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Sunday, December 30, 2012

Focus: Mira Rostova, coach to Montgomery Clift

Mira Rostova (April 10, 1909 – January 28, 2009) was a Russian-born American acting teacher, best known for her own variation of method acting that she used in coaching of Montgomery Clift. Her other acting students included Armand Assante, Alec Baldwin, Peter Gallagher, Jessica Lange, Jerry Orbach and Madonna (who attended approximately half a dozen class sessions, working on scenes from Tennessee Williams' Summer and Smoke and Isherwood's I Am a Camera).
She was born on April 10, 1909 in Saint Petersburg, Russia as Rosovskaya. She left to Switzerland after the Russian Revolution and then Germany, where she started acting in Hamburg and in Vienna, Austria. She moved to France after the rise of the Nazi party, and made it to the United States by way of England. In the U.S., she abbreviated her surname to Rostova.[1]
Rostova had been taken in on a scholarship by Robert Lewis. She was cast as a fake witch doctor in Mexican Mural, an experimental play directed by Lewis, when she first met Clift, who also appeared in the play. Gradually, Rostova would play an increasing role in his acting career, discussing for hours the roles he should accept and the way he should act in these roles. Patricia Bosworth, Clift's biographer, described how Rostova had been hired on the payroll as Clift's coach while he was starring in films including A Place in the Sun and The Heiress. She was a fixture in his dressing room by 1945, when Clift had a lead role in You Touched Me!, a play by Tennessee Williams and Donald Windham. Frustrated living at home with his mother, Rostova moved him into her apartment, while she moved out and found another place to live.[1]
During the filming of Alfred Hitchcock's 1953 film I Confess, Rostova stood behind a pillar and Clift would look over for her approval. During the filming of the 1949 drama The Heiress, co-star Olivia de Havilland said that Clift would look in the opposite direction.[1]
While other notable acting teachers such as Uta Hagen and Lee Strasberg would also act themselves, Rostova made few appearances of her own on stage or film, though she did perform the role of Nina in her own translation of Anton Chekhov's The Seagull, which she staged Off Broadway with Clift in 1954.[1] Reviewer Brooks Atkinson in The New York Times called it an "interesting performance" of "an incomparably beautiful play", saying that "Rostova as Nina is handicapped by a heavy accent. She is further handicapped by a florid style alien to the whole spirit of Chekhov", though he called Clift's performance as Constantin "beautifully expressed without any foolish pathology".[2]
Elia Kazan kicked her off the set of the 1960 film Wild River after a single day of filming.[1] In Richard Schickel's 2005 biography of Kazan, he describes how she positioned herself behind the director during filming and would nod or shake her head as Clift was acting, but Kazan was unwilling to have her as a co-director.[3]
Rostova died at age 99 on January 28, 2009 in a Manhattan nursing home. She did not have any immediate survivors.[1]


Mira Rostova, Coach to Montgomery Clift, Dies at 99
Published: February 5, 2009

Mira Rostova, a longtime New York acting teacher whose scene-by-scene, line-by-line coaching of Montgomery Clift earned his unwavering devotion — and the aggravation of not a few of Clift’s directors and co-stars — died on Jan. 28 in Manhattan. She was 99.

Her death, in a nursing home, was announced by the actress Zohra Lampert, a close friend and one of the many students Ms. Rostova taught over nearly 60 years. She left no known immediate survivors.

Others who studied under Ms. Rostova include Alec Baldwin, Jessica Lange, Jerry Orbach, Peter Gallagher and, for one session, Madonna. But her greatest influence was on Clift; the two would spend hours discussing which roles he should take and how he should perform them, according to the Clift biographer Patricia Bosworth, and Clift would put her on salary as his coach while making some of his most famous movies, including “The Heiress” and “A Place in the Sun.”

Ms. Rostova and Clift met in 1942, when they appeared together in New York in an experimental play, “Mexican Mural,” directed by Robert Lewis, a founding member of the pioneering Group Theater. Mr. Lewis had taken on Ms. Rostova, a recent Russian immigrant, as a scholarship student in his acting class, and he cast her as a fake witch doctor in the play.

By 1945, when a 24-year-old Clift took the starring role in the Tennessee Williams-Donald Windham play “You Touched Me!,” Ms. Rostova was ensconced in his dressing room. When he bristled at living at home with his mother, Ms. Rostova moved him into her apartment and found herself other lodgings.

And when Alfred Hitchcock directed him in “I Confess,” Ms. Rostova stood behind a pillar, where Clift could look to her for approval during scenes. (Not everyone was as accommodating: Elia Kazan banished Ms. Rostova from the set of “Wild River” after one day of filming, and Olivia de Havilland complained that Clift was always looking in the opposite direction while they filmed “The Heiress.”)

In 1954, when Clift, by then a movie star, returned to the New York stage, it was in an Off Broadway production of “The Seagull,” with a new translation by Ms. Rostova, who also played Nina.

Russian was the first of three languages she learned. Born Mira Rosovskaya in St. Petersburg, Russia, on April 10, 1909, she left the country with her family after the 1917 revolution. After a brief time in Switzerland, she began her acting career in Vienna and Weimar-era Hamburg, Germany. With the rise of the Nazi party, she fled first to France and then to England before reaching the United States, at which point she shortened her name to Rostova.

Unlike Lee Strasberg, Uta Hagen, Herbert Berghof and other prominent acting teachers, Ms. Rostova made relatively few forays into acting herself. And while many have categorized her teaching as an offshoot of the Method acting technique that Konstantin Stanislavski made famous, Ms. Rostova forged a different school of instruction, Ms. Lampert said, using words like “personal, common sense and communicable” to describe it. “She was just so humane,” she added.

And “formidable,” said Kevin McCarthy, a close friend of Clift’s who also benefited from Ms. Rostova’s guidance when he filmed his Oscar-nominated role in “Death of a Salesman” (1951).

“She knew how it was supposed to be,” Mr. McCarthy said, “and her opinions were not to be argued with. Luckily, she was always right.”

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