Chapter Twenty Six of Keeping Score in America: Four profoundly important saviors of my self-respect
By Michael Moriarty
No, I didn't study with her.
However, she made me, like hundreds of others, fall in love with her.
This article, the beginning of my Christmas tributes to five, rather famous artists, is in the Christmas Spirit of spiritual gratitude.
Thanks to God for the presence on Earth of souls like Stella Adler, Elia Kazan, Tennessee Williams and Harold Clurman; and, as I will proudly add next week in the yearly, two week, Christmas issue for ESR, the remarkable Mel Tormé!
The name of Stanley Kowalski's famous wife in Tennessee Williams' greatest play.
Streetcar Named Desire.
The name that Marlon Brando cries out, in a performance as Stanley Kowalski that set his career ablaze on both Broadway and the Silver Screen!
Given Elia Kazan's genius for drawing his actors into personalizing their roles as much as possible, I believe Kazan and Tennessee, both of whom I knew, picked the name Stella because of Marlon Brando's admiration, love and, yes, devotion to his acting teacher Stella Adler.
Where would Marlon Brando have been without either Stella Adler or Elia Kazan?
Even Brando might have wondered about it.
No, I never met Marlon Brando and I went out of my way during the filming of Report To The Commissioner deliberately to not meet him.
Hollywood and all of film acting had become his Empire.
I congenitally despise Emperors. Including the Imperial airs of my own father.
Of any kind.
In any nation.
Or any profession.
Ironically these "Monarchs" can end up being as cruel as any Italian Godfather.
Even the seemingly unwilling Emperors such as Marlon Brando.
Because I had snubbed him, I suspect his closest and most adoring film critic, Pauline Kael, gave my performance in Report To The Commissioner a particularly pitiless incineration. To what extent my snubbing of Brando had anything to do with the viciousness of her attack on every part of me?!
God only knows.
However, those surrounding Brando?
Those to whom he owed a massive amount of thanks and to whom he should have given more credit?
His only real acting teacher, Stella Adler, Brando's director for On The Waterfront, Elia Kazan, plus the author of Streetcar Named Desire, Tennessee Williams?
The quote beneath his photo was said to me in my dressing room, following his attendance of my performance in Find Your Way Home. I'd sent the play for him to read and he wrote back, after reading the drama but before attending it.
A play in which I perform as the most outrageous "queen" Broadway had ever seen till then; and for which I eventually won a Tony Award.
Yet Tennessee told me, "Michael, I must tell you, before you do this execrable play, I wish you had chosen a role that was somewhat less… je cherche le just mot."
Then, after seeing our production, he said, "Not only did I love your performance. I loved the play!"
"Tennessee, you wrote me that you hated this play when you read it."
"Michael, I have never been able to read plays!"
All three of these giants of the American Theater, Adler, Kazan and Williams, were very visible and vocal supporters of my talent as an actor.
Kazan praised me on the Johnny Carson Show as one of the two, new actors that most impressed him at the time, the other being Robert De Niro.
Stella called me, in People Magazine, one of the foremost actors of the English-speaking stage… something like that.
And Tennessee Williams, in his autobiography, listed me as one of his two favorite actors.
Stella Adler befriended me as well as praising me. Had she not reached out in the first place, I would not be writing this tribute because I never would have known her.
At that time in my career, after the drubbing I'd been given by the Brando/Kael Club, a word of praise from the only teacher Brando had ever recognized as such?!
She renewed my commitment to a terrible profession! A profession she wisely retired from in order to teach!!
Only sadomasochists have a strong enough appetite for the personal and very private prices you pay in acting.
After Kael's repetitive guillotining of my efforts (she'd also dumped on my Emmy Award-winning performance in Katherine Hepburn's Glass Menagerie), the supportive words in print I had received from Stella Adler in People Magazine and Harold Clurman in The Nation, Elia Kazan on the Johnny Carson Show and Tennessee Williams in his autobiography, these virtual God-sends were enough of an antidote to Pauline Kael's poison to keep me going as an actor. Because of their approval, I soldiered on into my sixties, winning one more Emmy Award as the father of James Dean.
Stella's second husband?
Author of the American theater classic, The Fervent Years, Harold helped see me through one of the worst theater experiences of my life, an execrable production of Long Day's Journey Into Night.
During his efforts to save an incurably diseased production, Harold asked me, "Why don't you smile more?"
I had no memorable answer. What could I say in the middle of that disaster?
Years later in a wonderful production of an exceptionally courageous and bravely exceptional play about Vietnam, GR Point, one of the first works about Vietnam to be produced anywhere, but doomed by the New York Theater Critics, Harold, in a rave review of my performance, wrote that the only actor whose naturalness I reminded him of was Marlon Brando.
Harold had directed Marlon Brando in his first, major Broadway appearance, Truckline Café.
Pauline Kael's unrelenting destruction of my film career?!
A blessing in disguise.
Had I become a successful movie star, I would not have been free to do what I really wanted to become in one lifetime: an actor, a musician and an exceptionally serious composer.
For an introduction to that now flowering corner of my life, music, here is the main focus of interest in my next Christmas Tribute: Mel Tormé.
"Divinely sacred" is not redundant.
In my eyes, it is a barely sufficient tribute.
Read about him next week.
Michael Moriarty is a Golden Globe and Emmy Award-winning actor who starred in the landmark television series Law and Order from 1990 to 1994. His recent film and TV credits include The Yellow Wallpaper, 12 Hours to Live, Santa Baby and Deadly Skies. Contact Michael at firstname.lastname@example.org. He can be found on Twitter at https://twitter.com/@MGMoriarty.