Imagine all the talent in one room.
In 1951, actor, director and teacher Lee Strasberg became artistic director of the Actors Studio, an influential workshop that helped revolutionize the art of acting.
Over a quarter century, Strasberg drew an amazing assemblage of professional actors to the studio for classes in his system of “method acting,” or simply The Method. His pupils would bring a new, more realistic style of acting to stage and screen.
The Strasberg papers, held in the Manuscript Division, provide a unique glimpse inside the studio. Attendance sheets for 1952 to 1977 reveal which actors took part. Most are typed, alphabetized rosters of names. The sheets from 1955 are an exception: That year, attendees signed in on plain paper, usually in pencil.
The rosters reveal a galaxy of stars, in class honing their craft: Marilyn Monroe, Paul Newman, Harry Belafonte, Eva Marie Saint, Patricia Neal, Rod Steiger, Geraldine Page and Eli Wallach, among many others.
The pages offer signatures to analyze and connections to make: On April 29, Newman signed in boldly as P L Newman, followed soon after by Marilyn Monroe with a faint but distinctive signature. Also in class that day: television actor and director Leo Penn, who would raise one of modern cinema’s biggest stars — two-time Oscar winner Sean Penn.
Picture the scene: On Nov. 19, Martin Balsam signs in, followed immediately by Ben Gazzara, Monroe and Maureen Stapleton, who collectively would win nine Oscars, Tonys, Emmys and Golden Globes and earn 29 more nominations. Just a few spots ahead is Doris Roberts, who a half-century later would win four Emmys as the meddling mom on the TV’s “Everybody Loves Raymond.”
Presumably, the actors signed in and didn’t give it a second thought. But, today, those sheets are an invaluable resource for research into the history and influence of the Actors Studio — and intriguing artifacts for fans of movies, television and theater.
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