Benicio Del Toro was telling the crowd how much Stella Adler’s class had shaped him as an actor, back when she was alive and her school was on Argyle Avenue, where a subway station now sits. He mentioned the time he took a break from rehearsing a scene in which he played a homeless man. Del Toro had sat on the hood of his car when some LAPD officers stopped by and asked him if it was his vehicle.
“I said it was,” Del Toro recalled. “They asked for ID and I showed them ID, but they didn’t believe I could own a car because of the way I was dressed. Eventually I told them I was a studying actor.”
“You take acting too seriously,” one cop warned him.
Del Toro and others, including fellow actors Mark Ruffalo, Holland Taylor and Ken Howard, recently gathered outside the Stella Adler Theater on Hollywood Boulevard for the unveiling of Adler’s Walk of Fame star. Adler, who died in 1992, was one of the three great Method acting teachers, the others being Sanford Meisner and Lee Strasberg. Adler disliked Strasberg with a special fury, and now her star is nearly spitting distance from his.
The sun bore down on the invited guests and the throng of sightseers who were kept back by police barriers.
“I don’t know who she was,” said Beverly Schaefer, a 45-year-old Philadelphia tourist who was visiting Hollywood with two girlfriends. “I looked on the Internet for events and this looked like the best one — I had a chance to see a movie star.” Here she nodded toward Del Toro, who managed to look bad-boyish even in a conservative suit jacket and tie. Del Toro and a host of others (Warren Beatty, Edward Norton, Chris Cooper and Marlon Brando) had passed Adler’s withering critiques before graduating into the Hollywood firmament.
Del Toro ended by quoting something from Goethe and, after Adler’s star was revealed, the guests adjourned for hors d’oeuvres and wine upstairs at the Stella Adler Acting Academy. The crowd on the other side of the steel barricades melted away.
“We’re going on a tour bus next. We’ve already been to Frederick’s,” Schaefer said, holding up a shiny-looking bag from the store.
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A chamber-music group played inside the Adler’s small theater, while people crowded the hallways and exchanged Stella stories beneath photographs of Adler in various poses: Yiddish-theater child star, Group Theater stalwart, Odets heroine, come-hither glamour girl.
“I think she’d get a kick out of this,” said actor Chris Thornton, who studied with Adler in the late 1980s. “Stella was a star and loved attention, no doubt about it. She loved people coming out to see her. She’d want to be the main attraction.”
Thornton recalled the first time he encountered Adler, while auditing a master class one evening.
“They helped in this very old lady and I thought, ‘Wow, she’s sort of old and feeble.’ Then she sat down and started watching a scene, and began critiquing the actors. And I’m not kidding when I tell you that she lost 20 years. She was loud and articulate and bombastic. She would say, ‘Gawdamn it!’ but it never got worse than that. She was a classy lady. She didn’t like for anyone to wear sneakers to the theater. If you were in the front row you had to have hard-soled shoes. She reminded us that acting could be noble and have weight and mean something. When I went into that class I thought Michael J. Fox’s was the career to have, and I came out wanting to read Chekhov.”