Arthur Penn on Lee Strasberg and Marilyn Monroe: The Heart of the Man

Interview with Arthur Penn
Conducted by James Grissom

There always was a lot to criticize about Lee [Strasberg] and there always will be. He was a controversial figure, a combative, opinionated man with whom I often had disagreements. But I respected him greatly, and he was a wonderful teacher. He was destructive with some students, but I don't think you're going to find a teacher who wasn't. I'm sure you can find some people who think I'm a real bastard.

Lee is criticized most because he had movie stars in the classes, and I think it's a bogus grudge to hold against him. Talented actors from acting classes often become movie stars, and movie stars frequently need help in performing their roles. I don't think Lee betrayed any obligation he had to art--whatever that is or should be--by agreeing to train and improve some famous people.

He took the most heat because of his nurturing of Marilyn Monroe, and I have to say she had talent; she had potential. Marilyn was torn apart by so many forces in her life that she could not become the actress she and Lee wanted her to be, but I can't fault Lee for taking her on. And one of the great qualities of Lee's was his empathy and care for certain people, and I can't fault him for trying, very valiantly, to be some kind of father figure to Marilyn.

I always recommend to people who ask about Lee--and they always do--to focus on his work, his teachings, and that's where the heart of the man will be found.


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