TGAS will carry on the tradition of the famed Group Theatre, which gave birth to such notable voices as Eugene O'Neill and Clifford Odets, among others," said Anna Strasberg.
Its base will be the newly renovated 96-seat Marilyn Monroe Theatre in West Hollywood, honoring the memory of one of Strasberg's favorite pupils.
Two smaller 49-seat theaters are housed in the same building.
"Our mission is to produce new works from today's bravest young theater artists in a fully produced season," said David Lee Strasberg.
The season will consist of three shows and three workshops, with "Molly's Delicious" by Craig Wright and directed by Dan Fields running through Dec. 3 as the opening production.
Strasberg also announced the appointment of Jay Dysart as TGAS's director of production, and creation of a distinctive logo for the company.
Reminiscing about her husband before returning to her New York base, Anna Strasberg described him as an artist whose first thespian exposure was at the Yiddish theater and who worked with the Habimah Theatre in Tel Aviv in the 1960s.
"As a Jew," she added, "Lee felt good in his skin."
For tickets or more information, call TGAS at (323) 650-7777.