Uta Hagen: Wikis

  
  

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Uta Hagen

Hagen with Paul Robeson in the 1943–1945 Theatre Guild production of Othello
Born 12 June 1919(1919-06-12)
Göttingen, Germany
Died 14 January 2004 (aged 84)
New York City, New York, U.S.
Spouse(s) Herbert Berghof (1957–1990)
José Ferrer (1938–1948)

Uta Thyra Hagen (12 June 1919 – 14 January 2004) was a three-time Tony Award winning German-born American actress. She originated the role of Martha in the 1963 Broadway premiere of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf by Edward Albee (who called her "a profoundly truthful actress"). Hagen was on the Hollywood blacklist, in part because of her association with Paul Robeson, and this curtailed film opportunities, focusing her perforce on New York theatre. She later became a highly influential acting teacher at New York's Herbert Berghof Studio and authored a best-selling acting text, Respect for Acting. She was elected to the American Theatre Hall of Fame in 1981.

Contents

Life and career

Early life

Born in Göttingen, Germany, Hagen and her family emigrated to the United States in 1924, when her father received a position at Cornell University.[1] She was raised in Madison, Wisconsin. She appeared in productions of the University of Wisconsin High School and in summer stock productions of the Wisconsin Players. She studied acting briefly at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in 1936.[2] After spending one semester at the University of Wisconsin, where her father was the head of the department of art history, she left for New York City in 1937. [3] Her first professional role was as Ophelia opposite Eva Le Gallienne in the title role of Hamlet in Dennis, Massachusetts in 1937.

Career

Hagen was cast, early on, as Ophelia by the actress-manager Eva LeGallienne. From there, Hagen went on to play the leading ingenue role of Nina in a Broadway production of Anton Chekhov's The Seagull which featured Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne. It was 1938; Hagen was just 18. The New York Times' critic Brooks Atkinson hailed her Nina as "grace and aspiration incarnate". She would go on to play George Bernard Shaw's Saint Joan (1951) on Broadway, and Desdemona in a production which toured and played Broadway, featuring Paul Robeson as Shakespeare's Othello and her then-husband Jose Ferrer as Iago. She took over the role of Blanche DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire for the national tour, which was directed not by Elia Kazan who had directed the Broadway production but by Harold Clurman. Hagen had had a revelatory experience when she first worked with Clurman in 1947. In Respect for Acting, she credited her discoveries with Clurman as the springboard for what she would later explore with her husband Herbert Berghof: "how to find a true technique of acting, how to make a character flow through me". She played Blanche (on the road and on Broadway) opposite at least four different Stanley Kowalskis, including Anthony Quinn and Marlon Brando. Through interviews with her and contemporary criticism, the report is that Hagen's Blanche refocused the audience's sympathies with Blanche rather than with Stanley (where the Brando/Kazan production had leaned). Primarily noted for stage roles, Hagen won her first Tony Award in 1951 for her performance as the self-sacrificing wife Georgie in Clifford Odets' The Country Girl. She won again in 1963 for originating the role of the "I-wear-the-pants-in-this-family-because-somebody's-got-to" Martha in Edward Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?. (An original cast recording was made of this show.) In 1981 she was elected to the American Theatre Hall of Fame and in 1999 received a "Special Lifetime Achievement Tony Award".

Although she appeared in some movies, because of the Hollywood blacklist she had more limited output in film and on television, not making her cinematic debut until 1972. She would later comment about being blacklisted, "that fact kept me pure".

Although Hagen played characters with German accents in both of her best-known Hollywood films, The Boys from Brazil, in which her scene is with Laurence Olivier, and The Other, she had simply assumed the accent for those roles (Hagen was raised in Wisconsin). She was nominated for a Daytime Emmy Award as "Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series" for her performance on the television soap opera One Life to Live.

She taught at HB Studio, a well-known New York City acting school on a cobblestone, tree-shaded street in the West Village. She began there in 1947, and married its co-founder, Herbert Berghof, on January 25, 1957. Later in her life, Hagen undertook a return to the stage, earning accolades for leading roles in Mrs. Warren's Profession (1985), Collected Stories, and Mrs. Klein. After Berghof's death in 1990 she became the school's chairperson.

Hagen was an influential acting teacher who taught, among others, Matthew Broderick, Christine Lahti, 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.[4] 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.[5] 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."

Respect for Acting is used as a textbook for many college acting classes. She also wrote a 1976 cookbook, Love for Cooking. In 2002, she was awarded the National Medal of the Arts by President George W. Bush at a ceremony held at the White House.

Personal life

She married José Ferrer in 1938, with whom she had a daughter, Leticia (Lettie) Ferrer, an actor in New York City. They divorced in 1948 partially because of her affair with her Othello co-star Paul Robeson, an affair which was long concealed. She was married to the actor and teacher and director Herbert Berghof from 1957 until his death in 1990. At his death, she said, "You know, we were partners in our work, in everything. We did everything together. Very few people understand what that kind of a loss is like."

Work

Stage

Film

Television

  • Victory - 1945
  • A Month in the Country - 1959
  • The Day Before Sunday - 1970
  • Seasonal Differences - 1987
  • The Sunset Gang - 1991
  • Oz - 1999

See also

References

  1. ^ Port of New York, passenger list of the S.S. Luetzow, September 4, 1924, sheet 41.
  2. ^ Port of New York, passenger list of the S.S. Westernland, December 24, 1936, sheet 165.
  3. ^ "Lady Invincible", Wisconsin Academy Review, vol. 46, issue 4, Fall 2000.
  4. ^ Hagen, Uta 1991. A Challenge for the Actor. New York: Scribner's. ISBN 0684190400
  5. ^ [Interview in Playbill at www.playbill.com]

External links








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