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Sanford Meisner

Sanford Meisner, an actor and drama teacher who trained many top stars of the stage and screen, died Sunday at his home in Sherman Oaks. He was 91.

Meisner’s students have included Steve McQueen, Joel Grey, Diane Keaton, Tony Randall, Eli Wallach, Joanne Woodward, Mary Steenburgen, Maureen Stapleton and director Sydney Pollack.

He was an original member of the Group Theatre, established in 1931, along with Lee Strasberg, Harold Clurman, Elia Kazan, Clifford Odets and Cheryl Crawford.

From 1935-58, and again from 1964-90, he was director of the Neighborhood Playhouse in New York, where his students included Robert Duvall, Grace Kelly and Gregory Peck; directors Bob Fosse and Mark Rydell; and playwrights David Mamet and Horton Foote.

In 1959, Meisner took his acting method to Hollywood, serving two years as director of the new talent division at 20th Century Fox. He also began acting in films, including “Tender Is the Night,” “Mikey and Nicky,” and Odets’ “The Story on Page One.”

In 1985, he co-founded with James Carville the Meisner/Carville School of Acting on the Caribbean island of Bequia and in 1988 extended it to North Hollywood with Martin Barter as director. In 1995, along with Barter and Carville, he opened the Sanford Meisner Center for the Arts in North Hollywood.

Meisner continued to teach even after a bout with throat cancer in the early 1970s required a laryngectomy. In 1990, he received the Public Service Award from President George Bush.

The “Meisner technique,” as it became known, stemmed from his disenchantment with other popular techniques, including the “external” school of British theater and the “method” approach.

His approach focused on actors’ becoming aware of their emotions through daydreaming and imagination.

Arthur Miller once said, “Every time I am reading actors, I can pretty well tell which ones have studied with Meisner. It is because they are honest and simple and don’t lay on complications that aren’t necessary.”

His last performance, a part on the NBC series “ER” at the age of 90, prompted Steven Spielberg to write: “It is a pleasure to see that after so many years of teaching acting, the teacher finally gets to show the students that he’s the best.”

He is survived by longtime companion Carville, an adopted son, a brother, a nephew and three nieces.

A public memorial celebration will be 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Thursday at the Meisner Center for the Arts.

In lieu of flowers, the family suggests contributions be sent to the Sanford Meisner Center for the Arts, 5124 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood, CA 91601.

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