At 19, Randal Kleiser knew that Nina Foch was the best teacher he’d ever had.
Kleiser, helmer of “Grease” and “The Blue Lagoon,” was one of hundreds of USC students who took Foch’s famed course on acting. The actress who got her start as a contract player for Columbia Pictures in the 1940s spent 40 years at the university’s School of Cinematic Arts, teaching the nuts and bolts of thesp work and hoping to “share the fascination,” as she put it, for acting as a craft.
After Foch’s death in December 2008, Kleiser and fellow USC alum George Lucas took the initiative to produce a DVD compilation of Foch in action in the classroom. “The Nina Foch Course” is now available through Amazon and NinafochDVD.com. Proceeds benefit USC’s film school and Foch’s estate.
What made her such an effective teacher of such an intangible discipline? For starters, she’d worked with some of the greats, from Stanley Kubrick to Cecil B. DeMille to Otto Preminger. She’d also studied under acting legends Lee Strasberg, Stella Adler and Uta Hagen.
“She was extremely smart,” Kleiser says. “She was able to take what she learned from these people … and make it into her own course.”
In her onscreen career, Foch never ascended to star status, but she was an accomplished supporting player in such pics as “An American in Paris,” “Spartacus,” “Rich and Famous” and “The Ten Commandments.” She earned a supporting actress Oscar nom for 1954’s “Executive Suite.” And she never stopped working in film and TV while teaching at USC and the AFI.
With the help of an army of interns, Kleiser sorted through more 400 hours of footage to assemble the four-hour DVD course. Lessons include how to treat actors during casting, how to use props and how to break down a script.
Foch was always proud of her work as teacher, which made the DVD project a fitting tribute.
“She felt this was her biggest contribution to the world,” Kleiser says.