Jack Garfein (born July 2, 1930, in Mukacevo, Carpathian Ruthenia, Czechoslovakia, now Mukacheve, Ukraine) is a key historical figure of the Actors' Studio, director, writer, teacher and producer.
Garfein was once married to actress Carroll Baker with whom we had two children : actress Blanche Baker and Grammy-Award winning American composer, Herschel Garfein. Garfein second marriage was to Anna Laretta with whom he had two children Rela Garfein (scholarship graduate of HEC in Paris), Elias Garfein (scholarship graduate of Sorbonne
He has been living the past four years with his partner, Natalia Repolovsky, a pianist and technical writer.
As a director and an acting teacher, he actively participated in the development of the Actors Studio work and collaborated with famous filmmakers such as Elia Kazan, John Ford, and George Stevens. He was a teacher to actors Sissy Spacek, Ron Perlman, Irène Jacob, James Thierrée, Laetitia Casta, Samuel Le Bihan, Bruce Dern. He directed Uta Hagen, Herbert Berghof, Shelley Winters, Jessica Tandy, Hume Cronyn, Ralph Meeker, Mark Richman, Mildred Dunnock, Elaine Strich, Malick Bowens and discovered Ben Gazzara, Steve McQueen, George Peppard, Bruce Dern, Pat Hingle, Albert Salmi, Paul Richards and Susan Strasberg. He also gave his first role to James Dean in the Actors Studio production of End as a Man.
Multitalented artist, he is the author of two both politically and artistically challenging films that did not spare Hollywood’s conservatism and led to censorship. In The Strange One (1957), he tackled the question of racism in America. As a Jewish Holocaust survivor, he was deeply shocked by the segregation at his arrival in the US and he fought for the right for African-American actors to be featured in the film. The Strange One was also censored by the Motion Picture Production Code for general “homosexual overtones”, and “excessive brutality and suggestive sequences [that] tend to arouse disrespect for lawful authority”. In his second film, Something Wild (1961), derived from Alex Karmel’s novel Mary Ann, he similarly tackled the studios’ conventions by formally depicting rape. The film, starring Garfein’s then wife Carroll Baker, was later described by Garfein as a metaphor for his spiritual journey. The film also raises questions of race and class in America. Something Wild features an original score by Aaron Copland, the title sequence by Saul Bass, and the photography by Eugen Schüfftan.
Aside from participating in the revolutionary acting process of the Actors’ Studio, Garfein also created a unique acting technique, which he described in his book Life and Acting: Techniques for the Actor, 2010. In 1966, he, in collaboration with Paul Newman created the second branch of the Actors' Studio in Los Angeles. Garfein was also one of the co-founders of Hollywood Theatre Row, where In 1974 he created the Harold Clurman Theater and later the Samuel Becket Theatre.
In 1974 he was the creator of the Harold Clurman Theater of which he was also the director, as well as the Samuel Beckett Theater and he opened the Actors and Directors Lab in New York, a new drama school where writer and scenarist Paul Schrader (Taxi Driver), Tom Schulman (Dead Poet Society) mingled with director Phil Alden Robinson (Field of Dreams) and actress Sissy Spacek.
He directed and produced multiple plays and also paid particular attention to the recognition of his friends’ work. His experience made him an exceptional director and supervisor. He directed numerous plays by Samuel Beckett, John McLiam, Richard Nash, Sean O’Casey, Eugene O’Neil, Calder Willingham among others.
In 1984, The Cinémathèque Française paid tribute to Garfein’s work by screening his two films, presented by Costa Gavras for the occasion. Following those first screening, that where followed by a second session at the filmoteca española in Madrid, Garfein decided to open a Studio (Le Studio Jack Garfein) in Paris in 1985.
Garfein currently lives and works between New York and Paris where he continues to teach at the Studio Jack Garfein.
Garfein was the eldest son of a family of two children and multiple cousins. He grew up in the (now former) Czechoslovakia where his father run an industry. When the Nazi regime started to incriminate the Jews, a large part of the Czechoslovakian government decided to collaborate and even got paid to send the Jews to the camps. His entire family was killed, but he survived 11 concentration camps.
At the end of the war, he was in the Bergen-Belsen camp which was liberated by the English army. He weighted 48 pounds and was sent to Sweden where he was cured by a nun, Hedvig Ekberg, whom he paid visit to years later. In 1946, he was among the first five Holocaust survivors to arrive in the United States.
He there joined his uncle who lived in New York and was taken care off by the Jewish Child Care Association that helped him to realize the dream he had been developing since his arrival in New York City : to become an actor.
In 1947, the Jewish Childcare Association sent Garfein to study at the Dramatic Workshop of which he had won a scholarship and who was part of the New School of Social Research at that time and became an independent school in 1949.
He took classes in acting at the Dramatic Workshop of The New School in New York with the influential German director Erwin Piscator. Among his class mates were Walter Matthau, Tony Curtis and Rod Steiger. During those years, he created a troupe The New Horizon Players with whom he learned the art of directing and acting. In the following years Garfein was involved in such productions as Home of the Brave by Arthur Laurent, Birthday of the Infanta, Wolf are you ready, among others.
In 1948, Piscator cast him as the lead in his production of "The Burning Bush", the story of a young boy from an orthodox Jewish family instigated by the antisemitic Hungarian aristocracy to accuse his father and the Jewish community of committing the "blood libel".
Encouraged by Piscator and Lee Strasberg, Garfein joined the American Theater Wing to study directing with Strasberg. After graduating at the age of twenty, he was hired to direct fifteen-minute dramatic segments on television with Barry Nelson, Phyllis Love and Donald Buka, who were the exciting new actors of Broadway at the time. One leading critic called the performances "the most poetically realistic since The Group Theater".
Garfein was naturalized as an American in 1952 at the age of 22.
In order to enter the Actors Studio, Strasberg demanded that Garfein directed a full theater production in NY city. He directed "Camille" ("La Dame aux camélias) by Dumas. After seeing the production Strasberg invited Garfein to attend the Actors Studio for a year during which time he was to direct and produce a full-length play at the Actors Studio. He directed "End as a man" by Calder Willingham with Studio members. Praised by Strasberg and Kazan the play was the first full Actors Studio production opened off-Broadway.
In 1953, Garfein made his Broadway debut as a director with End as a Man, Calder Willingham’s masterpiece, starring Ben Gazzara.
The critical acclaim was so astonishing that the play was moved to Broadway. The first such transfer since O'Neill's play a quarter of a century earlier. The legendary critic Stark Young hailed the acting as " the best ensemble work in the American theater. Superior to the Group Theater. " The play revealed Ben Gazzara as a promising actor and at the age of twenty-three (beating the record of Orson Welles), Garfein won the Show Business Award as the best director on Broadway . It was the beginning of a long and prolific career for Garfein, both as a producer, a film and a theatre director.
A number of months later, Garfein directed the first colour television series " The Marriage " with Jessica Tandy and Hugh Cronyn to great critical reception.
In June 1955, Garfein received a letter announcing him he had been invited by the Board of Directors to become a member of the Actors' Studio. It was there that he met Carroll Baker who was his fellow student and whom he married.
Baker and Garfein had one daughter, actress Blanche Baker, and a son, composer Herschel Garfein.
Career as a producer and theatre director
Garfein was a founder and the artistic director of the Harold Clurman Theatre (1978), as well as the Samuel Beckett Theater.
Notably, Garfein produced two plays by Arthur Miller, The Price and The American Clock, and went on to direct other Broadway productions such as The Sin of Pat Muldoon, and Girls of Summer. His Off-Broadway credits include The Lesson and Rommel’s Garden (1985), Childhood with Glenn Close (1985), For No Good Reason by Nathalie Saurraute (1985), Kurt Weill Cabaret with Alvin Epstein and Marta Schlamme (1985), Endgame (1984), The Beckett Plays (Ohio Impromptu, Catastrophe, What Where) (1983–84), Anton Checkhov Sketchbook with Joseph Buloff and John Herd (1981), California Reich and The Lesson by Eugène Ionesco (1978–79), as well as The Beckett Plays in The Warehouse Theatre in London (1984).
He directed the French premiere of "Master Harold"...and the Boys in Paris, and the world premiere of Nacht und Träume by Samuel Beckett in Austria, He also was an important admirer and friend of Samuel Beckett whose plays he directed in New York and Europe.
He also counts plays from Canadian author John McLiam, Richard Nash (Girls of Summer), Sean O’Caseys (Shadow of a GunMan), Calder Willingham (End as A Men, that became The Strange One, 1957), Garbor Harvey (Rommel’s Garden, in 1985), Gastón Salvatore (Stalin, in 1989), Eugene O’Neill Putziler’s price Anna Christie (directed in 1966), Ionesco’s The Lesson, South African playwright Athold Fugard (Master Harold, 1985) Franz Kafka (An Address to the Academy, 2013), Richard Nash and Eckehard Schall of the Brecht theater among others. Brooke Atkinson, a critic of the NY Times called his direction of "Shadow of a gunman" by O'Casey "a prologue to greatness". Beckett gave him the world premiere stage rights to "Nacht unt Traume". He also produced and directed plays by Alvin Epstein (End Game, 1984) and Alan Schneider (Catastrophe, 1983) among others in his repertoire as a director.
In 2013, Garfein adapted and directed Kafka's "An Address to an Academy" at the Théâtre des Maturins" in Paris to critical acclaim.
Career as a film director
Garfein's film directorial debut, The Strange One, is an ensemble piece set in a sadistic Southern military academy. It was released without an ending – leaving audiences bewildered and critics annoyed. A crucial scene involved black actors and, in racially segregated America of 1957, the studio objected on the ground that to use black actors would mean commercial failure. Garfein refused to bow down and filmed the scene anyway. It was denounced by a U.S. Congressman as an 'un-American' film, but in Paris, a critic wrote that if anyone doubted that America was a free country, then they should see the film.
Garfein directed two other films. One was the 1961 independent film, Something Wild, which starred Baker as a young rape victim held captive by the man who rescued her from suicide. The film includes an Aaron Copland score. It was panned by many U.S. critics, even though he was hailed as an American Ingmar Bergman. His documentary The Journey Back chronicles his return to Auschwitz.
His life and journey has been studied in Brian McKenna’s documentary The Journey Back chronicles his return to Auschwitz. The movie was screened during a tribute to Garfein at the Billy Wilder Theater at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles in 2010.
Garfein directed the American sitcom, The Marriage, that aired on NBC from July to August 1954. The series starred real life couple Jessica Tandy and Hume Cronyn. The program was finally suspended for it was considered too adventurous. The Washington Post called it among the best of the summertime replacement series, praising its "adult approach to situation comedy," with believable situations and intelligent characters.
One of a select group of non-performers awarded membership in The Actors Studio, Garfein became director of the Studio's Los Angeles branch we had just founded in 1966, and created The Harold Clurman Theatre on Theatre Row in New York City. Instructing for more than 40 years, he is one of the most experienced teachers of Method Acting. Garfein offers acting and directing classes in Paris at Le Studio Jack Garfein, London, Budapest, New York, and Los Angeles. He has written a book on the subject, Life and Acting - Techniques for the Actor, published in paperback in 2010.
Garfein was associated with the most prominent artists of his time. Henry Miller praised his talent in his book My bike and other friends and Marylin Monroe considered him as one of her dearest friends. Often admired or envied, he was a friend of Samuel Beckett, Eugène Ionesco, Lee Strasberg, Tennessee Williams, and Elia Kazan.
In 1984, The Cinémathèque Française paid tribute to Garfein’s work by screening his two films, presented by Costa Gavras for the occasion. Following those first screening, that followed by a second session at the Filmoteca Española in Madrid. Two years later Jean-Louis Barrault invited Garfein to direct Athol Fugard's " Master Harold " at The Rond Point Theater in Paris and arranged for him to teach an acting class at the Theater. Garfein decided to open a Studio (Le Studio Jack Garfein) in Paris in 1985.
In September 2010, a tribute to Garfein was presented in Los Angeles at the UCLA Film and Television Archive at the Billy Wilder Theater which featured screenings of the two feature films he directed, 1957's "The Strange One" and 1961's "Something Wild," which stars his ex-wife Carroll Baker, as well as the documentary "A Journey Back" in which he returned to his childhood home and revisited Auschwitz. A similar event is scheduled for March 20 & 21, 2011 at the Film Forum in New York City hosted by Foster Hirch, another at the BFI in London, hosted Clyde Jeavons, and in Tel-Aviv, Jerusalem, and Haifa.
In July 2012, Garfein was awarded Masque d'Or, voted the best acting teacher in France.