In 1951 actor, director, and acting teacher Lee Strasberg (1901-1982) became artistic director of the Actors Studio, the influential workshop where professional actors learned his system of method acting and worked together to polish their skills. During the decade that followed, a generation of actors brought this new, more realistic style of acting to the stage and screen. With awards season coming up, it seems fitting to highlight some routine but extraordinary documents in the Lee Strasberg Papers that offer a unique glimpse inside the Actors Studio during this pivotal period.
The Actors Studio records in the Strasberg Papers include attendance sheets for the years 1952-1977. Most are typed, alphabetized rosters of names. For some reason the sheets from 1955 are different. That year attendees signed their names on plain paper, usually with a pencil. Presumably, actors signed and never gave the pages another thought. But researchers today encounter pages that are star-studded, filled with the names of notable figures in theater, film, and television in the last half of the twentieth-century. As a result, these routine records are now documents of much greater significance and wider appeal.
Acclaimed actors who signed in at the Actors Studio in 1955 included Martin Balsam, Harry Belafonte, Marilyn Monroe, Patricia Neal, Paul Newman, Geraldine Page, Eva Marie Saint, Maureen Stapleton, Rod Steiger, Eli Wallach, and Shelley Winters. Some on the lists are household names, while others had lengthy careers but are more recognized for the roles they played and the productions in which they appeared. Some became acting teachers, others successful directors.
For the star-struck admirer as well as the serious scholar, there is much to discover when reading through the names of the actors who honed their craft at the Actors Studio in 1955. There are signatures to decipher and analyze: some large and bold, others small. Paul Newman signed in as P L Newman. Marilyn Monroe’s signature is distinctive, but often rather faint. The pages are less orderly than the typed rosters, but they tell us more about the people who signed them.
Once just a means of recording who was there each day, these attendance sheets are now a resource for research into the history and influence of the Actors Studio, as well as entertaining artifacts for fans of movies, television, and theater.
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