Uta Hagen was an influential acting teacher who taught, among others, Matthew Broderick, Christine Lahti, Amanda Peet, Jason Robards, Sigourney Weaver, Liza Minnelli, Whoopi Goldberg, Jack Lemmon, Charles Nelson Reilly, Manu Tupou, Debbie Allen and Al Pacino. She was a voice coach to Judy Garland, teaching a German accent, for the picture Judgment at Nuremberg. Garland’s performance earned her an Academy Award nomination.
She also wrote Respect for Acting (1973) and A Challenge for the Actor (1991), which advocate realistic acting (as opposed to pre-determined “formalistic” acting). In her mode of realism, the actor puts his own psyche to use in finding identification with the role,” trusting that a form will result. In Respect for Acting, Hagen credited director Harold Clurman with a turn-around in her perspective on acting:
“In 1947, I worked in a play under the direction of Harold Clurman. He opened a new world in the professional theatre for me. He took away my ‘tricks’. He imposed no line readings, no gestures, no positions on the actors. At first I floundered badly because for many years I had become accustomed to using specific outer directions as the material from which to construct the mask for my character, the mask behind which I would hide throughout the performance. Mr Clurman refused to accept a mask. He demanded ME in the role. My love of acting was slowly reawakened as I began to deal with a strange new technique of evolving in the character. I was not allowed to begin with, or concern myself at any time with, a preconceived form. I was assured that a form would result from the work we were doing.”
Hagen later “disassociated” herself from her first book, Respect for Acting. In Challenge for the Actor she redefined a term which she had initially called “substitution”, an esoteric technique for alchemizing elements of an actor’s life with his/her character work, calling it “transference” instead. Though Hagen wrote that the actor should identify the character they play with feelings and circumstances from their (the actor’s) own life, she also makes clear that
“Thoughts and feelings are suspended in a vacuum unless they instigate and feed the selected actions, and it is the characters’ actions which reveal the character in the play.”
Kim Stanley began her acting career in theatre, and subsequently attended the Actors Studio in New York City, New York. She received the 1952 Theatre World Award for her role in The Chase (1952), and starred in the Broadway productions of Picnic (1953) and Bus Stop (1955). Stanley was nominated for the Tony Award for Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Play for her roles in A Touch of the Poet (1959) and A Far Country (1962).
During the 1950s, Stanley was a prolific performer in television, and later progressed to film, with a well-received performance in The Goddess (1959). She was the narrator of To Kill a Mockingbird (1962) and starred in Séance on a Wet Afternoon (1964), for which she won the New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Actress and was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress. She was less active during the remainder of her career; two of her later film successes were as the mother of Frances Farmer in Frances (1982), for which she received a second Academy Award nomination as Best Supporting Actress, and as Pancho Barnes in The Right Stuff (1983). She received an Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress – Miniseries or a Movie for her performance as Big Mama in a television adaptation of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1985).
She was also the leading lady of live television drama, which flourished in New York City during the 1950s. Among her many starring roles was Wilma, a star-struck 15-year-old girl from the U.S. Gulf Coast of Texas in Horton Foote‘s A Young Lady of Property, which aired on The Philco-Goodyear Television Playhouse on April 5, 1953.
Following a savaging by English critics after her London performance of “Masha” in an Actors Studio production of Anton Chekhov‘s play The Three Sisters (1965) she vowed never to perform on stage again, a vow she kept for the rest of her life.
Her appearance as Alma in the 1952 Off-Broadway revival of Tennessee Williams‘ Summer and Smoke at the downtown Circle in the Square Theatre is as legendary as anything that has ever happened in the American theater. Summer and Smoke had not been particularly well received in its Broadway incarnation. Page’s performance (as the minister’s daughter consumed with infinite longing) and that 1952 production, directed by José Quintero, gave the play a new life, and, according to common wisdom, it was that production (for its daring, for its fervor, for its being “downtown” rather than in the artistically “safe” realm of Broadway) which gave birth to the Off-Broadway movement in New York theatre. Her work continued, on Broadway, as the spinster in The Rainmaker and as the frustrated wife whose husband becomes romantically obsessed with a young Arab, played by James Dean, in The Immoralist.
She earned critical accolades for her performance in Tennessee Williams‘ Sweet Bird of Youth opposite Paul Newman. She originated the role of a larger-than-life, addicted, sexually voracious Hollywood legend trying to extinguish her fears about her career with a young hustler named Chance Wayne, played by Newman. Page received her first Tony Award nomination for the play, as well as the Sarah Siddons Award for her performance in Chicago. She and Newman later starred in the film adaptation and Page earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress for the film.
In 1964, she starred in a Broadway revival of Anton Chekhov‘s Three Sisters playing eldest sister Olga to Kim Stanley‘s Masha. Page starred in another successful Broadway play, Agnes of God, which opened in 1982 and ran for 599 performances with Page performing in nearly all of them. She received a Tony Award nomination, for Best Lead Actress in a Play, for her performance as the secretive nun Mother Miriam Ruth. The acclaimed production garnered co-star Amanda Plummer a Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Play. Elizabeth Ashley played the court-appointed psychiatrist Dr. Martha Livingstone. After winning an Academy Award in 1986, Page returned to Broadway in a revival of Noel Coward‘s Blithe Spirit in the role of the psychic medium Madame Arcati. The production, which also starred Richard Chamberlain, Blythe Danner and Judith Ivey, was Page’s last. Page was again nominated for a Tony Award, for Best Lead Actress in a Play, and was considered to be a favorite to win. However, she did not win, and several days after the awards ceremony, she died.
Her role in Hondo, opposite John Wayne, garnered her a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. In all, despite her relatively small filmography, Page received eight Academy Award nominations. She finally won the Oscar in 1986 for a performance in The Trip to Bountiful, which was based on a play by Horton Foote. When she won (F. Murray Abraham, upon opening the envelope, exclaimed “I consider this woman the greatest actress in the English language”), she received a standing ovation from the audience. She was surprised by her win (she openly talked about being a seven-time Oscar loser), and took a while to get to the stage to accept the award because she had taken off her shoes while sitting in the audience. She had not expected to win, and her feet were sore.
Page has also appeared in television productions and won two Emmy Awards as Outstanding Single Performance By an Actress in a Leading Role in a Drama for her roles in the classic Truman Capote stories, A Christmas Memory (1967) and The Thanksgiving Visitor (1969). Her final film was the 1987 Mary Stuart Masterson film My Little Girl, which was the film debut of Jennifer Lopez.
Page, who also suffered from kidney disease, died of a heart attack in 1987 during a run on Broadway in Sir Noel Coward‘s Blithe Spirit at the Neil Simon Theatre. She did not arrive for either of the show’s two June 13 performances; at the end of the evening performance, the play’s producer announced that she had died at the age of 62.
Actress Anne Jackson stated at the tribute that “[Page] used a stage like no one else I’d ever seen. It was like playing tennis with someone who had 26 arms”
Wynn Handman has been instrumental in bringing to the stage the early work of many of America’s finest playwrights, including William Alfred, Ed Bullins, Phillip Hayes Dean, Werner Liepolt, Maria Irene Fornes, Ron Milner, Jonathan Reynolds, Ronald Ribman, Sam Shepard, and Steve Tesich. He has introduced plays by writers from other areas, such as Donald Barthelme, Robert Lowell, George Tabori, Joyce Carol Oates, Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton, and Robert Penn Warren. Important writer/performers received early recognition through their work at The American Place Theatre, including Eric Bogosian for Drinking in America, John Leguizamo for Mambo Mouth, Aasif Mandvi for Sakina’s Restaurant, and Dael Orlandersmith for Beauty’s Daughter and Bill Irwin for The Regard of Flight, which was later aired on television in 1983.
He is a recipient of the 1999 Obie for Sustained Achievement; the Lucille Lortel Award for Lifetime Achievement presented by the League of Off-Broadway Theatres in 1993; the Rosetta LeNoire Award in 1994 from the Actors’ Equity Association in recognition of his artistic achievements and contribution to the “universality of the human experience in American theatre”; two Audelco for Excellence in Black Theatre Awards, as Best Director for Zora Neale Hurston, in 1990, and Fly in 1998; the Carnegie Mellon Drama Commitment to Playwriting Award in 1996; the Working Theatre’s Sanford Meisner Service Award for “his leadership in disseminating the arts to working people,” and was honored by The New Federal Theatre in 2001. In addition, he received from the Alumni Association of City College of New York, The Townsend Harris Medal, “in recognition of his distinguished contributions to his chosen field of work and the welfare of his fellow men.” In May 2003, Handman was awarded a Doctor of Humane Letters by the University of Miami.
Plays he has directed at The American Place Theatre include: Manchild in the Promised Land which he adapted from the novel by Claude Brown; I Stand Before You Naked by Joyce Carol Oates; Words, No Music by Calvin Trillin; Drinking in America by Eric Bogosian; A Girl’s Guide to Chaos by Cynthia Heimel; Free Speech in America, and Bibliomania by Roger Rosenblatt, with Ron Silver; Coming Through also adapted by Handman; Spokeman written and performed by John Hockenberry; Fly by Joseph Edward; and Dreaming in Cuban and Other Works: Rhythm, Rum, Café con Leche and Nuestros Abuelos by Cristina Garcia and Michael Garcés. Also, he has adapted and directed many of the American Humorists’ Series productions.
A noted teacher for over 50 years, in his professional acting classes, Handman has trained many outstanding actors including: Alec Baldwin, James Caan, Kathleen Chalfant, Chris Cooper, Michael Douglas, Sandy Duncan, Christopher George, Richard Gere, Joel Grey, Allison Janney, Raul Julia, Frank Langella, John Leguizamo, Susan Lucci, Donna Mills, Burt Reynolds, Tony Roberts, Anna Deveare Smith, Mira Sorvino, Christopher Walken, Denzel Washington, and Joanne Woodward.