Mr. Berghof focused his professional, often noncommercial, efforts on the stage, and
fostered experimentation by showcasing many works by new playwrights at his school, the Herbert Berghof Studio, at 120 Bank Street in Greenwich Village. Over half a century, he nurtured and trained more than 100 actors, including Geraldine Page, Fritz Weaver, Anne Bancroft, Al Pacino, Liza Minnelli, Robert De Niro, Donna McKechnie and Matthew Broderick.
A Viennese who fled Europe in 1938 when the Nazis overran Austria, Mr. Berghof opened an acting school in the Chelsea section of Manhattan in 1945. In 1947, he became a charter member of the Actors Studio, but came to differ with those colleagues who expounded the Method technique when his approach shifted to an emphasis on actions rather than thoughts and reactions.
Mr. Berghof was an athletic, imposing man with strong features and penetrating eyes who believed profoundly in the work ethic. Yet he was modest and unassuming when asked to elaborate about his craft, and declined repeatedly to give interviews. Pressed by a reporter in 1976, he replied, "I don't like to explain anything about my work. I like to hear what it means to an audience, but I'd much rather be understood through my work than my talk."
Mr. Berghof's early acting successes in New York included the protagonist in "Nathan the Wise," a 1942 adaptation of a 1779 play that appealed for religious and racial equality. Brooks Atkinson offered the following tribute in The New York Times:
"As the sagacious Nathan, Herbert Berghof is giving one of the most radiant performances of the season. He manages to be compassionate and humble without losing his self-respect as a person and without wallowing in sentimentality."
Mr. Berghof also created an indelible portrait of a sadistic Confederate prison commandant in "The Andersonville Trial" in 1959. Other Broadway roles were in "King Lear" (1940), "Little Women" (1944), "Ghosts" and "Hedda Gabler" (1948), "The Lady From the Sea" (1950), "Tovarich," co-starring his wife, Uta Hagen (1952), "The Deep Blue Sea" (1952) and "In the Matter of J. Robert Oppenheimer" (1969).
Staged First American 'Godot'
Among the plays he directed, a benchmark hit was the American premiere of Samuel Beckett's now classic tragicomedy "Waiting for Godot," in 1956, with staging that Mr. Atkinson hailed as "triumphant in every respect."
Mr. Berghof also directed New York productions of the first black version of "Godot" in 1957, Jean Cocteau's "Infernal Machine" (1958), F. Scott Fitzgerald's "This Side of Paradise" (1962), Pavel Kohout's "Poor Murderer" (1976), and Peter Hacks's "Charlotte," starring Miss Hagen, in 1980.
Mr. Berghof performed character roles in such films as "Five Fingers" (1952), "Cleopatra" (1963) and "Those Lips, Those Eyes" (1980), and and in "Kojak: The Belarus File" in 1985, gave a television performance that John J. O'Connor of The Times described as "wonderfully crafty."
Herbert Berghof was born in Vienna on Sept. 13, 1909. His father was a railroad stationmaster. The youth attended the University of Vienna and the Vienna State Academy of Dramatic Art and studied with Max Reinhardt. Over 12 years, he learned his craft in scores of minor and major roles in classical and modern plays in Vienna, Berlin, Zurich and Salzburg.
After fleeing Europe, he settled in New York in 1939 and, when not performing or directing, taught at the New School, the American Theater Wing, the Neighborhood Playhouse and Columbia University. He moved his school to Bank Street in 1958.
Besides Miss Hagen, his wife of nearly 40 years, he is survived by a stepdaughter, Letitia Ferrer of Manhattan, and a granddaughter.