Stella Adler (1905-1992), the daughter of actors Sarah and Jacob Adler, spent her whole life immersed in the theater. She began her career in the Yiddish theater. She spent her twenties traveling throughout the United States, Europe, and South America, performing in vaudeville and Yiddish theater.

Her second husband Harold Clurman was one of the co-founders of the Group Theater, a cooperative ensemble dedicated to reinvigorating the theater with plays about important contemporary topics. She left the Group briefly to study with Constantin Stanislavsky, who taught a precursor to "method acting" returning with various new ideas about American theater. She never felt completely comfortable with the Group and in 1937 she left for Hollywood. She stayed there for six years and had roles in various movies, including "Love on Toast" (1937) and "The Shadow of the Thin Man" (1941), then returned to Broadway to act and direct.

In 1949 she opened the Stella Adler Theater Studio (later renamed the Stella Adler Conservatory of Acting). Marlon Brando, Robert De Niro, Warren Beatty, and Candice Bergen have all studied at her conservatory. Her emphasis was on the emotional origins of the script. She stressed imagination and the connection between acting and the soul. She told her students, "You act with your soul. That's why you all want to be actors, because your souls are not used up by life." Adler is still viewed as one of the key influences on contemporary acting.