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Sanford Meisner, teacher of unique American acting style, dies at 91

February 4, 1997

SHERMAN OAKS, Calif. (AP) _ Legendary acting teacher Sanford Meisner, whose students included many of Hollywood’s biggest stars, including Gregory Peck, Grace Kelly and Robert Duvall, is dead at 91.

Meisner, a Brooklyn-born son of Hungarian immigrants, died at his Sherman Oaks home on Sunday, in the arms of his adopted son Julian Martin, 41.

Increasingly weak with complications of cancer and glaucoma and confined to a wheelchair, Meisner continued to teach until 1994 and remained involved in his various schools and centers for acting nearly until his death.

Meisner taught for 56 years at The Neighborhood Playhouse in New York and also co-founded The Sanford Meisner Center for the Arts.

``He always managed to get through (the illness) and get back into the classroom,″ said James Carville, co-founder of the Meisner-Carville School of Acting. ``It seemed to be the classroom that kept him going.″

Meisner graduated from Erasmus Hall High School in Brooklyn and attended The Damrash Institute of Music, now the Julliard School, where he studied as a pianist before making his way into theater.

Among his many achievements, he was the founder of the Drama Department at the Dorothy Maynor Harlem School of the Arts in 1964, where Carville worked for him as a director.

He was an original member of the Group Theater of the 1930s, which also produced such influential acting teachers as Lee Strasberg, Stella Adler and Robert Lewis.

The ``Meisner Technique″ as it became known, stemmed from his disenchantment with other popular techniques, including the ``external″ school of British theater, Russian theater’s so-called ``internal″ technique and the ``method″ approach.

``Actors are not guinea pigs to be manipulated, dissected, let alone in a purely negative way. Our approach was not organic, that is to say, not healthy,″ Meisner wrote of the method approach.

His approach focused on actors becoming aware of their emotions through daydreaming and imagination.

Carville said Meisner was constantly seeking new ways to teach and learn.

``He taught everybody individually and every rule he gave them was a rule to be broken,″ Carville said. ``It was a much freer way of working and it was very personal.″

Karl Calhoun, 30, a member of the company at Sanford Meisner Center and a former student, said he most remembered the first time Meisner walked into his classroom in 1989. ``As hush came over the room ... and I knew I was in the presence of greatness,″ Calhoun said.

Calhoun said he remembers Meisner’s exercise of listening and responding to your partner _ playing off his or her reactions.

In addition to Peck, Duvall and Ms. Kelly, his acting students also included Peter Falk, Lee Grant, Diane Keaton and Joanne Woodward. He also taught directors Sidney Lumet, Sydney Pollack and Vivian Matalon and the playwright David Mamet.

Arthur Miller once said, `` ... every time I am reading actors I can pretty well tell which ones have studied with Meisner. It is because they are honest and simple and don’t lay on complications that aren’t necessary.″

Meisner’s movie credits included ``The Story on Page One,″ ``Tender is the Night″ and ``Nicki and Nicki.″ His last performance at age 90 was as a guest on the NBC series, ``ER.″

Meisner was married in 1940 to Peggy Meyer and from 1949 to 1958 to Betty Gooch. Both marriages ended in divorce.

He is survived by his longtime companion Carville, son Julian Martin, brother Robert Meisner, nephew Danny Meisner and nieces Carol Greene, Elizabeth Goff and Ellen Post Wetherall.

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